| The Ledger
A chair appears to be getting some people off the couch.
Many senior citizens and people with disabilities are finding chair yoga as a welcome and non-daunting alternative exercise method. The system, of unknown origins but brought to the forefront by California-based instructor Lakshinu Voelker in the early 1980s, utilizes a chair as a station and exercise prop to perform traditional yoga stretching exercises.
On Tuesday mornings, several ladies can be found congregating at Inside Out Yoga in downtown Winter Haven to grab a seat and reach for new goals with the system.
“I like doing chair because I would often over-extend myself sometimes doing regular yoga,” said Lydia Prince, 64, from Auburndale, who has been doing chair yoga for four years and yoga in general for the past seven.
“When chair came along it was gentler. It’s not that it is easy but it is gentler on my body. If I don’t come to yoga, I have joint pain. I have ability issues and I really find my body hurts all over.”
Inside Out Yoga chair exercise group instructor Geri Ross, 60, from Lakeland, started in yoga in 2008 as a means to “destress” from her job.
Ross is a registered nurse and taught physical fitness and step aerobics at Gold’s Gym and Florida Southern College. But she stepped away from impact forms of exercise and regrouped with yoga and has really embraced the chair platform.
“I think cardio is wonderful but you can (also) get that in a yoga class because you are working large muscle groups and that will get your heart rate up,” Ross said. “Chair is really for people with medical conditions who really don’t want to get on the floor. We don’t want to call it getting older.
“We adapt regular Hatha yoga poses on the chair. We center, usually seated on the chair, and then we move to the warm-up and think about stacking the bones.”
Ross said “stacking the bones” smoothly locomotes the focus from one joint to another in order to get a total body experience and benefit.
“We might start with the ankles and move to the knees and then the hips, waist and shoulder,” Ross said. “Even with the tongue, there is a lion’s breath technique. Stacking the joints promotes total body awareness and good posture.”
Once warm-ups are complete, the group works on balance, which includes standing up behind the chair and implementing some traditional yoga poses like the “tree” or “eagle.”
“We do not look at props as a weakness and a chair is a prop. There are tremendous benefits. I believe it increases range of motion and flexibility. It strengthens personal body awareness. We teach breathing techniques, breath awareness and movement. We also do meditation,” said Ross, who added “yoga is not a religion.”
At Inside Out a typical one-hour chair class could include anywhere from 15 to 20 poses for a busy session or taper down to an eight-to-10-pose session of traditional Hatha yoga stances. Either way, it all concludes with the “corpse pose” to close out the class.
“It is just really relaxing,” said Linda Collinson, 67, who lives in Winter Haven during the winter months. “It is almost just like you had a massage when you finish. You get that kind of feeling that you actually did something. I like that.
“I did some regular yoga in Maine but I like this place the best and I looked forward to coming back each year.”
Collinson said she is not an athletic person so regular yoga was not going to work for her. But she discovered several women at her campground were coming to Inside Out for chair yoga and decided to find out if it was a style she could embrace.
“There are people with all different levels of skill here and our instructor is amazing. Anyone can do something,” Collinson said. “Even if you hurt your back, there are some stretches you can do. There are six back stretches. I just really like it and I have been doing it for eight years now.”
Bill Kemp can be reached at WKemp@Gannett.com; follow him on Twitter @BillKempSports