When I first started teaching yoga in 1978, I was 26. I was born flexible. Strong and athletic, I found yoga at 17 and it fit me like a glove on all levels of my being. I never suffered from pain, surgeries, injuries, or physical resistance.
So when I began to officially teach publicly at a local woman’s health spa, I had the opportunity to reach many women with my excitement, and natural affinity to share what I loved doing most. I remember when I was probably 26 and I had an older private student who I remember wanting to teach inverted poses. I told her how important it was because her face was sagging and it would be a great practice for her to start doing!
Luckily over the years I have experienced knee issues from a skiing accident, now healed, back spasms from NYC stress, and common changes that happen through time, both muscular and cosmetic. All of these changes have made me a more compassionate, experienced, humble, and a much better teacher.
I will be turning 58 this year. Over 35 years of studying and teaching yoga and other healing modalities has radically changed my approach to yoga from when I was in my teens, 20s and 30s and mainly looking for a good workout. Meditation grabbed hold of me in my 30s. My 40s slowed me down and my 50s have been a rediscovery of movements and stability that I never needed before. Yoga has been with me non-stop since I first found it in 1971. I have healed my own body and helped others to discover ways to heal themselves.
I have had great teachers that have led me step by step in an order that I can truly say has been blessed. When I met Jill Miller in 2001 I was excited that I found an intelligent teacher who at the time was teaching a strong emphasis on core work, which was for me the icing on the cake. I felt an affinity with what and how she was teaching.
Since taking the Yoga Tune Up® Teacher Training in September, it has created ripples of change that have continued for the year. I recently completed the Shoulders Immersion, and anatomy has come alive in my expression and has sparked my own interest to study and learn more.
For a seasoned teacher like myself, Yoga Tune Up® has given me more ingredients to pepper my classes with fresh options adding a little bit of spice here and there.
Teaching my wonderful senior students gives me so many options to create movements from YTU. The beauty of Jill’s teaching and generosity is the freedom it provides for me as an experienced teacher. I am able create from Yoga Tune Up® so many modifications that lay down a great foundation for my students both beginners and more advanced. YTU Ball Therapy work offers another way for students to feel their body in a way that they have mastery over.
When teaching seniors, a teacher must be creative. Yoga Tune Up® is not “cookie cutter.” Teaching to seniors demands sensitivity to their natural limitations, years of fear from injuries, surgeries, illness, or simply a total lack of connection with the body.
It isn’t just giving movements to your students, it is knowing that there is so much more going on that creates resistance. Watching their breathing, facial expressions, hesitations, and excitement. Melting down years of poor, negative fixed ideas about their body is a very real barrier for students (especially seniors). This barrier may be tougher to dissolve than physically inflexibility.
If you are teaching seniors, you are likely to get seniors who are also beginners. Not young beginners, but students who have lived with concepts that might have created many physical and emotional blocks over many years. This is the true test of bringing the body-mind connection into harmony to raise students up to see and experience the real possibilities for change. Yoga Tune [email protected] will let you play with possibilities while leading your students to new freedom within a safe place to joyously explore within themselves.
The good news is that now I am probably the same age as my private student was back 30 years ago; my eyes have grown weak so I don’t even see wrinkles… isn’t life sweet.
Read about Yoga Tune Up® for seniors.
Find your nearest Yoga Tune Up® Class
Learn about Yoga Tune Up® Teacher Training.
Learn about Yoga Tune Up at home.
Whilst doing a search for an unrelated topic, your blog popped up and it couldn’t have come at a better time. My parents are both “seniors”, but considered active for their ages (late 70’s) but are obviously having a few niggles here and there! They were shown some YTU moves last year (seated modified) and gifted some Tune Up balls for Christmas – and are using and enjoying them. My father has had a recent hip operation and I am encouraging to get back into his practice. I hope you are keeping well and still enjoying your teaching! Best wishes.
