It’s Thursday morning, so a group of people sit in a circle of chairs in Raleigh Moravian Church, wiggling their toes to show off their socks. Blue ones, striped ones, patterned ones: all donned to make fellow members of the chair yoga class laugh.
“The yoga takes you away from everything in your life,” said Carolyn Herr Watts, a Raleigh retiree who said she looks forward to Thursday every week. “One of the best parts is being here with good friends and giggling.”
The differences in this yoga class go far beyond participants’ silly sock contests.
All of the yoga poses are done from a sitting position. Bad knees and achy backs keep many of the members from a mat yoga class, so many credit the chair yoga class for keeping them active and healthy.
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Several of the members have been coming every week for seven years, forming lasting friendships.
Donna Herring said the friendships and activity helped her get through the loss of her husband and several other family members within a short time.
“I don’t think that I could have kept going if it hadn’t been for my chair yoga and the wonderful things that go on with everyone in this class,” said Herring, 85 of Raleigh. “They have been the nicest, dearest friends that I have ever found.”
Both men and women show up each week; ages range from 50 to the mid 80s. The Raleigh Moravian Church donates the space as part of an outreach program, and the class is open to anyone in the community.
Each week after the final yoga pose is completed, the group heads to lunch at a local restaurant.
Yoga instructor T.J. Martin said the class likes to tease her that they come to yoga just so they can go out to lunch together.
“Our weekly lunch is a time where we have fun laughing and sharing about our life,” Watts said.
For mind and body
Class members have found many uses for the yoga techniques in their daily lives, they said. Some use yoga when they can’t sleep, while others have found it useful to deal with pain or procedures such as an MRI.
Martin said one regular class member would sit on the edge of her bed during the final stages of cancer and use her yoga breathing to help manage her pain.
“Everyone thinks you have to be on the floor and be young to do yoga, but our darling teacher knows a way of teaching 85-year-old women like myself to move and make them feel better,” Herring said.
Although many of the class members have physical limitations, Martin has taught higher-level yoga practices to her chair yoga classes than her mat yoga classes because of their desire to learn more.
“I have seen nothing else like the dedication in this class,” Martin said.
In mat yoga classes, she said, the exercise is usually just one part of a person’s physically active day. Because the members of the chair yoga class are typically less active, the class makes an enormous impact on their life and well-being.
“I can really see the power of yoga through this class,” Martin said.