I never imagined I’d be teaching yoga to older adults. When I started practicing yoga, I hoped it would help me avoid the painful osteoarthritis I saw my grandmother suffer through. Fast forward, I became a yoga teacher, and in the very first “All Levels” Vinyasa class I taught there was a 76-year-old female student!! My inside voice was panicking, saying, “This is not what I expected!!! I’m gonna have to modify every pose!! I’m not ready for this!”
I led an extra-slow vinyasa flow that day and themed the class around the word “ahimsa” (non-harming). As I learned to cue and observe my students my mind was blown and my perspective of “older” began to shift as I watched this 76-year-old yogini demonstrate how yoga can keep a body strong, flexible, and balanced way beyond any age I had imagined myself doing yoga. This student’s name was Nancy, she had been practicing yoga longer than my (at the time) 39 years on earth! Over her lifetime she had cultivated a strong, mindful, and beautiful practice.
Nancy is not the norm in our culture, but she remains for me an example of what might be possible for someone who starts practicing and nourishing their body and bones in middle or even “early-old” age. She helped me begin to understand that yoga could really be a lifelong practice as well as how a body might be if a person kept up their practice as they aged.
In 2014, the National Osteoporosis Foundation found that 54 million Americans aged 50 and over are affected by osteoporosis and low bone mass. This means that “…more than one-half of the total U.S. Adult population is currently affected.” http://nof.org/
Most definitions and cultures I’ve researched consider 65 to be the beginning of old age. That was the average age of death in 1935, when Roosevelt set that age for social security. But now, we may live much longer, and yoga is one of the ways we can stay healthy as we age. Baby boomers (ages 51-70) are a huge part of our population, and yet it’s hard to find classes that cater to these boomers and older adults. We need more teachers willing to teach to these ages! Now, in 2016, we need more gentle, basic, and chair yoga classes to make yoga more accessible to these folks. Yoga teachers need to meet these students where they are and yoga can be part of our health care solution!
Since I met Nancy, my teaching pathway has led me to serve aging populations. My first time teaching chair yoga as a sub at Fairway Parks and Recreation turned into six years of working with senior citizens. I have learned so much from my students about the aging body. I always emphasize ahimsa (non-harming), and with this principle as their guide, my students have become more aware, more stable and strong, and more flexible both physically and mentally. The cool thing that’s happened with some of my boomers is that once they became more aware and strong, they push me to offer more challenging classes for them. Your students let you know when they are ready to grow! It truly is a co-creation.
In addition to the older adults yoga can serve, we have plenty of much younger folks whose bodies seem older, whether from being sedentary or from being physically overworked. Add on poor nutrition, injuries, or weight gain, and their bodies, too, would benefit greatly from chair yoga or yoga for stiffer bodies. We need more teachers to teach all of these folks and they are right in your own neighborhoods and communities!!
If you are already a yoga teacher, you have a foundation from which to start teaching aging populations - continue your education by seeking a training specifically on yoga for aging bodies. If you are not a yoga teacher, but have practiced yoga and experienced the benefits first hand, you can learn how to teach gentle yoga and chair yoga. If you don’t regularly practice yoga, but you think it would improve your own healthcare or someone’s you know, you can start educating yourself today!
Everyone has a unique education pathway, wherever you are on your journey the principles below will help you work with aging adults and people who need a more gentle approach to working with their bodies.
A note from Shannon: I hope more yoga teachers will expand their knowledge and join me in sharing the therapeutic knowledge of yoga and how it can greatly benefit our bones and our entire body, including our minds!! I hope more older adults will seek out a yoga teacher that can help. Yoga can be part of the health care prevention and solution for all of us who are aging!!
Peace, Love and Gratitude,