What do you think of when you hear the word yoga? What comes to mind? Uber flexible bodies…or perhaps meditating in India…or perhaps someone who never gets angry. These ideas are definitely realistic for some people….but not all. One of my favourite aspects of yoga is that there is no ‘typical yoga’. What is true of one person is different for another…and it all fits under the umbrella of yoga. Including chair yoga.
I have been teaching chair yoga at my local aged care home for about 6 months. For 40 minutes a week, I have the privilege of sharing yoga with my local senior community. My students and I begin class with a chat, sharing about the week gone and how they are feeling plus any injuries to work with through class. We start with breathing exercises, warm ups and then we flow, followed by our closing meditation and warm down.
I love teaching aged care yoga because I am hugely committed to sharing yoga outside of the stereotypical yoga studio. My chair yoga students are unable to hop on the bus and walk into my yoga classes at the local studio, so teaching chair yoga is part of my personal mission to make yoga accessible.
For some, practicing yoga in a studio is not possible. Some people feel shy, uncomfortable, are unable to afford it or simply do not have the mobility to walk into a yoga class. Does that mean that yoga is not accessible? No. I really believe in the potential and ability for yoga to support people regardless of ability, mobility, flexibility, age, gender, religion, race or history. Yoga has the potential to support people physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
Yoga is growing, it’s evolving globally, shows athleticism and ability which is beautiful in itself. It is a double-edged sword because the challenge is the physical attraction to yoga can make yoga unattainable where people who are eager to try yoga…may simply not try at all. Thinking ‘this is not for me’…’I could never do that’. This makes me so sad! Please don’t ever think that if you are eager to try yoga but are put off by uber flexible yogis. This is not to shame flexible yogis! Yogis have worked hard to perfect their practice and build resilience and strength, however that is the tip of the iceberg. The physical practice you see is a tiny part of what yoga encompasses. Yoga is a philosophy underpinned by the 8 limbs of yoga which extends to meditation and life off the mat – in terms of how you treat people, how you treat yourself, inner qualities, what you consume physically (food) and energetically (people). What mainstream media does not show you is the hours of practice and personal discipline it takes to develop a strong practice. In my mind, mainstream media can make yoga look inaccessible rather than a practical tool that can support everyday living.
Over the past few years, I have been drawn to yoga courses and teachers like Shivjyoti Puri, Bex Tyrer and Miriam van Doorn that put their money where their mouth/mouths is/are and make yoga accessible. I am inspired by teachers who share yoga in war ravaged countries, prisons, hospitals and outside of the box, genuinely making yoga ‘accessible’. Breaking yoga down so it is tailored to each student to support the student with their unique needs. For example, one of my yoga teachers shared breathing techniques with hospital patients finding it bloody hard being in hospital and unwell. This had nothing to do with the physical practice. This was about sitting with the body, managing breathing to help manage pain. Yoga helped me in a huge way in 2015/16 to reset my nervous system to overcome depression and manage anxiety.
Sharing yoga in an aged care home is a joy for me and it has been beautiful to build relationships with yoga students and see their practice evolve.
My message today is, yoga is for all people regardless of who you are, where you are from, your background, how flexible or inflexible you are…yoga does not care how you land on the mat, the fact that you land on the mat at all is a blessing because of the fruits of yoga to come. 🙂