Last week I taught a chair yoga class at Publishers Clearing House in Chelsea as part of their corporate wellness day. Dues to space (and time) limitations we ended up doing two 30-minute sessions. Although not easy to interrupt deskwork fever to do a mindful yoga practice in the middle of the day, the participants were elegant, thoughtful and positive in attendance and approach. As expected, lots of very tight hamstrings, hip flexors, rounded shoulders and tight pectorals. Computer time breeds a collapsed chest and tight neck and shoulders, so the back/neck/chest stretches were helpful and immediately helped to re-calibrate posture. Additionally, often the fancy ergonomic office chairs are don’t provide enough lumbar support so an addition cushion is helpful. Literally, even a 10-minute yoga breather can break up the physical stress and re-pattern towards better alignment. A cheat sheet of yoga poses were provided.
Last November 2010, I was going to attend the New York State annual Occupational Therapy Conference at Columbia University Hammel Center for health sciences. I signed up for a chair yoga workshop because I had been teaching one at my hospital for over a year and wanted to observe other approaches to chair based yoga. My class was developed based on our patient population and the functional deficits and movement impairments common with knee replacements, hip replacements, strokes (CVA’s), cardiac, arthritis and other age related disorders.
As it turns out, the workshop I signed up for was cancelled at the last minute I got slotted in as the back-up presenter! So, along with my colleague Susan Braham (also an dancer, choreographer, OTR/L and yoga teacher) we presented “Chair Based Yoga for Movement Impairments – An intervention tool for Occupational Therapists” at the 2010 NYSOTA conference at Columbia.
Our goal for the workshop was to provide Occupational Therapists with fundamental yoga principles and some chair based strategies as a way of treating movement limitations and postural impairments. Specifically, we wanted to have the therapists in attendance learn to use yoga props such as belts, blocks, chairs, asana components and yoga alignment principles to increase their skill set in working with an aging and possibly non-ambulatory population.
In this workshop we wanted to teach strategies, which are therapeutic in nature but also build strength, increase joint range-of-motion, improve posture and possibly most of all increase the participants body-awareness and sense of self-efficacy.
This approach is interesting to me because often yoga therapy can seem synonymous with restorative yoga, and have an overly heavy focus on prananyama (breathing) and the use of supported (restorative) supine poses. For me, therapeutic yoga is also an anabolic process, and continues to build strength and develop awareness, regardless of age or impairment. The three-hour workshop was dynamic, interactive and very inspiring. In fact, there was a wheelchair bound participant who was delighted with how just two properly placed blocks behind her back allowed her spine to extend more fully and increase her participation in activities with more ease and less pain. The participants seemed genuinely interested in the work.
After another year of chair yoga under my belt (so to speak), the next conference for NYSOTA will continue to build on my work with yoga for specific movement impairments (hip, knee, CVA, OA) while following all the necessary precautions to maintain safety while increasing functional potential.