Well put. When I first did a Yoga Teacher Training all I wanted was to learn how to make my body “do” advanced poses… and lose weight in the process. My teacher at the time said “wait until you get in your thirties.” I have been teaching a couple years and my most consistent and dedicated students are seniors (ranging fro 60- 75yrs old). Well put when you wrote that they are “Melting down years of poor, negative fixed ideas about their body”. Most often my challenge is to guide them to focus their thoughts on how their body is moving and feeling today. I’m grateful that Yoga Tune Up helps me to asses my own body blindspots (and mental blindspots and teaching blindspots, etc) 🙂
Thank you so much for this posting and your honesty about your own aging process and how it’s affected your yoga practice over the years. And it’s so nice to hear that there are seasoned, intuitive instructors out there that enjoy teaching older adults who SO need the benefits of yoga and YTU, despite all the “resistance”, as you said. I look forward to completing the YTU TT and being able to intelligently create movements for students, and make a difference in their lives as well.
This article is such an important one. Especially for younger or less experienced teachers to read. I teach Pilates and Yoga, and agree not all poses are appropriate for all bodies. I do not subscribe to the cookie cutter approach when choosing material to teach. But something else you mention is also important to point out. We want our students to feel encouraged and curious to try things that are appropriate for them. And so, we must be just as mindful in choosing cues that are relevant and appropriate given our students’ capabilities and needs.
I definitely appreciate this article, Although I’m not quite a senior, I am a relative newcomer to the practice of yoga. Everyone seems to be a lithe 20 year-old (and I’m nearly twice that age).
I enjoy taking “open” classes and “restorative” classes that I know will have people older than I am; people who are looking for a more diverse experience and a therapeutic angle to the practice of yoga (as opposed to simply kicking up in handstand).
I also appreciate your comment about the emotional blocks that accompany being older. I’ve had many setbacks (as has everyone) and find that fear and an unwillingness to seem to be “failing” in front of group have held me back from trying poses in class the teacher is instructing. I’ve often taken refuge in “child’s pose” while something more advanced was being taught.
Your essay prompted me to remember that if seniors (who might even be new to yoga) are engaged and the teacher is ennervating, I should set aside my emotional blocks or work around them with the practice.
I love this post. Today was my first day in Yoga TuneUp Level 1 training and I am blown away. I love it and to read your post about finding this style years into your teaching cycle and how much it’s helped you, really puts a smile to my face. I agree that every body is unique and it’s about finding the right movements at that time for that body. Thank you.
I have yet to start teaching, and am just beginning my yoga teacher training journey, so I am obviously practicing on family and friends 🙂 My father is 56 and does intense physical labor as a farmer. I worked with him and the YTU balls last week and he was very apprehensive and it was hard to get him to let go of control and commit. I agree that there are years worth of physical and emotional barriers, many emotional blocks that are deeply rooted and unconscious. It took a while, but he began to find some peace through the pain…. and when we were through he felt a sense of relief. I was so excited to share this with him, hoping to help him open his mind to a new and effective way to heal. I think my passion penetrated because he stole my tune-up balls and has been using them ever since 🙂 This article helped me realize I need to have compassion and patience for his journey…. I will probably learn something valuable from him in the process…. thank you.
I started taking yoga at 40 and my body feels pretty strong and flexible but I’ve found that the start of injuries seem to sneak up on me. I am planning to take the Yoga Tune-Up training and looking for the in depth information that you’ve found to keep myself safe and, if I ever end up teaching, any students that happen into my class safe!
I completely agree with the last post. I teach both older adults and college students. My older adults don’t appear to even enjoy sun salutations, and I don’t want to ‘make’ them do them anymore just for a warm up when there are so many other options. The younger students want to learn ‘traditional / classical’ yoga, so I can teach them that but with a YTU twist which takes them so much deeper into learning about their bodies. My older students are so appreciative to be given a gift of healing and change they can use and work with and puts smiles on their faces, without struggling to get there.
i really enjoyed this entry, Shelly. thanks so much.
i identify with so much of what you say here. in the last year, i have stopped teaching sun salutes and western “flow” practice. in seems to exclude so many. and why? classes can be made to be inclusive, challenging and healing — and popular for a broad spectrum of practitioner, for that matter — and it’s teachers like Jill and other true Masters who i’ve studied with that have made this obvious to me.
for these innovators, i am truly thankful and blessed to have studied under.
