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Local Yoga teacher brings flexibility to all fitness levels

Dr. Ann Clark teaching chair yoga.
Dr. Ann Clark teaching chair yoga.

Local Yoga teacher brings flexibility to all fitness levels

The library is no longer just a place to read.

Del Mar Library has long been a place where the community gathers to check out books, but also participate in a growing list of programs. One of those programs is chair yoga, a free weekly class that first launched in September 2015.

The class has since become so popular, a second class started in January at the local library.

“Libraries provide a place for the community to gather, learn and grow,” said Branch Manager Polly Cipparrone. “By offering yoga classes and related resources, Del Mar Library helps to foster a healthy, engaged and vibrant community.”

Carmel Valley resident Dr. Ann Clark leads the classes at Del Mar Library every week.

Clark has been practicing yoga for more than three decades. She has studied Iyengar Yoga, which emphasizes alignment, detail and precision in breath control and posture. Incorporating a chair and other accessories adds support, often for seniors or people with disabilities, Clark said.

“Most of us can’t do the pretzel pose,” Clark said. “Over the years, my own ability to teach and to do yoga has been impaired by knee surgeries. While my heart is on the mat, my body needs to be supported.”

Clark began to teach chair yoga once she realized there are others who want to practice yoga but can’t participate in traditional yoga classes.

Although chair yoga is often a perfect fit for seniors and people with disabilities, it can be beneficial for everyone. Chair yoga increases flexibility and strengthens personal body awareness.

“There are all kinds of reasons that normal, middle-aged people don’t have a good option at the gym,” Clark said. “But chair yoga is a wonderful option.”

Wearing comfortable clothes, chair yoga practitioners begin in a chair. Yoga poses are then adapted to the chair.

“By sitting in a chair, you somewhat paralyze those big muscles, allowing the smaller muscles to develop,” Clark explained. “That, for long-term health, is what’s important.”

With a passion for yoga and a love of teaching, Clark brought the idea of a chair yoga class to Cipparrone.

The first class started in September 2015. People of all ages have since become regulars of the class. Clark said most participants are in their 50s. The oldest is 78.

On average, five to 10 people participate in the weekly workout sessions. The room is small, so class capacity is 11.

“People love it,” Clark said. “They’re all very devoted.”

Clark launched a second class at the library at the start of the New Year.

The two free weekly classes are offered at 10:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. on Wednesdays. Each class is 50 minutes.

Chairs are provided, but participants should bring their own yoga mats. Because space is limited, those interested should register in advance by calling the library at 858-755-1666.

“It’s amazing — the things that they can do,” Clark said. “We’re happy to offer this to more people.”

The classes are made possible by International Chair Yoga Association, a nonprofit organization Clark recently founded. ICYA aims to increase access to yoga through teacher training, social media and educating the public about chair yoga.

Clark is also the founder and CEO of San Diego-based ACI Specialty Benefits, a provider of employee assistance, wellness, concierge and student assistance programs. ICYA came about after Clark installed a dedicated yoga studio at ACI’s corporate headquarters for employees to participate in free on-site yoga classes.

Among other classes offered at the yoga studio, Clark teaches a chair yoga class to mostly younger working professionals.

“I started teaching it to practice,” Clark said, “and then I discovered that the people love it. They absolutely love it.”

Clark, who started teaching chair yoga close to five years ago, wants to eventually offer more chair yoga classes throughout the community and beyond. She created ICYA to bring more visibility to the practice and plans to offer a certification program through the organization.

“It’s all about changing the image of chair yoga and providing to this relatively healthy but unserved group,” she said. “It’s not just for old people. It’s for young people; it’s for injured people. It’s for all people.”

For more about ICYA, call 858-247-1485 or email iquiry@icya.yoga.