Chair yoga

Chair yoga is no joke

better_call_saul_chair_yoga

I’ll be the first to admit that I guffawed when Jimmy, aka Saul Goodman, ingeniously crept his way into the hearts and minds of seniors via chair yoga in episode 10, season 3, of Better Call Saul. Laughed. Out. Loud. I should also confess that every title I thought of for this post was a pun or joke. Standing up for chair yoga. Chair yoga is no slouch. Etc.

And for more than two years, I smiled as I walked past two or three packed chair yoga classes per week, as I jetted from the treadmill to the locker room, or from “real” yoga classes to the daycare to pick up my son.

But now that I am in yoga teacher training, I am I more curious about slower practices, and feel a responsibility to know how to teach them. So last week, I decided to sit in on a chair yoga class. I had already taken an hour of Yin yoga, which is slow with long holds, and thought it sounded good to stay in that slow zone. I took a chair in the back corner near the door and scanned the room as the class progressed.

My takeaways surprised me:

  1. The range of participants ages and abilities was staggering. There was one woman who could not stand unassisted, there may have been others. But there were also many active bodied familiar faces from other parts of the gym. Chair yoga is not only for people who can’t do yoga any other way.
  2. Chair yoga is as challenging as any other form of yoga. Do chair yoga classes get your heart booming? Are they aerobic, fast power yoga or Ashtanga classes? No. But neither are restorative yoga classes.*
  3. Chair yoga is regular yoga, with a chair as a prop. It is not nearly as limiting as I assumed. The muscle motions, the limbs stretching, the breathing, the skeletal movements and alignment… it is yoga. Any person with an open mind, at any fitness level, can benefit from chair yoga.

Today, after an hour on the treadmill, I was walking past the gym, thinking of different places where I could stop to cool down and stretch. I noticed the staggered rows of chairs being set up in the gym. I waited until “the regulars” snagged their usual spots, then set up camp at a chair in the back, by the door. There is no better way to learn than practice.

Featured photo is from the Better Call Saul Twitter feed
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*I have elevated my heart-rate and sweat during Yin yoga, but that is a post for another day.

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About Breathing, Yoga off the mat, Yoga to relieve stress

About breathing, pt 1: It’s hard to breathe

(post #1 on breathing, part of what will be a series)

Breathing. We begin in utero, and we spend our entire lives doing it. Maybe you think about breathing when you’re running, but we generally don’t pay attention to our breathing. We just do it.

Have you ever been stressed and noticed your whole body reacting? We all experience stress on the regular. You spilled your coffee. You’re twenty minutes late. The subway construction means your commute will double tonight. Your kid bit another kid at daycare. Something happened at work. You lost your keys. Your mind races, your heart-rate increases, you might sweat, your chest feels tight, you’re breathing hard (or quickly, or shallowly)?

Your body was having an acute stress response. You were in fight-or-flight mode.

Did you notice that when your hart-rate and breathing return to normal? Maybe not, because it just happened. Or maybe when you did realize things were back to normal, you looked back and realized how awful it felt at the peak of that fight-or-flight stress.

What if you could *make* those awful feelings, your reactions to stress, go away?

Poof, gone!

What if you had skills to make the most stressful situation feel almost relaxing? I know this sounds crazy, but yoga can do that. Not overnight. Not over the course of a year. (Or maybe it can for some, but it certainly didn’t for me!) The breathing you practice in yoga can do this.

I have had friends tell me that they tried yoga, but the breathing stressed them out. That was me, for many, many years. A teacher would say, “Inhale, sweep your arms above your head… exhale and fold forward.” And in my my mind, I would say, “whatever, I’m just gonna put my arms up, breathe, and bend over.”

And that was fine. It was my yoga. I was there, on the mat, primarily for exercise. Ok, I’ll admit it. It was all about exercise. I wanted that quintessential “yoga body.” (Ha! If you know me, you know that despite the many hours I spend doing yoga, I never did achieve that “yoga body.” Actually, I AM a yoga body. But I don’t have a ballerina build).

It was many, many years before I actually “got” the breathing.