What a beautiful posting Shelley. I think many of us come to this field when we are young and through work like Yoga Tune-Up, we are able to continue and deepen it throughout our lives. It really can be a life practice.
I am currently in teacher training, and spent a weekend learning anatomy with Jill Miller. The great thing about knowing anatomy in relation to yoga poses will help me describe the correlation between the pose and its affect on the body. I too, have been doing yoga most of my adult life. Eventually I would like to teach seniors, as they especially need to stretch, and become fit. There’s will be a slower process requiring patient instruction. An older body that has not experienced lengthened muscles will be an awakening experience for them.
Shelley – this is a great piece and wonderful insight into teaching beginner seniors. Just last night I was with a 69 year old friend of mine who had one hip replaced and is feeling a little pain now on the other hip. She did not even know how to get down to the floor! And once I got her down, she was very afraid to take any poses and then could not figure out how to stand up. I knew in my heart it was more fear than anything else. I was able to find compassion and patience so we could work through it together. My Yoga Tune Up training really gave me the confidence to know I was not hurting my student in any way and by using my anatomy language I was able to explain to her in clear terms exactly which body parts were working in what ways. I salute you!
Now that I’ve turned 40 I have to start reading articles like this and learning to be compassionate. It’s a new challenge for me. 🙂
The good thing is that the older I get the more experiences I have under my belt and the more I can relate to people and their issues.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience. An effortless read !
As a newly fledged yoga teacher beginning to flap her wings it’s great to be reminded just how broad the spectrum of yoga is and in this case with age. Real people having lead real lives with real injuries who need a depth of understanding and compassion from their teachers. I look forward to the day when I can offer the required experience and knowledge to give yoga to ‘the elders’ of the community where ever I end up in the world.
Wonderful blog! I also have gained a lot from Jill Miller’s Core work and my students also love strengthening their core with YTU Core poses Also as I age I feel that I have more compassion,which enhances my teaching, especially with students who are struggling
I related to this article as I too am 58. I started out in the fitness world as an aerobics teacher. As I got older and started listening to my body more I transitioned to a more mind/body approach to fitness. I began practicing yoga and worked on core and strength training. As my clientele is an older population (60 ) I have found with the more compassion I have for myself, the more I can then convey to them. By exposing myself to new teachers (Jill) I can then offer my students something fresh and new. The teaching gives me new energy and ideas which help my students wanting more. Thanks for your insight
Thanks for sharing your experience as a Yoga teacher. I started the Yoga practice at age 45. The next month of having been introduced to yoga, I jumped into a teacher training program in India, in 2000. Along with teaching yoga at levels 1 and 2, I have started teaching Chair yoga since 2004. It is a joy to teach yoga to seniors and get their feedback from their bodies, sparkle in their eyes and their verbal expressions. Yoga tuneup training that I am undergoing now, also opens the horizon for me, how I could share this fresh approach that I am receiving, to my senior yogi students too.
I primarily work with people over 60… they are the best students I could ask for. Their sincere interest in finding relief and stress reduction is inspiring but keeps me present in their process/journey. I do not separate or distinguish between beginner or advance… It seems with my 15 years of yoga experience and their lifetime of living, a great simpatico is formed and we meet at the edge of knowing and not knowing. The use of language is crucial and being precise with directions makes an hour session more potent and engaging.
I am on a similar path. 51 yrs old and always athletic and 10 yrs teaching yoga. Am presently taking YTUTT in New York because the exercises are sound, inspiring, awakening and fun for all of my senior students. I love the way the tune up exercises can get students in the same yoga pose, but in a different orientation with the same benefits and safe structure.