Chair Yoga DVD - Review by Louise Kosta

Taken from The Human Ecologist No 135 Fall 135

Statistics tell us that many of us are not following advice to get regular exercise—we spend a lot of time sitting. Chair Yoga can get you moving while you’re sitting down. Author Edeltraud Rohnfeld qualified as a yoga teacher at the Berlin Yoga Institute Asha Rekai, taught yoga for 15 years, and then studied chair yoga with its founder, Erika Hammerstrom. She now lives in Ireland, where she teaches both classic and chair yoga.

As her book and DVD attest, Rohnfeld is an excellent teacher via the written word and via the demonstrations on her DVD. She is both sincere and inspiring; in one passage she writes, “Yoga teaches that the place of inner peace and composure, where we can draw again and again on fresh reserves of courage and power, lies ultimately within ourselves.….[I]t is important to be able to allow regular time for rest in everyday life. Then you can learn to manage stress in a different way, and to stay calm even in trying situations.”

Chair Yoga is a clearly written, well-illustrated guide to yoga poses that can be done sitting in an ordinary chair. There are no “pretzel” poses in the book—although the poses look very simple and are in fact achievable by most people, they have real effects and over time could provide lasting benefits to those who practice them regularly. In Rohnfeld’s view, yoga is as much mental as physical: “Yoga exercises should never be done in an acrobatic or mechanical way, but rather in a state of peace—which means a state not just of physical calm, but also of mental peace,” she writes. She also emphasizes that you don’t have to be young, slim and athletic, or a vegetarian with no bad habits to practice chair yoga. “Simply start with the exercises and observe what happens,” she says. Start with just a few—three or five—and “do them in the manner your body itself allows….Don’t force anything….Be patient

Rohnfeld structures the book as she does her yoga classes: first gentle stretching and breathing exercises, then exercises for the feet and legs, then hands arms and back, then the neck and shoulder region, and finally the head—followed by a whole body relaxation exercise. A few of the exercises are done standing, but you can omit them if they are unsuitable for you. You can pick and choose among the exercises, and observe how “tight” and frazzled you feel at the beginning of a session compared with how you feel at the end of the session. And you needn’t do all of the exercises —Rohnfeld provides lists for four 15-minute sessions, four 30-minute sessions, four 45-minute sessions, and one 60 minute program. The 30-and 45-minute session lists include two with standing exercises and two without. For beginners and skeptics, I suggest doing the breathing exercises in the book as a sample. They are easy to do, and very refreshing! Many of these exercises can be done in circumstances where ordinarily you can’t exercise—such as standing in line, sitting in a waiting room, in your cubicle at work, or in your airplane seat on a long flight. I do them sitting on a dining room chair.

One of the problems with books about exercise is that you can’t read them while you try to do the exercises. One of the problems with exercise DVDs is that it’s not always possible to do the exercises correctly just by following what you see on the screen. I’ve found it best to use both: a book that explains the exercises in detail, and a DVD to follow along with for correct pacing and key reminders. I think of books as guides to the “inside” of exercise, and DVDs as guides to its “outside.” DVDs are also essential for people like me who tend to hurry—hurry and exercise don’t go together!

Rohnfeld’s Chair Yoga DVD is an excellent companion to her book. There are two 40 minute sessions on the DVD. Rohnfeld demonstrates the exercises in a softly-lit, simply-furnished room, with very quiet background music. The voice-over is easy to follow, giving enough time to get into position and do the pose in an unhurried manner. Fatigued users will welcome the little rest after each exercise. As with all exercise DVDs, watch it first, without trying to follow along—this allows you to get a feel for the pace, and to recognize exercises that require you to do more than the simplest movements. I did both sessions, one after another, and I was so relaxed when I was done that I was sorry I hadn’t brushed my teeth and put on my pajamas before I started—I felt I could get into bed and fall sound asleep as soon as my head hit my pillow. However, I got up and followed my usual evening routine instead, and felt relaxed and refreshed for hours.

Used separately, both book and DVD versions of Chair Yoga provide good information and instructions. But when used together, they provide an ideal introduction to a very low-stress, low intensity form of yoga. It truly is an excellent form of exercise for anyone who has limited opportunities to exercise, because of either health and/or mobility problems, or because of constraints of time or space. For sedentary people who feel unable to tackle vigorous exercise, Chair Yoga can provide an enjoyable, doable—and beneficial—entry into regular activity. It may foster the desire to be more active, and provide the physical conditioning to make any activity more enjoyable.