A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy?

By Angela LaMonte

Krishnamacharya, the great teacher of both B.K.S. Iyengar and Patabhi Jois, said that there is something in the practice of yoga for everyone and that the only requirements for practicing yoga are the abilities to breathe and to bring the hands together in front of the heart. I love thinking about this, and while it gives me the basis for everything I do whenever I’m teaching, it particularly inspires me in my chair yoga classes. Although my chair students have physical limitations that keep them from the sort of asana practice that younger and freer bodies can have, I find that they want to have a full experience of yoga-- not just asana, but all the limbs of yoga. It’s almost as if limiting the asana practice frees them for more exploration of philosophy, breath practices and meditation. In my longest running chair class I can bring in anything for my students’ consideration: poetry, spiritual readings from any tradition, breath practices, and all sorts of concentration/meditation practices. They love it and it brings out the best in me as I search for things that will interest them.

The people who come to my class at Yoga on High don’t fit any preconceived images of who might do chair yoga. They are active people who have something that keeps them from getting to the floor and back up again as comfortably, easily or quickly as would be needed in other classes. They could be new to yoga or they could have previous experience. They might have conditions like arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint replacements, or the effects of diabetes. They might be recovering from injuries or surgery and decide to take chair yoga as a way to keep coming to class until they can return to their regular classes. They might want to learn practices that they can do in an office, or maybe they just want to move gently. No matter their reason for coming to class, they’re all mature enough not to be seduced by images of perfect bodies in yoga magazines. Instead, they know their needs and study yoga as a means to increase the physical function and emotional comfort in their lives.

I love watching my chair yoga students and figuring out what I can teach that meets their needs. The class tends to be small and personal, and the challenge for me is to keep trying things for them until we find what they can do. I always have an idea about how class will go and then (more often than not) drop it if the students who come to class need something different. This happened in my class recently, when a student was having so much physical discomfort that I struggled to come up with ideas for asana practice for her. I had an image in my head of flipping through file folders as I searched for something in my backlog of movements that could be done sitting in a chair or standing behind one to hold for balance. My student finally said that she wanted rest—which I could definitely provide for her, with all the lovely props in the studio. As I got her settled in I hoped that the others in class knew that they would get the same level of care from me whenever they need it, because they will.

Every class is an adventure and a learning process for my students and for me, as we figure out what they need on any given day. I’m challenged to come up with ideas to keep asana practice interesting within physical parameters that are appropriate for my students, and I’m free to offer as much pranayama and meditation as I want. For me, it’s the perfect class!

3 Responses to A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy?
  1. susan

    Angela! I love this! I can see you in my mind’s eye working hard with apparent effortless-ness! And I know there must be a lovely feeling of peace at the end of all of your classes!

  2. Jennifer

    Beautifully stated. Yoga is truly for ‘every body’.

  3. Babette

    ..and you are the perfect teacher!