The first time it clicked, I wasn’t anywhere near a yoga mat. I was 23 years old, in a doctor’s office in midtown Manhattan, in the middle of a medical procedure that would remove what turned out to be pre-cancerous cells from my body. I had never undergone a diagnostic medical procedure, and I was panicked. I found that if I mentally counted while breathing… “In, two, three, four… out, two, three, four,” and tuned out the worries I had in my head, I felt better. Paying attention to my breath gave me something to focus on. Counting the breath made me slow down. At the time, I had been “doing yoga” (generally via books and tapes… yes, VCR tapes) for about two years, and I did not make the connection with yogic breathing at all.

In fact, it would take another ten years of on again, off again yoga practice before I ever really figured out the connection between yoga as exercise and yogic breathing, and exactly how it could lower my reaction to stress when I was off the mat.

Practice. It is all about practice. You can read all you want, you can be as fit as an Olympic distance runner, you still have to practice yoga to get it.

Experiencing yoga “off the mat” was life changing for me. I immediately realized it was a skill I wanted to hone. I have been practicing for twenty years.

Yet, I am still working on it. Believe me. I am still a “beginner” at breathing. Which is why this is the first post of what will be many, many musings about breathing.

post #1 on breathing, part of what will be a series. See series About Savasana here.

My YTT, Yoga on The Farm

Starting small, planning, growing

A force that pushed me to yoga teacher training, and drives me to write about yoga, is the desire to share yoga with “non yoga people.” To clarify, yoga is for everyone! But it isn’t obvious to everyone how to find class or teacher that fits their needs and style, and booking a class in a traditional yoga studio can be intimidating. As with so many things, “fit” matters.

Within days of sharing my mission, a member of my local community offered space on their developing farm for me to teach yoga while I am in training. We have become friends, and I have been visiting the farm to get a feel for the space. There are chickens, cats, and a Labrador named Scout. There is a pond, relatively flat and clean grass, and a barn with a fridge, sink, and bathroom. It’s perfect.

Growing up in Maine, I spent my fair share of time on farms, and countless glorious hours outdoors. I treasure my connection with the land, and am thrilled to have this opportunity to teach plein air, to borrow the artist’s term.

Starting small and familiar feels right to me, because connecting to the land, to my students, matters. I am developing a five class summer series for the farm, and inviting a few friends to join me. Yoga is about practice, and I am grateful for this space and the support of my friends on this journey. Who knows where this will lead?

Advanced Yoga, Books about yoga

Letting go of assumptions, making triangles (Pigeon as a triangle)


Instagram, TV, and advertising sometimes show images of advanced yoga practitioners in difficult poses. Lithe, bendy people, smiling in the sun, backs arched gracefully, wearing white unitards. The common representation of yoga is that anyone who practices or is successful at practice has a ballerina build. It is unfortunate, because it gives the general population the impression that you have to be in peak physical shape with 6% body fat to do yoga. This is SO not the case.

Example: This morning’s class was mixed level, leaning to advanced. We worked up to camel and then up to this:

(Beautiful photo of Pigeon pose from page 119 of Hatha Yoga Illustrated, by Martin Kirk, Brooke Boon, and Daniel DiTuro. Photos by Daniel DiTuro).

But here’s the thing.

There might have been twenty students in that class. We all had our own variation of Pigeon going on. And THAT is yoga.

You start where you are at the time you are practicing. You breathe and make shapes with your body. I have never before thought of Pigeon as a triangle before looking it up in this book, but now that I am more interested in the building of a pose more than before, I see it. We were all working towards this beautiful triangle. Not to be confused with actual Triangle pose! That is a post for another day.

Anyhow. A fellow student asked, “is this a pose that you would be unable to do if you have a large body?” (I am paraphrasing. What she said also covered people who might generally be considered overweight).

Our teacher affirmed that there are different bodies but we all have ways to get there, and it is more individual body mechanics than anything to do with the size of body.

In all honesty, had I been shown the picture above, I don’t think I would have thought I could come close to Pigeon as pictured. However, with the right guidance, being led into it, I’m proud of how far I made it. (NOT pictured – hahaha).

So here I am, working to let go of assumptions and expectations. Thinking about triangles. And cooking dinner all at the same time. Gotta get everything ready so I can attend tonight’s YTT class!

