Chair Yoga at OLLI


Chair Yoga lge

Many adults aged 50+ in the greater Raleigh area eagerly await the opening of registration for OLLI at NC State University’s fall program of classes, lectures and study trips – coming soon! In the meantime OLLI member, Barbara Haddad Ryan, highlights one that took place earlier in the year….

Among the enticing offerings in the spring 2017 OLLI catalog was one that offered different benefits from any other course: “Adaptive Chair Yoga — All Bodies Feel Better.” What, many members must have wondered, is that? Simple: It uses a chair “to sit, stand and move with more comfort and stability.” This is exactly what students discovered, in the welcome atmosphere inside the JC Raulston Arboretum.

The instructor was Howie Shareff — make that Dr. Shareff — whose lively personality and sense of humor made every class an experience in physical and emotional uplift. A native of Queens, N.Y., Howie majored in chemistry in college and decided on a career in dentistry because he liked his family’s dentist. He came to North Carolina in 1977 to study dentistry at UNC, and first heard about yoga there when a college hygiene instructor offered some classes. But he didn’t try it until one of his patients recruited him as a student in 1996.

And Howie needed it. Initially arthritis — part of family history — was only a minor problem. But poor posture was unavoidable in treating patients, and eventually he couldn’t raise his right arm above his head. “So I used yoga,” he said, “but also surgeries and plenty of additional therapies.” So for 25 years he practiced dentistry, first in eastern North Carolina and since 1984 near Cameron Village. Eventually, however, the arthritis caught up with him, along with sports trauma from football as a teenager, the repetitive motion of triathlon training in his 30s, and a collision playing softball in his 40s, along with the posture required in his work, and the physical and mental demands of owning a dental business.

All of this led Howie to retire early — and to start a truly unusual second career. He studied Chair Yoga with Lakshmi Voelker in 2008, and was certified that year in the practice. Then he received additional training in yoga for seniors from Carol Krucoff, a yoga therapist based at Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham. He explains that “Adaptive” refers to the use of props, not only chairs but also pillows, towels “and other creative modalities to experience a neutral spine, and let the natural curves of your bones support you without strain.”

Last spring’s course was Howie’s second for OLLI. “Chair Yoga still isn’t widely known around the country,” he said. “It’s a supplemental class in yoga studios. But in senior wellness programs it’s a foundational class.” In 2011 he wrote a how-to book and made a DVD about it: “Sit Stretch Smile” (available on Amazon), dedicated to his wife, Barbara, “for helping me maintain a fun disposition, and for a life full of love and laughter.”  She’s a psychologist and part-time yoga instructor, “but not Chair Yoga in the formal sense,” he said. They have two grown children, who “use yoga occasionally to manage stress.”

In 2010 Howie founded the nonprofit You Call This Yoga, where he’s the volunteer director and lead teacher. It provides instruction for an impressive variety of hosts, among them the Alliance Medical Ministry, the Lupus Foundation, the Multiple Sclerosis Society, diabetes support groups, Boys & Girls Club, Durham VA, and senior centers in Wake County. Last April the 8th annual Yogafest NC drew 500 participants and exhibitors to the McKimmon Center. You Call This Yoga also has a website , a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a blog and newsletter. Howie’s second career has turned out to be bigger than his first!

Barbara Haddad Ryan