Care via chair yoga: improving strength, flexibility and peace of mind
WORTHINGTON — If you’ve looked with awe at airbrushed images of yoga practitioners in impossibly flexible poses and thought, “I could never do that,” well, you might—or might not—be right.
“A lot of times when folks picture people practicing yoga, they imagine beautiful young people who bend into all sorts of shapes that not very many humans can get themselves into,” laughed Margaret Hurlbut Vosburgh.
“But at the start of every yoga session I teach, I remind that yoga is above all NOT a competitive sport, and the person next to you, or the instructor, might not be doing exactly what you’re doing — and that’s OK,” she continued.
“Yoga is about understanding what your body is capable of, and most importantly, we need to treat ourselves with compassion when practicing yoga.”
At this point in time, rest assured that Vosburgh knows exactly what she’s talking about; she’s been practicing yoga in one form or another for 25 years, and she became a certified and registered yoga teacher eight years ago after training at Sun Moon Yoga Studios in Mankato.
“I find that my yoga practice keeps me grounded mentally, physically and spiritually,” said Vosburgh.
“I teach yoga to educate not only my students but also myself, because I learn as much from my students as I hope they learn from me.”
Vosburgh, who has regularly taught Hatha yoga since gaining her certification, is beginning to offer a chair yoga class via the Worthington Center for Active Living (CAL).
In cooperation with the CAL’s managing director Mary Luke, Vosburgh will stage four free classes in May at the CAL to stimulate interest in chair yoga.
Beginning May 9 at 1 p.m., and continuing at that hour on each successive Thursday, Vosburgh will lead all comers through a basic chair yoga class. She hopes many people will try it out.
“Yoga is for everybody,” said Vosburgh. “Whether you’re young and fit, or in your senior years and have mobility issues, you can do it.
“You can practice it at home, in a class or from a chair.”
Chair yoga, as one might suppose, is a gentle form of yoga wherein the practitioner either remains seated or uses a chair for support while engaging in basic movements.
“Chair yoga provides the benefits of regular yoga practice — breathing, exercise and meditation — to those for whom the standard method (getting up and down from the floor) may not be easily available,” said Vosburgh.
“As people age, we have to learn to cope with certain changes.”
Vosburgh describes a few of the poses involved in chair yoga.
“We open our hearts and do shoulder stretches — how often during a typical day do we allow ourselves to just stop and stretch our shoulders? — and release our legs, one at a time, in front of our bodies to say hello to our hamstrings,” she said.
“Chair yoga involves your seat, legs, arms, back, neck, eyes and brain, and people with restricted mobility can do it.”
She assures that the CAL offers a “really safe environment, and chair yoga will be pretty new to everyone there.”
The list of potential benefits from practicing yoga is lengthy.
“Yoga can help with range of motion and mobility,” she noted. “It can improve circulation, strength, flexibility, focus and concentration.
“Yoga can alleviate some pain, reduce feelings of tension and stress and promote a healthy mindset,” Vosburgh added.
“And yoga also offers an opportunity to meet people and socialize. As we age, we sometimes pull back from some of that, so yoga is another chance to get out and be among other people.”
Vosburgh stresses that she will encourage those who try her chair yoga class to be compassionate with themselves and others.
“When we start a class, either from a mat or a chair, there’s a gesture that relates to opening our hearts and gives us a moment to be grateful — for ourselves, our neighbors, family, friends, the communities where we live and the world around us,” said Vosburgh.
Because older people sometimes live in fear of trips or falls, chair yoga is another means of preventing accidents, too.
“You need flexibility to reach down and tie your shoes, or to pick something up,” said Vosburgh.
“You need balance for getting in and out of your car, or to navigate steps.
“It’s important, particularly for people in their senior years, to know where their bodies are in space and to gain more control over their bodies and movements.”
Mental clarity also comes with yoga, Vosburgh says.
“For that hour of yoga class, you’re taken out of your life into a different part where all that’s required of you is what’s before you.”
Besides teaching yoga, Vosburgh, 68, is a fiber artist, a wife (to Michael), a mother (to son Adam) and the former manager of Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center, where she worked for 18 1/2 years.
Vosburgh promises the requirements for trying the free chair yoga classes in May are few.
“Bring an open mind, a water bottle and wear clothing that’s comfortable and loose so you can move around easily,” said Vosburgh.
“That’s all — just bring yourself, and encourage anyone to come and try out one class.
“We’re just trying to improve our bodies, minds and spirits as we age.”
Four sessions of chair yoga, taught by Margaret Hurlbut Vosburgh, are offered free of charge at 1 p.m. on Thursdays in May (May 9, 16, 23 and 30) at the Center for Active Living, 211 11th St., Worthington. Attendees need not be CAL members to join a class. For more information about chair yoga or any other CAL offerings, visit centerforactiveliving.com or call CAL manager Mary Luke at 376-6457.
Vosburgh also teaches Hatha yoga at the CAL at 5:15 p.m. each Wednesday, with a new summer session beginning May 29; contact the CAL (see above) for more information about those classes.