OAKHURST — It’s official: yoga is ubiquitous. Opportunities for practice seem nearly unlimited, it’s true, but what if you’re feeling limited in what you believe you can do with your body? If you wobble in Warrior pose or tend to get dizzy, like I do, in Downward Dog, or if for any reason you think yoga may not be right for you, here’s good news. Chair Yoga is available locally, and it works for just about any body.
“Among other things yoga builds strength,” says yogi Dave Caris. “In most yoga classes this is done by really extending arms, lifting the crown of the head, opening the hips, twisting the body and holding all of these positions, called poses or asanas. In chair yoga we also do this but, for the most part, we are in our chairs so we increase the effect through isometrics.”
Also known isometric exercise, Charles Atlas developed his “dynamic tension” program with similar theory in the 20th century. Both dynamic tension and isometrics refer to a system of physical exercises in which muscles are caused to act against each other or against a fixed object, and it’s with these practices in mind that Dave has developed his chair yoga.
“For example, we can put one fist on top of the other and press them together and hold that pressure. In another example we place a ball between our feet and ankles, squeeze the ball tightly and straighten and left our legs and then hold.”
Like many programs, you get out of chair yoga what you put into it. The more pressure you apply in movement, and the longer your stretch, the greater the results you feel. Since each individual controls their own movements as Dave leads the class, and individuals are encouraged to work within their zone of comfort and safety, chair yoga is open to anyone of any age, size, and ability.
“Our bodies were engineered and created to move,” reminds Dave. “If we grow sedentary our bodies loose the ability to move as we once did. Being flexible is central to good health.”
If you’re not feeling flexible right now, don’t be discouraged.
“One can restore flexibility. I know. When I went to my first yoga class I was age 60 and a stiff guy. Now I am almost 82 and flexible. With attention it can and will happen.”
Dave was certified as a yoga teacher in 1996 when he lived in Cleveland, and that’s where the ideas for chair yoga began to ferment.
“I was looking for ways to ‘spread the word’ and get people interested in yoga. I created two courses. One was ‘Yoga for the Office Worker’ and the other was ‘Yoga for Truck Drivers.’ The second one never caught on but the first one did.”
After moving to Oakhurst in 1999, Dave was participating in a health fair when a woman using a wheelchair asked him about yoga that could work for her in the chair. Dave says that’s all it took, and he modified the office worker class into chair yoga and they took it from there.
“Persons of any age or state of physical well being can do chair yoga. I have had yogis, that is anyone who does yoga, into their 90s. Some folks are just stiff, some have difficulty getting up and down from the floor, many are recovering from major illnesses.”
Dave teaches Chair Yoga in Oakhurst at Class, the Body Pastiche and at Form Fitness, and is available for private instruction.
“When I work with private students we can really tailor what we do as compared with a class structure of six to ten people. Private classes work for those who want to focus on their needs or who may want to set a schedule that is more convenient.”
People come to chair yoga for a variety of reasons. At Class, the strains of soft music fill the cool air as a group of women and men meet regularly for an hour to take advantage of the benefits the practice can offer.
“Some like it because it is so relaxing and they just want a quiet period in their week. I have folks who come to both chair yoga and my regular gentle yoga classes.”
Also a ceramic artist and instructor, Dave guides the group with a clear and pleasant voice while presenting a series of asanas crafted to maximize the dynamic tension and isometrics. While the group of happy yogis remain seated, or sometimes stand beside the chair, Dave demonstrates every step.
Stretching necks and arching backs, pressing hands together, reaching for the ceiling, twisting gently for flexibility, and extending body parts from limbs to even tongue, together we carefully and comfortably move through the positions, focusing on breath all the way. When the class is finished, there’s no doubt it’s made a difference. Tensions in both mind and body are released.
Here’s more great news: at Class, the Body Pastiche, many of a certain age can take Dave’s classes for free thanks to a program called Silver Sneakers.
“Silver Sneakers (SS) is a benefit that many insurance companies offer that will pay for the members’ exercise program,” explains Class owner Virginia Eaton.
“SS is available to many who are over 65 and have this benefit with their insurance, they can call and ask their insurance company if they offer SS. We have all of Dave’s yoga classes and also Zumba classes covered with SS, so anyone with SS can take those classes here or elsewhere at no charge.”
Virginia says the beauty of Dave’s chair yoga class is that anyone can benefit from movement and breathing.
“You don’t have to be old or infirm, i take it periodically because it very gently unwinds the physical stress of sitting at a desk for hours. Anyone recouping from illness, who cannot get on the floor, is new to exercise will benefit from a chair yoga class.”