The Magic of Chairs: A Conversation with Brima Jah

For the longest time, I had a yoga chair that collected dust with other barely used props, like dharma wheels and oddly shaped yoga blocks. I had bought a bright green one that was later recalled (yikes) from Yoga Outlet. I bought it with the intention of practicing the chair yoga I had learned from my Iyengar teachers, Gabriel Halpern and Carrie Owerko. But it was not until I started diving into Katonah Yoga that my work with chairs evolved. And one of the biggest parts of this evolution was working with other teachers, like Brima Jah.


Brima and I go way back. We both studied, practiced and taught at Lotus Flow for years. I got to know him a bit when I was traveling a bit to San Francisco to teach in trainings. But we have gotten to know each other more during the pandemic and I have learned so much from my conversations and collaborations with him during this time, and I recently asked him a few questions about his work with chair yoga.

 

What drew you to chair yoga?


My introduction to chair yoga happened a few months into the current pandemic.

At that time, the opportunity for assists and adjustments was gone, along with in-person yoga classes.


This of course meant we could all have little to no contact, safely. There’s something paradoxical about losing access to safe contact, when contact itself, can be key to feeling safe.


Chair yoga became a creative way to make contact in a way that feels safe. The chair helped me give me a sense of stability. With that stability, I discovered new techniques to get into poses that had not been accessible without the chair.




Why do you think it’s useful for one to practice with chairs?


We all invest in what we know so far. We once thought the earth was flat, until we

found tools that gave us new information about how it’s round, or rather spherical.


In a similar way, yoga poses are not linear. They’re intelligently well-rounded, or rather spherical. Thing is, we practice poses in a way that can be linear or static. In other words, the word “pose” is misleading because, in reality, we cannot hold poses like a statue.


We are alive, and when we practice, this means our poses are also alive. A chair can be useful when help us invest in what already know and learn more about our potential for living inside our bodies—and with each other—in ways we never knew were possible. We need possibilities to give us hope for living through and still thriving in life’s most challenging circumstances.


How do you use chairs in your own practice?


I use chairs at home for backbending. Chairs have encouraged me to use my back less and the front of my body more in backbends.


Like many of us, I learned to backbend with an emphasis on using my back. Overusing my back, like when we overuse anything, can lead to its “wear and tear,” burnout or injury.


Using a chair has helped me keep a regular backbending practice because it literally “gets my back” so I can rely less on my back and open up more in the front of my body. If the front of our body is our future, and our back is the past, then backbends with a chair helps keep me

moving forward.


What is one thing you would like people to take away from your workshop?


Using a chair in yoga does not need to be fancy or complicated in order to be useful. My aim is for folks to leave with at least 1-2 techniques they can explore at home, and make it their own.

 

Please join Brima for The Magic of Chairs on August 15 at 2pm ET $20/ $10 MDY Members

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