Shirley Raichle practiced yoga for many years, even taught it. But as the years passed, her flexibility decreased. Now, she cannot get up and down and do all the standing yoga postures or positions.
"I thought it was all over for me," said Raichle, who is in her 70s.
That was before she discovered chair yoga at the William E. Hale Senior Activity Center in Dunedin. Participants in the chair yoga class can stretch, bend, twist and massage their bare feet — all while seated in straight-backed chairs.
"I'm thrilled to be able to do yoga again," she said.
Cecile Gegg, a lifelong student of yoga and a licensed instructor, began leading this class several months ago for those who are no longer as flexible or as strong as they once were.
"Chair yoga is a relatively modern concept that is really big in California," Gegg said. "It's a way of adjusting yoga to our aging bodies."
Carol Young, 71, agrees. She had practiced yoga for many years but stopped as she got older. "Older people develop arthritis and find it too hard to get up and down from the floor," she said. "I find if I do yoga on the floor I get nauseated."
Gegg, 62, has taken the principal concepts of this ancient art with roots in India thousands of years ago, and adapted them to older people who may use a chair as a prop. Some of the exercises are done while seated, others while standing next to the chair, letting the women hold on as needed.
"I encourage the students to let go one finger at a time," Gegg said, "just to see if they can improve their balance."
All present said they benefit from the weekly session. "This class meets my current lifestyle," Raichle said.
Young said she has noticed improvement in her flexibility, even in the few months she has been attending class.
Breathing deeply pervades all the motions. Focusing on the breath, said Gegg, enables people to relax and forget what ails them. She noted that the word "yoga" means unity. Yoga unites the mind and the body with the breath, she said.
The women began class one recent morning by closing their eyes and taking a series of deep breaths while seated, legs slightly apart. Following Gegg's softly spoken direction, they reached their arms overhead and slowly spread them wide open. Just as slowly they lowered their arms and bent down to touch the floor.
Massage appeared to be a favorite part of the class. With Gegg's guidance the women massaged their scalps, jaws, neck, shoulders and feet.
"You're massaging all the organs in the body when you massage the feet," Gegg said. "Our feet are locked up in shoes too much."
Connecticut resident Marion Coriaty, 83, said she regrets that no chair yoga classes are available near her hometown of Manchester. During the four or five months a year Coriaty is in Dunedin, she hopes to attend Gegg's classes regularly.
"I feel better overall," she said. "My bones feel good."
Mae Bryson is a lifelong walker who used to do senior exercises, including Jazzercise. She said chair yoga is more suitable for those facing the physical challenges of aging.
"I like the breathing and relaxation exercises here," said Bryson, 77. "You're more aware of your whole body."
Gegg, who has been practicing yoga for 30 years, still does floor stretches and yoga postures at home every day. But she said the chair yields many of the same benefits.
"Yoga is something you can do forever," she said. Even from a chair.
Elaine Markowitz is a freelance writer living in Palm Harbor. E-mail her at bmarkow2@ tampabay.rr.com or c/o LifeTimes, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.