As Iyengar students know, a metal folding chair can be a very useful partner in class – if not a little tedious – with all those directions.
And so, Carrie Owerko has flipped it. Playful Practice with the Chair is a series of five videos using the king of props as the centerpiece of the sequence. The intent is to allow all yogis the opportunity to try postures they may not otherwise have access to. And for those that don’t normally modify, it’s a chance to approach their practice in a new way.
The videos are themed on the concepts of Space, Air, Water, Fire and Earth. “A big part of what we’re doing with these chair videos is help people have a sense of possibility,” says Carrie. “I used the frame of the elements to contextualize it. We’d usually start with Earth—from the ground up—but I decided to start it with Space, to invert it. Because sometimes the principle behind practicing is to create space in one’s body and mind. Or creating space around an idea, giving yourself the opportunity to pause. The practical application of the chair in this sequence is a tool for literal traction. To anchor a certain part of the body and let the force of gravity begin to open up the tissues, and to reveal a sense of space between the cells. ”
Carrie explains that the first video is a whole-body sequence accessible to any level of practitioner. “It doesn’t have anything particularly challenging in terms of range of motion, strength or balance.”
Experienced yogis will find it worthwhile in a different way. “It’s also deep and rewarding for advanced practitioners,” she says. “It’s chance to slow down and go ‘in’ to themselves in a good way – to ask ‘Where am I and what is actually happening?’. They come out not only relaxed, but also oddly with some energy, because the tension that has fatigued them has been released.
“We work a lot with bringing ‘space’ to the side body, which is something that will often resonate across the spectrum. It’s soothing for the nervous system, helping the practitioner calm down the ‘fight or flight’ tendency. There are supported standing forward bends and twists that release and relax the muscles around the spine without too much straining. The big reward in this sequence is that you really get to feel the body breathing, and because the chair is supporting the body, the attention isn’t on the body and the effort of supporting oneself.”
Carrie says that the focus for the next video, the air sequence, is to “let gravity be a friend. It’s more back bending, using the chair to release tension in the hip flexors, which is a big thing since people sit so much. We’re trying to position ourselves to get support from gravity, so that the load of our body weight is lessened. People can have the experience of feeling light, and uplifted. To have a feeling of space—space never leaves the series, we’re just building on it—inside their pelvis and along the spine. In the air sequence there’s dynamic movement with the body on the chair, and hopefully people will feel less effort and more possibility. These poses can really uplift your spirit and mood quite quickly.”
The upcoming fire sequence will introduce balance poses. “I try to show people that have injuries, or are older, that they can do a supported version of almost all arm balancing. They can learn the shape of the pose and begin to ignite the muscles that they are going to help them do the pose, and then move gradually from a supported to an unsupported version, where they are gradually increasing the load on their limbs.”
Carrie says the chair is like having a partner who’s only there to ‘give.’ “You have your own dance partner— it just happens to be an inanimate object!” Fred Astaire would surely approve.
The first two videos are available for purchase by clicking here. Each has a full-length version and a shorter, more basic version. “The shorter version will have the less advanced poses,” explains Carrie, “but even if someone is doing the longer version, you can stay (in a pose) and hold, you don’t have to go on to the variation I’m about to show. We’re trying to present the poses in a way that we’re really breaking things down and doing them in sections so that you’re never really asking your body to make a leap.” The videos are accompanied by bonus features, such as a variation of parivrtta prasarita padottanasana with a bolster placed on the chair to aid with twisting.
“What I’m trying to do is get these teachings out in a way so that it’s not just a ‘follow along’ video,” says Carrie. “There’s a little more content in there.” And it’s also for teachers who may want to explore how to utilize the chair in their own classes. “It’s not just ‘sit and twist’!” laughs Carrie.
The remaining videos in the series will follow shortly, so pull up a chair and watch this “space”!