As we step deep into the era of yoga obsession, we see way too many photos and videos of these pseudo perfect yogis, who have extreme flexibility and glossy appearance in common, but very little substance and in many cases even less knowledge of what yoga is all about.
I personally used to be what they call a yoga warrior, I was practicing between 4 to 6 hours every day, waking up at 3 am and going to sleep early. I was a strict vegetarian, no coffee, little sugar and I applied on myself other restrictions that I don't feel to share in this contest. My practice was very rigid, morning prayers, stretching for about one and half hour, Kundalini Yoga Kriya for one and half hour if not 2 hours, and between one to two and half hour of meditation.
When it was time to teach this rigidity came across as "she is too tough".
As the years passed by, I slowly but surely changed; nowadays, my teaching is more yin oriented, and my personal practice has followed this new tune.
When I teach is mandatory for me to tune into my student's mood, observing them while they practice gives me so many clues to understand where they are, what they are feeling, but first and for most what they need. And they need kindness and gentleness; they need what we call "Feminine Energy" that's why I came up with "Yin Kundalini Yoga", a more gentle way to teach Kundalini Yoga where students don't feel attacked or diminished as they practice. My Kundalini Yoga students might not feel high after class, but for sure they feel fully embodied, present and relaxed. When I teach Hatha Yoga or yin Yoga the feedback is always the same " I feel like you made me move part of my body that I didn't know I had". This is a huge compliment, it means that I guided them to feel, and be or become more present.
A few months ago I was asked to sub for a chair yoga class at the YMCA of Montclair, New Jersey. I said yes of course.
I entered the room by not knowing what type of students would attend the class, which turned out to be packed with elderly people eager to move. Yes, old people want to move, movement keeps them alive and happy, and they know it.
The most beautiful thing about our elderly is that it doesn't matter how they feel, they get up, they walk to the gym and practice. You will not hear an old person saying "I'm too tired to move". When in a class, they welcome you with a smile, they follow every single direction you give them, they do their best, and at the end, they say: "Thank you, this was the best part of my day. thank you for being here for us". You make them feel alive, they make you feel you have done something amazing, so they make your day too. After teaching my chair yoga classes, I feel my day purpose has been fulfilled. it is incredibly and profoundly rewarding.
Later on, I discovered that in class there were a couple of people who were going through chemotherapy, some of them had strokes, others hips replacement, and some knees surgery. Whatever was their condition they were there every week, three times a week.
There were a couple of younger individuals in class that for health reasons couldn't attend a regular yoga class, but the needs of moving brought them to my chair yoga. We had all so much fun that from being a substitute teacher, I became quite popular, and I started to teach on a regular basis to the point that the reception had to stop me to let me know that everybody appreciated my work, my teaching, and my kindness.
As a professional Yoga teacher, it is important to me to know how to deliver the class in a way that everybody enjoys it; I have my ethic rules, I know my language, I play with my Italian accent, and I know each ingredient I use to make my classes special and different form any other class you have ever taken.
So what do you think are the ingredients of a great chair yoga class?
Well, dynamism, knowledge of proprioception, static stretching and dynamic stretching and how to combine them harmoniously, when it's time to laugh, and when its time to focus on focusing, knowing the difference between building strength and isometric stretching. Those are all elements that can constitute a class of chair yoga, but knowing how to combine these elements together will make the difference between a great Chair Yoga class and a not so great class. I see too many Yoga instructors improvising Chair Yoga, and I can see all the common mistakes done without awareness. it is not enough to modify poses for a Chair practice, you need to know more.
In order to know how to combine all these elements together you need to know and understand how the body of an old person works, you need to know what they need, you must know how people with injuries can perform the class correctly. In addition, while you teach you have to keep in mind those people who are undergoing chemo, or are challenged by other ailments, and you have to keep in mind that there is always someone who knows better than you, so you have to learn to really talk with grace and to never react to an old group of people.
Teaching Chair Yoga is not easy as it looks, it is not enough to put a person on a chair and make him/her move, this is a form of yoga therapy, and a yoga instructor needs to be prepared.
As a yoga instructor, you need to have experience of how each exercise works so that when its time to do the same exercises on a chair you will know how to modify it to have the same result without hurting people. Especially in style of yoga such as Kundalini Yoga, where we are instructed to never change the exercises, instructors feel that they cannot teach Kundalini Yoga on a chair. It is possible instead, as long as you have understood the physical dynamic of the exercises and the energy implication, you can bring a variation of that exercises on the chair. The point is, yoga instructors need to get ready for something that is growing in demand as Chair Yoga is.
People don't want you to master your headstand, they want you to understand the exercises physically and energetically so you can offer your classes to people that will never go on a headstand, and that most luckily will prefer to practice on a chair.
Chair Yoga is growing in demand because it is approachable, the elderly community loves it, and there are more injured people than we think that might benefit from a practice that will not strain their body and yet gets the job done.
Chair yoga teaches people what I call "Safe mobility", a safe way to move the body without sacrificing the fun and the depth of the experience.
Our cities need more Chair Yoga instructors to really serve each community at 360 degrees, and teaching Chair yoga is a needed service to keep our elderly active, healthy, and happy.