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Day: July 20, 2020

The 3 C’s of Chair Yoga

By Kimberlea Smarr for Yoga Medicine®.

In 2008 I was fresh out of my teacher training in India and back home in rural Colorado. I came back ready to teach stressed out moms (like me) the benefits of yoga. What I found instead was a population that was in need and underserved. I met the director of the local senior center at a chamber of commerce meet and greet. She asked if I taught chair yoga and I told her no, but if she was willing to let me try, I was willing to figure it out.

This began an exploration into the adaptability of yoga for me as an able-bodied yogi and teacher. I discovered with imagination, willingness and creativity yoga can be made assessable for every BODY. Teaching chair yoga has been one of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of my teaching career. My students range in age from 60-90 years old and have many circumstances such as oxygen tanks, pacemakers, knee replacements, hip replacements, shoulder surgeries, spinal fusions, diabetes and other chronic illness. Instead of seeing them as their circumstances, I approached them compassionately and with curiosity. Working with them has provided me with an insight into the complex yet beautiful adaptability of the body and spirit.

Over the years my approach to teaching chair yoga can be boiled down to 3 C’s: community, compassion and circulation. Using this as framework, you can create a meaningful and beneficial chair yoga practice for many circumstances that people are facing. I feel like my main priority is to help my students focus on what they can do, not on what they cannot do. This has resonated deeply with my students not only physically but mentally and emotionally as well.


Circle the wagons (or chairs)! This is the only class that I teach in a circle formation. This is a symbol of wholeness, community and connection. In an aging population, I find it is so important to create eye contact and to have a feeling of being a part of something bigger. We notice if our circle is smaller and we realize immediately when someone is missing and inquire about their wellbeing. We spend the first bit of class doing “mouth yoga” which is code for gabbing and catching up. This is often where I am mentally editing my class so I can meet them where they are. My care and concern is genuine. This creates a tone that carries the supportive energy throughout the entire time we are together. It elevates the mood and ties us together. Yoga, after all, means union.

This is also the only class that I teach and participate in the whole time. I want to be included in the energy of the practice and refrain from just standing up at the front to teach to a population that is much wiser and more seasoned than me. Because of so many individualized circumstances, I do not make physical adjustments. I rely on my verbal cues and demonstration to make corrections. Being in a circle helps them reference each other so they can see how the pose looks on other bodies that have challenges too. This is not meant to compare, but to see the diversity and to celebrate and support each other.


At the beginning of practice, I set the tone for self-compassion. I have found body shaming to be a normal reference for many women in this generation. Along with that, I hear so much talk around the resistance to aging and how “it’s all downhill from here.” A disconnect with their body is often present. With deep compassion, I carefully navigate with language that helps them to consider that aging, perhaps, is a privilege instead of a curse. Many times, it is the first opportunity they have had to make room to love and care compassionately for their bodies. Compassion coupled with gratitude allows the mental practice to set the stage for the movement. When we move with loving kindness towards our body instead of angst and disapproval, it changes the quality of the movement immensely.


Once the tone of the class is set, it is time to move. I look at promoting circulation in the entire body – especially the nooks and crannies that are not included in our “sit, stand, walk” daily patterns. You must imagine the chair as a prop and use it as such. It allows many people to still create postural strength as well as tap into the entire spectrum of movement in the body.

We start by welcoming our feet to class by spreading and lifting the toes then placing them back down. We close our eyes, lengthen our spine and breathe. Once we establish ujjayi breath, I encourage them to never sacrifice the breath for the movement or posture. The breath is primary, and the postures are secondary. There are limitless ways to sequence a class, but below is a structure that can help create circulation in a diverse group of students.

Seated ½ Sun Salutations

Each ½ of the breath shape shifts us from one pose to the next, it begins to establish the body mind connection. Do 3-5 rounds of the following:

  • Inhale: arms reach overhead

  • Exhale: Uttanasana

  • Inhale: ½ way lift

  • Exhale: Uttanasana

  • Inhale: rise, arms overhead

  • Exhale: Hands to heart
Flexion and Extension (Better Known as Cat/Cow)
  • Inhale: Cow – Stay upright as possible, rock forward of your sitting bones, squeeze shoulder blades
    together and curl the sternum up as you lift the chin

  • Exhale: Cat – Rock behind your sitting bones and turn your gaze in towards your navel and draw it back
    towards your spine as you spread the back body wide.

