It’s time to take a seat—and do your yoga
This story illustrated the courage and spirit of the blind 84-year old Sheila Luttazi, who cheerfully participated in all the class exercises. To me, she was an inspirational example of grace under pressure. – Nancy Rubin Stuart
The word makes us think of nimble figures with limbs outstretched in a triangle or in the forward lunge of the “warrior” pose. But it turns out there are ways for people of all ages and abilities to enjoy this ancient practice.
The growing popularity of yoga has led to adaptations for people who may never have imagined themselves twisting and bending on the floor. One of them is chair yoga, offered on Thursday mornings at the Yarmouth Senior Citizen Center by Judi Pregot, an instructor from the Visiting Nurse Association of Cape Cod.
“The whole premise is to use the chair as your base where you do your yoga poses,” Pregot said.
Among her students is 84-year-old Shiela Luttazi, who is legally blind. While she can perform some of the chair yoga exercises, Pregot often assists her by repositioning her hands, arms or torso.
“I feel better now, as if I’ve accomplished something here in 40 minutes rather than just going through the motions,” Luttazi said after a recent session. “I was tense about something before I came in and now I decided, ‘oh well I’ll figure it out.’”
Her reaction doesn’t surprise Pregot, a medical social worker who has practiced yoga herself for 18 years and considers it a helpful tool to relax and reduce stress for patients and family members. She first heard about chair yoga about four or five years ago while attending a program entitled “Get Fit Where You Sit” at New York City’s Open Center.
Conceived by yoga teacher Lakshimi Voelker, author of the book Chair Yoga: The Sitting Mountain Series, the method is founded upon yoga postures and breathing techniques.
“The only difference is that it’s done by sitting in a chair rather than by getting down on a mat. I was thinking because Cape Cod has such an aging population, it would be great to bring it here to our senior citizens,” Pregot said.
She began integrating chair yoga poses into her stress reduction classes at the Eastham Council on Aging. Two years ago, the Community Wellness program of the Visiting Nurse Association asked Prego to offer it at the Yarmouth Senior Citizen Center.
The class became so popular that Prego was asked to repeat it. Since then, there are always waiting lists for her classes.
“I encourage my students by explaining that when they tell others they’re doing chair yoga, they may get laughs, but they’re getting the same benefits and effects they would by getting down of the floor,” she said. “We take every yoga position we can think of and adapt it to a chair.”
Among the newcomers to her class this spring was Luttazi, whose daughter had encouraged her to enroll.
Her experience at the Yarmouth Center has been extremely positive. One reason is that Pregot discreetly helps Luttazi while instructing the other students.
“We are going to do a spinal twist now. Let’s begin with your left hand on your right thigh. Now take a deep breath,” Prego explained to the class before helping Luttazi into a proper position. “Twist to the right as far as its comfortable for you but be careful not to overextend. Now take another breath, slowly exhale and turn back to the center, “
“If it weren’t for Judi, I’d miss at least a third of the lesson because of my placement of my hands or arms, but she does cater to me. That means I’m with her rather than trying to catch up all the time. This means I can have more success,” Luttazi said.
Pregot says the class benefits her as well as the students. “This is what keeps me grounded because I work at hospice, where it is often sad,” she said.
“Teaching chair yoga is a very different experience, because it helps support life and makes people feel better.”