I teach Gentle Yoga in a community of active adults over age 55 in Central Texas. A young yoga teacher was once observing one of our classes and when she introduced herself to the class, one of the things she said was that she was looking forward to teaching “the elderly”. The students smiled politely and laughed a little because she was sweet and sincere and meant no offense. Still, it was clear from their reaction that they do not consider themselves elderly. Older perhaps, but elderly? Not so much.
So, let me tell you a bit about the students who attend my classes. They are plenty active. In addition to yoga, they golf, bicycle, dance, play tennis, hoop, hike, walk and attend strength, pilates, aqua and other exercise classes. They work out in the fitness center. They enjoy special interest clubs about nature, books, movies, bird watching and wine tasting. They are politically active and volunteer in the community. They enjoy traveling. They enjoy their children and grandchildren and their friends. Simply put, they are busy living life.
Although they are busy, active people, there’s no denying that health issues often come along with being an older adult. On any given day, they can be dealing with anything from the inconvenience of general stiffness to the effects of cancer treatments. There are many things that can go awry with an over 55 body – arthritis, reduced bone density, frozen shoulder, hypertension, glaucoma, heart problems, difficulties maintaining balance, and so on.
Here are a few recommendations and reminders to keep in mind when teaching yoga to older students:
- Help your students’ prepare their bodies for their practice. I start each class with joint freeing movements to address stiffness and prepare for more challenging asanas later in the practice. I often use portions of the Pavanmuktasana Joint Freeing Series by Makunda Stiles and stay on the lookout for gentle movements for this segment of the class. I’ve found some nice ideas in online videos by YogaJP.
- Keep the pacing and transitions appropriate for your students. In other words, slow it down a bit. Spend enough time on each posture to ensure the intention is clearly conveyed and your students have time to experience its effect. That may mean fewer postures in a sequence. When transitioning from one pose to the next, notice if everyone is ready to start the next pose. If not, wait. No one should feel rushed.
- Be mindful of conditions that your students may have. Learn as much as you can about what health conditions you may encounter in teaching an older group. The Yoga for Healthy Aging blog is a good resource for articles relating to, well, yoga for healthy aging. Several yoga teachers contribute thoughtful, informative daily articles on the blog. In our classes, sensitive knees, wrists, shoulders are common. Offer pose adaptations and props, and frequently remind your students that the intention of the asana is what matters most. The postures should serve them, not the other way around.
- Students must be able to hear your directions in order to follow them. Speak clearly and audibly even when guiding relaxation. Some students may benefit from setting up closer to you. If they own hearing aids, encourage them to wear them to class. It may be helpful to demonstrate a posture next to a student if you notice she/he is having difficulty following along.
Where I teach now is where I taught my first yoga class. Some of my current students were in that first class. I remember telling my teacher and mentor in my teacher training program that I was concerned about teaching effectively at my age since I was not able to do all of the poses. I was 54 at the time. She assured me than no one can do all the poses and wisely said – “just teach your yoga and your students will find you”. I often reflect back on that advice. Although I have taught elsewhere – studio, community center, and workplace locations – where I started somehow feels like where I and “my” yoga belong.
Sometimes, students will tell me that the practice that day was just what they needed and how much better they feel afterward. Hearing that, seeing how yoga helps them live their lives more comfortably and fully, is why I teach. It simply doesn’t get any better than that.
Yoga is for everyone. I witness that truth each time my students practice.
Joy teaches Gentle Yoga classes at Sun City, Texas (located in Georgetown, Texas which is 35 miles north of Austin). It is the largest active adult community in Texas. Currently there are approximately 6,900 homes and 12,400 residents; there are plans are in place for 10,000 homes in the upcoming years.
Joy writes: “Yoga is so much a part of my life now that it’s difficult to imagine LBY – life before yoga. Life has led me to where I am now, teaching Gentle Yoga to older adults, like myself. I’m 62. Over the years, my own yoga practice has helped me with managing pain, health issues and stress. Having an older body of my own provides me with insight on many of the conditions that students bring with them to class. So, for me, being a bit older is a good thing, and sharing the gift of yoga has proven to be a gift for me as well!’
Feel free to contact Joy with questions about teaching students over 55: yogaessence1[at] yahoo.com
- The quote in the title is from Myths of Aging
- What do seniors need in a yoga class? blog post
- Yoga class for seniors with emphasis on balance yoga sequence