The Role of Adaptation in Chair Based yoga

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I have been teaching chair yoga for 3 years now and it has been an amazing learning journey.
I always thought, because of where I started with my yoga practice, that I would be heading in the vinyasa-ashtanga direction. In complete contrast now, I am making yoga accessible to the elderly and less abled.

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My chair yoga teaching journey started after my 95h Rainbow Kids Yoga training. I was asked by the local Multiple Sclerosis society to give them a taster of chair yoga… and so it began.
Over the years of teaching chair yoga I quickly discovered that the practice needs to be adapted beyond the use of the chair. Over the years I also discovered that asana adaptation goes beyond making a pose look similar to a textbook version.

Why do we practice asana?

This question sits in the heart of why we would need to adapt it.
WE practice asana to strengthen and lengthen, condition the body. We practice to bring awareness to our physiological and psychological state of being. We practice to release tension, or to move prana.
So the practice of yoga asana has a purpose & a function and poses are tools that help us achieve that.

Why do we need to adapt asana?

In the knowledge that not everyone is made the same, we also know that poses do not look the same for everyone.
You often hear the yoga teachers say “as long as you feel it, it’s good”, so as long as we receive an effect and it works, it does not matter how asana is expressed, provided it is safe.
Physiological differences create different challenges when it comes to the practice of yoga asana; add a few years, an injury and a chronic illness and challenges become limitations.

Without adaptation, the practice of yoga asana would remain limited, even inaccessible. Adaptation gives us access to the effect and the benefits of yoga; adaptation also makes the practice safe.
What would the point of practising yoga otherwise be if we felt worse for it?

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Chair Based yoga students

The people that attend a chair based yoga class often are perfectly abled bodies, they just love the simplicity of it and the positive effect of the yoga practice overall.
More often than not though, the people that walk into a chair based yoga class have certain limitations that prevent them from getting to the floor comfortably; more often than not, getting on the floor to practise yoga is not the only limitation.
Some of the most common limitations are osteoarthritis, injuries & old age; other limitation can be more cognitive than physical, but again practising on the chair seems more appealing.

Over my time teaching chair yoga I discovered, I had to think on my feet while teaching. Although the chair based practice of yoga is already based on adaptation, using the chair, I had to think beyond remaining seated or using the chair as a prop. I made considerations to help my students stay safe, feel included and get the benefits of the practice.

So…

…the Role of Asana Adaptation in Chair Based Yoga is

  • safety
  • accessibility
  • function
  • inclusion

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