Twist Right and Left
  • Sit tall with knees and feet together. Take your right hand across the body to the outside of the left knee. Reach your left hand behind you to help lift the spine a little taller.
  • Inhale feel the length of your spine and exhale twist your upper body to the left while keeping both sitting bones heavy and grounded
    to the chair. Stay 3-5 breaths. Inhale to release and repeat on the opposite side

Lateral bend Right and Left
  • Still seated in the chair, separate your feet hip distance apart and ground your sitting bones into your chair.
  • Inhale both arms overhead. Your right hand grabs the left wrist and side bend to your right without unplugging your pelvis. Begin little tiny bounces to the right as you breathe smoothly and calmly. The bounces won’t match the breath necessarily. Stay 3-5 breaths and then change sides.

Now that the spine is lubricated, it is time to bring in more circulation to the periphery.

Shoulder Rolls Forward and Back

Place fingers on head of arm bones and inhale shrug shoulders up, lift your elbows forward. Exhale widen elbows out to the side as you squeeze shoulder blades together and down. Repeat 3-5 breaths. Change directions for 3-5 breaths.


Interlace fingers in front of you. Keep the palms together and begin to rotate hands in one direction to create a circle. Go slow for 2- 3 breaths then speed it up for 2-3 more breaths. Change the interlacing of your fingers to the “weird way” to hold hands with yourself and repeat circling the other direction.


Sit up tall and gather your right knee towards your chest with your right hand. Begin to rotate your knee the right to create circles. After 3-5 rotations, reverse the circle direction. Then place your right thigh on top of your left thigh. Begin to rotate your ankle in a clockwise circle for 3 breaths then counterclockwise. Keep the shape of the legs and begin to squeeze the outer shins towards each other, maybe tuck the right foot behind the left calf for Garudasana (eagle pose). You will see diverse positions in this pose for many reasons. Take this time to give everyone permission to let the legs cross comfortably and squeeze whatever shape they can make. Take your left arm on top of your right and hug the outer arm pits with each hand (they may only be able to hold opposite elbows instead of armpits). Lift your elbows to shoulder height. 3-5 breaths. Repeat on the left side starting with hip circles.

Warrior 2 Seated

Shift to the right side of your chair. Turn you right knee and foot to the right as you sit into your right thigh and sitting bone. Extend your left leg behind you by squeezing your quadricep and turn your left foot sideways. Open your arms to the side and turn your shoulders and belly to face the side. Hold 5-7 breaths. You can do reverse warrior 2 and side angle as a variation. Repeat on the left side.


Bring your feet about hip distance apart. Draw the heels back just slightly behind the knees and pretend to spread the floor with your feet without moving them anywhere. Inhale press your hands in Anjali mudra and keep your shoulders on your back, eyes forward. Exhale hinge slightly at the hips press into your heels and hover your hips above the chair while the chest and eyes remains up (encourage students to use hands if necessary or just try to lift without coming out of the chair). Inhale sit back down; exhale repeat 3-5 times. On the last one, stay hovering for 3 breaths then rise to stand on an inhale.

Down Dog

Once standing have the students turn the chair so they can place their hands on the seat of the chair and step their feet back into down dog. Encourage bent knees and wide feet as well as bum higher than head. This often takes a “mini workshop” to get them into the correct position. I demonstrate technique that shows poor alignment and proper alignment and the explain the myriad of benefits of down dog. Hold 3 -5 breaths.


Once in down dog you can move forward to plank. Inhale to plank, exhale back to down dog. I always give the option to stay in dog. I encourage inner armpits forward and neck is free from tension. You can also hold plank once they get stronger or just pulse back and forth from plank to dog. Move for 5-10 breaths. Finish in down dog and walk your feet towards your chair. Lengthen the spine in ½ lift. Take hands to hips, elbows point to the sky and with a strong belly and flat back rise.

Figure 4

Turn the chair around and take a seat. Flex your right foot and place it on top of your left knee to create a figure 4 shape. Many bodies need extra support so to modify take your hands to the outside of the right shin and lift slightly. Do not let the right foot go to sleep and sickle. Wake it up and that helps protect the knee in this shape. Widen the right knee away from the right shoulder and hold 3-5 breaths. Repeat on the left side.


