If the idea of yoga appeals to you, but you’re worried that it’s too physically difficult, there is another way to practice.

Stacey Sandmeyer, who owns Sunshine Yoga in Glendon, is a certified instructor of chair yoga. She says chair yoga offers the same physical, mental, and spiritual benefits as the traditional yoga that is practiced on floor mats, but the addition of a chair helps with some of the movements and poses that might be difficult for some people.

“Some people might think that chair yoga is specifically for seniors, but it is for a variety of people,” Sandmeyer said. “And there is a variety of reasons that you would turn to chair yoga instead of doing a traditional yoga class.”

In a traditional yoga class, participants stand up and bend down, moving into positions that involve getting low on the mat and standing back up again. 

“In chair yoga, we either sit in the chair for the whole class, or we use the chair as a prop for balance,” Sandmeyer said. “It offers people that have balance issues, that maybe have high blood pressure, that have injuries or are recovering from surgery, a way to stay active and to reap the rewards of a yoga class.”

Yoga has long been recognized as a valuable form of physical exercise. The low-impact movement into various poses helps to stretch out tight muscle groups, and the inclusion of deep natural breathing delivers oxygen that maximizes the overall benefit.

The goal, Sandmeyer says, is not just the glow of a good workout, but a general and enduring sense of wellbeing.

“Yoga is a great way to not only create a healthy body in terms of flexibility and muscle strength, but it also is a practice that offers the benefit of a breathing practice,” she said. “By creating a balance within your centre energy chakras, it creates more focus for your mind and it just adds entire body/mind/spirit well-being.”

Again, it’s nothing like a trip to the gym.

“When you start adding the spiritual benefits or the spiritual growth of yoga, it’s good for mental health and emotional needs,” Sandmeyer said. “You have a well-rounded practice because we’re not just concentrating on bulking up or loosening up. We really want to create a place that people feel comfortable and safe with no judgment on your practice. 

“It’s all about finding what feels right for you. And then using the gentle movements and the different postures to create low-impact movements for your joints and really to create less pain.”

The health benefits include increasing strength and flexibility, and improving range of motion. “It actually is proven to slow the aging process when you have yoga in your life,” Sandmeyer said.

Yoga can lower blood pressure and decrease chronic pain, she said, as well as helping to combat anxiety and depression. And regular physical activity is a known factor in slowing the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

In Sandmeyer’s classes, participants are able to identify their own challenge level and progress as quickly or as slowly as they feel comfortable doing. The idea is to practice individually while sharing a safe, comfortable place with others.

“We have a lot of spacing, which is nice because we are doing a lot of our movement with full extension, so you’re not going to feel closed down or cramped in. And we like to have natural light if possible,” she said.

“We want it to feel welcoming, and maybe also add a sense of smell by having some nice smells in the room. It sounds silly, but when we have our eyes closed, those other senses are working our mind in a different way.”

“Beautiful little things,” she said. “And as long as you come with an open mind, I think you’ll really reap the benefits of it.”

Sandmeyer says participants leave her classes feeling joyful. “When you’re feeling safe around people that are wanting also to find that balance between the physical and mental, the spiritual, I think that you do create a classroom that is very welcoming,” she said. “And I think all seniors and all people with these type of physical challenges could really benefit from this chair yoga.

“My students always say how much they enjoy the class, that it felt so good for them. They feel relaxed and they sleep better at night after yoga practice. So there are some great benefits.”

Sandmeyer is offering chair yoga at the Bonnyville Centennial Centre on the first Wednesday of each month from 11:00 am to noon, beginning February 2. She is also available to teach clubs or even informal groups of friends.

“We do 45 minutes of poses and breath exercise, but I always like to leave time at the end of the class for meditation,” she said. “Just centring yourself and practicing mindful practice, that’s also a great benefit. Meditation is always a part of the class.”

There is no special equipment required, she said, just wear comfortable clothing and be prepared to
walk out of the room happy.

“And to share your happiness,” she adds.

Stacey Sandmeyer leads a chair yoga class at Bonnylodge. SUBMITTED
Using a chair can make yoga easier while still offering the benefits of practice. SUBMITTED