My YTT

About sitting and teacher training, after the first weekend intensive

You are prepared to learn a lot during yoga training. You bring your mat and you are ready to go! But now you bring an additional bag. Your books. Your paper (which I forgot. Twice. Thanks, B, for sharing). A screaming yellow highlighter. Pens, etc., and so on.

You know there will be a lot of sitting. But in the beginning, even though you set up for practice with your mats on the floor, the sitting is not about Sukhasana, or “easy sitting pose,” aka, sitting up straight, criss-cross applesauce. It is taking notes. Sitting lecture/seminar style with a yoga practitioner/expert instructor at the helm, along with a life-sized, plastic anatomically correct skeleton with rubber ligaments. Intermittent discussion, legal talk, teaching methodology, lecture, snack time, and Asana /exercise practice, and breathing. 

Now I understand that when I asked my mentor what I need to bring or prepare, she didn’t mention planks or fasting. Her response was along the lines of, “a highlighter and some index cards.” She meant that literally.

It is really cool to tap back into the student part of my brain, and also be handwriting again! When was the last time you spent about 8 hours in one day, sitting in class and taking notes by hand? It had been a while for me. And still, we have hardly even cracked the books out yet. There is so much to learn.

My YTT, On Aging

Things change, things stay the same


This weekend I was at a junior high school where Dove was competing in an academic competition (aside: she placed 3rd, so proud of her!). I was struck by how little schools, the actual structures, have changed. Take a look at the girls restroom, pictured. This could just as well been my middle school washroom, back in coastal Maine, back in 1986. Yet this is Texas, 2018. Is it possible that they have not made any changes to school restrooms in thirty+ years, or longer? Why?

I have had similar thoughts about mens wallets, toilet paper, mailboxes, envelopes, thermometers… things that have not really changed in my lifetime. Sure there probably could be improvements. And sometimes “new” versions pop up, like those neon velcro wallets, or the mood-ring-like forehead thermometers… (Maybe I’m dating myself?). Sure some men use money clips and some moms use temporal thermometers now,  but the old standards persist over time. 

Why? Because they work.

Yesterday, I began my 200 hour yoga teacher training program. I was so nervous, had butterflies in my stomach, which is coincidentally a feeling I haven’t actually had since I was back in middle school.

The basis of study for the first day was an overview of the human body, the fundamental physical principles of yoga as a healing science. The skeptical, modern, researcher in me wondered: can I reconcile my doubts about the spiritual world and metaphysical concepts of yoga (and related healing practices) with my academic nature? And my inner voice kept answering, yes. Yes. YES!

Why? Because it works.

Yoga is an ancient practice. An ancient science. Some of the terminology, some of the concepts, much of them really, predate modern research and Western medicine. But they are the same. The intention of both is to heal. Yoga looks at a person holistically. How can we make adjustments, or exercise this part of the person (literally and/or metaphorically), to be the best, healthiest, happiest, most whole person this person can be? Western medicine is evolving to appreciate that we cannot just treat symptoms or single ailments, we must look at the whole body, the brain, the psychology and the physical, to heal. Because that works. 

I am thrilled to have come to this epiphany. And I can’t wait for day two of my 200 YTT… two hours from now!

On Aging

Inspired by the women at the gym

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No, no, no. I am not inspired by the young, Instagram-ready bodies. I could care less about gym fashion.

I am inspired by the older women in the gym. Those who are in their sixties and seventies, sharing the locker room every day. Some of them are water fitness groupies, some attend Zumba and HIIT on the regular. Some are on the mat in the same room with me, and others stick to chair yoga.

Your bodies are strong, still carrying you. Your smiles are weathered but wide. Your eyes tell me you have been through a lot. You are still here, wearing that swim cap, Jazzercising to Maroon 5. Thank Silver Sneakers. Thank the free coffee in the hallway.

We greet each other in the locker room, maybe chat about the weather or a coming holiday. You might mention “the last time” you had cancer. Or your son who never could catch a break. Or the husband you outlived. “Can’t complain,” you’ll say. And I’ll agree.

I don’t expect my body to ever match that of a Kardashian or even a middle-aged starlet, you know the ones… they look so good for their age. No. I want to be at the gym, the day after my seventy-fifth birthday. Breaking a sweat. Cracking jokes.

Thank you, old ladies. Sure, you can sit here on this bench. Let me move my stuff.