You can incorporate ½ sun salutes here if you have a little extra time, otherwise lie back into the chair and find a comfortable resting pose. If they can get up and down off the floor, I demonstrate legs on the chair for savasana. Conscious breath continues for 1-2 minutes with guidance then let everything go for 2 minutes.

Yoga Digest: Best of What to Read

You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.  So no pressure but, if you are looking for enlightenment, guidance, transformation, self-study, awareness and growth, start with this list!  These are our top picks of what to read if you are ready to be the best version of you.  We even included a selection for our young readers, or one you can share with the little ones in your commitment to wisdom and evolution.  This list includes playfulness and a light heart as well as some very deep soul searching and chakra work.  Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body!

The ABCs of Yoga for Kids Around the World



Simple Yoga for Kids

The ABCs of Yoga for Kids Around the World is the newest title in the international bestselling kids’ yoga series, The ABCs of Yoga for Kids. Written by acclaimed yoga expert and Kids’ Yoga Day founder, Teresa Anne Power, this beautifully illustrated hardcover book is a wonderful read-aloud for parents/educators and children. It takes readers on a fun-filled tour of 32 countries, sharing kid-friendly facts about each, as well as teaching simple yoga poses suitable for children of all ages and athletic abilities. This book also introduces to the alphabet and how to say ‘hello” in the language of each country represented.

Learn More

aim true



Must Have Guide for Yogis

In Aim True, Budig extends her empowering message beyond the mat. Life is an adventure that is meant to be explored, challenged, and fully lived. The best part? When you approach life with an open mind and heart, the possibilities are endless. Allow Budig to be your guide along the journey with yoga sequences, recipes, meditation, homeopathic self care and more! Whether your goal is to love who you are right now, reshape the way you view food, develop a meditation practice, or discover new ways to embrace the great balancing act that is life, this holistic approach to yoga, diet, and mindfulness has something for you. Filled with vibrant photographs and whimsical illustrations, this guide is as beautiful as it is life-changing.

Learn More

Meditate Your Weight

Meditation Program

Internationally renowned master yoga teacher, and meditation, health and wellness expert, Tiffany Cruikshank (Lac, MAOM) offers an exciting way to use meditation: to lose weight and revamp your body-brain relationship with Meditate Your Weight. This book provides a daily meditation program to guide you through various mental obstacles and poor habits and behaviors that stand in the way of positive body image and living a healthy life. Meditate Your Weight will help retrain your brain to rid your life of unhealthy mental habits, calm your nervous system, and maximize your mind’s role in a healthy metabolism.

Learn More

Read the full list of Yoga Digest’s best reads here.


The Complex Nature of Grief During COVID-19 (Plus 3 Simple Practices to Help You Cope)

COVID-19, has really changed so much in our lives, including how we’re coping with grief from the loss of a loved one. Quarantine and social distancing ask us to adapt in different ways when it comes to love and loss, and to saying goodbye.

In normal circumstances, when a loved one gets sick, we can have contact and care for them, share sentiments and love, and be present with them as end of life approaches. We can hold their hand as we say goodbye and assure them, they are not alone.

A pandemic changes all of this.

As one approaches the end of life, it must be experienced without loved ones nearby, which can be scary and leave loved ones without a sense of closure over the loss.

People are missing out on their final farewells, which is relatively common when a loved one dies suddenly, like from an accident or heart attack. But there’s added stress that is unique during a pandemic, in that we are aware that the loved one is declining, but there’s little ability to be of support and the inability to be present for the end of life.

This can lead to deep despair, feeling a lack of control, guilt, and sadness over the inability to be of comfort.

In addition, once the loved one passes, rituals like celebrations of life and funerals can’t be held due to social distancing measures. While some are engaging in virtual funerals and other rituals, it doesn’t replace the hug of family members or the shared experience of mourning together.

So a lot of the grief is left to be done alone or at a distance from the loved ones needed for support. Finding acceptance, a key tenet of grief processing, can be disrupted as a result.

Want to learn how to cope with grief and work toward healing and health? Click here to read the full article originally published on


Check out Diane Malaspina’s online course, Working with Grief – Theory and Therapeutic Application of Yoga, which is designed for experienced yoga teachers who work with clients in a private setting and would like to refine their approach to helping those experiencing grief.

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