Community Chair Yoga in Christchurch

One fine day, while out riding my bike exploring my new community, I saw a small sign outside a modest house near the Bishopdale shops, so I stopped to investigate and discovered Sundbye House. Mr Google later told me about this little gem.  I was delighted to find that the House's ethos of helping people in the community, permeates everything that happens there. As a believer in the value of a strong community, I was hooked! A quick chat with Chris, the friendly and very welcoming community development worker, and I was invited to the Monday morning tea group to tell them what I could offer, as a volunteeryoga teacher at the House. The very next Friday afternoon classes in Chair Yoga began.

So why Chair Yoga?

"Anyone can do yoga. If you can breathe and wriggle your fingers you can do yoga," an old yogi told me many years ago. As I now know, yoga is far more than the physical poses which is what I thought I was signing up for when I enrolled in my first yoga class.  And as my dear sister reminded me recently when I quoted the old yogi to her, you don't even have to be able to wriggle your fingers – you just have to visualize the movements clearly in your head. As research has found, visualising movements gives a person about 70% of the benefit of actually doing them physically.

My focus at Sundbye House was to be on developing body awareness and learning a range of breathing practices in order to promote ease and serenity. Not everyone can easily get up and down from the floor so my reasons for using chairs were as follows:

1. All the participants were new to yoga practices and some had limited mobility, so starting off sitting on chairs made good sense for creating a sense of security and comfort.
2. As this was deemed to be a trial, there was no point in people having to think about mats, blankets, cushions or other props-  sitting on chairs made sense.
3. On a very practical level there is not a lot ofspace in the communal area at Sundbye House, so there is not enough room for several yoga mats spread over the floor – again, using chairs made sense.

Four people showed up thatFriday. They came because they had been intrigued by my claim that I would teach breathing practices that would help them learn to reduce their overall anxiety and to calm themselves when they needed to. At the end of the first session, all spontaneously told me how relaxed they felt. "I could've gone to sleep," said one.  And we weren't even lying down!

Some people who have been attending chair yoga at Sundbye House share their thoughts below:

"I come for the breathing, relaxing and flexibility"

"In the short time I have been coming it has helped me immensely. When I can't sleep I do my deep breathing, the pause breathing and the long exhale. It helps me relax."

"I have been made aware that my body does need help in another way as I have had a stroke. This lovely lady has done well with me."

"More relaxing than yesterday" (when the participant attended breathing classes at the hospital).

Mahadevi brings a real sense of calm and peace whenever she takes a class.  She is wonderfully patient, gives clear and easy to follow instructions, and has a relaxed teaching style.  The yoga she teaches is easy enough for anyone to try – some of it is done sitting on a chair.  It’s clear that the folk attending, myself included, find it enjoyable and beneficial.”

Theasana we do (some standing, some seated in chairs) are simple yet effective in improving joint mobility, flexibility, stability and balance. The pranayama practices give participants the peace and calm they are seeking. Frequent unsolicited feedback confirms this. It is a pleasure to be able to offer this service within my community.

Mahadevi