Community Meeting Recap: Chair Yoga with Julie Notto

BY: JUlLIA RENAUD

June’s Community Meeting was a chair yoga workshop by BIST’s Programs and Services Coordinator, Julie Notto.

About Julie Notto

  • She discovered yoga as a way to deal with chronic pain issues.
  • Julie became a yoga and Pilates instructor and taught for over ten years. She was also a yoga teacher trainer.
  • She has taught movement classes at many locations including at university, a wellness centre, and within the corporate sector.

What is chair yoga?

  • Yoga is a physical and spiritual practice which involves using various breathing techniques, exercises, and meditation to improve overall health for the body, mind, and spirit.
  • While yoga is commonly practiced using just a mat and the body, a chair can be incorporated to make it accessible for everyone!

Why practice yoga?

  • Yoga is great for your overall health, including brain health. It can be relaxing, rejuvenating and wonderful for improving circulation to the brain and body. Increased circulation means more oxygen is transported to body’s organs, and more toxins get cleared out from the body, including the brain.
  • Incorporating the three basic movements of flexion, extension, and rotation, yoga can be a great way to stretch sore and tired muscles and can also be challenging enough to act as a form of exercise.
  • Yoga is great for brain health! It’s a modifiable and fantastic way to be active at the pace your brain and body need.

How do I start?

  • Find yourself a chair; any chair will do, as long as it doesn’t have wheels! It’s best to be able to plant your feet flat on the ground while you are seated. If your feet dangle or your heels can’t quite touch the floor, get creative and find an item that can help give your feet a boost. You may try folding a yoga mat, using a step stool, or even a sturdy shoe box!
  • Don’t push yourself too hard. Try one exercise and see how you feel. Check in with your body (and brain) throughout to make sure you are working at your own pace.
  • Scroll down for some exercises!
breathe in slowly gently deeply breathe out
Image via yogagreedom.com.au

Breathing techniques for yoga

  • Remember that there is no right or wrong way to breathe; each breath will be different. Relax your shoulders and breathe however is comfortable for you.
  • To keep your mind focused on your breath, try saying ‘in’ with each inhalation, and ‘out’ with each exhalation.
  • If you’re more of a numbers person, maybe you would prefer counting breaths: inhale with the count of one, exhale with two, inhale with three to ten. When you reach ten, start again at one.
  • When doing poses, try to take three complete breaths at the peak of each individual movement. If three breaths feels like too much or too few, adjust accordingly to what feels right to you.
  • While breathing, feel the support of your breath, bones, and gravity.

Exercises

Give these a go to strengthen your legs, increase blood flow, improve balance, and to calm the mind and nervous system.

Strength

Chair Cat-Cow Stretch

Chair yoga
Image via enable.me
  1. Sit tall on a chair with your feet flat on the floor and your hands atop your thighs or knees.
  2. While breathing in, arch your spine and roll your shoulders down and back. This pose is called cow.
  3. While breathing out, round your spine, gently dropping your head and rolling your shoulders forward. This pose is called cat.
  4. Ease between cat and cow at your own pace, being mindful of your breath.

Chair Downward Facing Dog Stretch

chair downward go
Image via sleeysantosha.com
  1. Make sure the chair or table you are using stays sturdy throughout this pose to prevent face planting onto the floor! If using a stand-alone chair, push it against the wall before beginning. The goal is to not move the chair during this pose.
  2. Stand facing the chair, placing your hands atop the back rest.
  3. Walk your feet back until your upper body is extended, keeping a slight bend in the knee and heels on the ground.
  4. Lift your pelvis and feel the stretch as you extend through your spine, while breathing with intention for several breaths.
  5. Walk your feet back in, and roll up from the base of your spine to the top of your head.

Balance

Chair Tree Pose

chair tree pose
Image via acefitness.com
  1. Stand with the back of the chair facing the side of your body, rooting your feet into the ground and holding on to the back of the chair with the closest hand.
  2. Slowly and carefully, lift the foot opposite the chair off the ground, pushing its sole into the side of the supporting leg in one of these variations:

Lower: Keep the toes of the raised foot touching the ground so your heel is roughly upper-ankle to mid-calf height.

Higher: Place the sole of your foot higher along the supporting leg, above or below the knee. Keep your knees happy by not putting your foot on the joint itself – knees aren’t made for this type of lateral pressure! Press your raised knee out to the side to open your hip and raise your free arm above your head. Breathe! Repeat on the other side.

Side Bend (Half Moon):

  1. Stand tall, with both feet together and rooted into the ground. Inhale while bringing your arms overhead and pressing your palms together.
  2. Shift your hips left while bending your torso and arms right to make a crescent shape with your body. Press your knees together for balance.
    Hold the pose and breathe.
  3. Repeat on the other side.

Julia Renaud is a ABI survivor with a passion for learning new things, trying new activities, and meeting new people – all of which have led her to writing this column. She is an advocate within the health care community and has been featured in the coffee table book, A Caged Mind by May Mutter, which exposes the nature of concussions through body painting.

 

 

 

May Community Meeting Recap: Chair Yoga with Kristina Borho

BY: JULIA RENAUD

During this sunny time of year, the days are long, the weather is warmer, and the flowers are wonderfully fragrant and in bloom. The true question is: do you take the time to smell the roses? Fortunately for us, Occupational Therapist, Yoga Tnstructor and the owner of Empowering Mind & BodyKristina Borho, brought her mindfulness and encouragement to lead May’s Community Meeting about chair yoga.

Kristina Borho

A whole lot of positive energy filled the room at this month’s meeting and Kristina’s passion and compassion kept the group intrigued and asking for more yoga therapy tips and techniques. She encouraged all of us to live in the moment and to engage with body, mind, and breath during the session, as well as in our daily lives.

Intention Setting

I was lucky enough to be one of the many participants at this very special community meeting and I am happy to share my experience with you!

One of the first things that Kristina told each person to do was to set an intention for the session. Intention setting, as I learned, is a very powerful way to gain perspective on how you’re feeling, and to recognize where you may need to focus your energy in order to feel better. Like Kristina, I decided that my intention for the following hour would be to find patience – something that I am slowly but surely learning – and definitely something that does not seem to come easily to me; allow me to digress.

I am known as a goal-setter and I have the ruthless determination to persevere to achieve any goal I set my sights upon, regardless of how much work it will take. Since my most recent concussion three years ago, I have had to face the fact that, while goal setting can be very helpful for some things, recovering from post-concussion syndrome (PCS) is not really one of them. PCS, like many brain injuries, is an unpredictable road that has its ups and downs and twists and turns much like a roller coaster. It also has the capacity to turn even the most realistic of goals on their head; hence my need to force goal-setting to take the back seat (as difficult as that is), and instead to persevere at being patient with the path that I’m on!

Chair Yoga Exercises

I believe I can speak for the group when I say we all need more yoga, chair or otherwise, in our lives! For this reason, I would like to share some of my favourite chair yoga poses that Kristina coached us through. I have given each of them a name so they’re easier to remember.

As you go through the poses, keep in mind our word of the night, elongated. What I mean by this is, for each pose, sit nice and tall, like there’s a string attached to the top of your head, pulling your head toward the sky and keeping your spine nice and long. Also, try to remember to think about the intention that you set earlier!

Down to Earth Neck Stretch:

  1. Sit tall in a chair with your feet flat on the ground, and your arms dangling at your side
  2. Breathe in while turning your head to look over your right shoulder
  3. Breathe out while tilting your head down to look at the floor while keeping your head turned to the right
  4. Switch sides

Shoulder Rolls:

  1. Sit tall in a chair, place your fingertips lightly on your shoulders
  2. Rotate your shoulders in backward circles
  3. Rotate your shoulders in forward circles
  4. Try to coordinate your breath if you can – breathe in when your shoulders rise, and out when they fall (this part can be tricky!)

Side-to-Side Slide:

  1. Sitting upright in your chair, place your right hand on your right hip, breath in
  2. As you breath out, side-bend your body to the left and toward the floor
  3. Inhale as you come back to centre
  4. Switch sides

 

Meditation

Kristina concluded the session with a brief body-scan meditation, thoughtfully conducted to take the mind away from all of the stressors of daily life, and instead to bring focus to various parts of the body, one by one. Doing a body scan is a great way to connect with how your body is feeling. I find it especially helpful in understanding the severity of my PCS symptoms and use it to check in with how my brain and body are handling the tasks that I am asking of them.

Generally, a simple way to compose a body-scan is to either go from head to toe, or the other way around. This helps to relax the mind while ensuring that you aren’t skipping over any important body parts that may require your attention. Your meditation can be as long or as short as you want, the key is to remember to remain relaxed and non-judgmental. If your mind drifts away to a thought unrelated to the task at hand, simply acknowledge that your attention has drifted, and regain focus on your body scan. At first this may seem really difficult, but try not to get discouraged!

With time and practice (in my case, a whole lot), you will begin to notice that your ability to keep your attention on the meditation will improve.

Collective Energy

I was able to feel how Kristina’s yoga therapy was able to change the energy in the room from buzzing and a bit chaotic, to happy and relaxed. By the end of the meeting, the group shared a true sense of togetherness, and isn’t that so important in brain injury recovery!

If you or someone you know is living with a brain injury, remember that these things can take time to heal, and you are never in this alone. So, take the days as they come and on your next walk or roll, don’t forget to take in that fresh air, and take the time to smell the roses!

Chair yoga - a group of 4 people sitting in a circle doing chair yoga, their arms stretched up

Next Community Meeting: Wednesday, June 27, 6 – 8 p.m.

TOPIC: Face Mapping with Occupational Therapist Amee Le

Everyone is welcome!


Julia Renaud is a very talkative ABI survivor with a passion for learning new things, trying new activities, and meeting new people – all of which have led her to writing this column. When not chatting someone’s ear off, Julia can be found outside walking her dog while occasionally talking to him, of course!