In October I was graced with one of my favorite teaching experiences in recent times. I am teaching two classes a week to seniors. When I was offered these classes, I first wondered, “Who considers themselves a senior and what do they expect from yoga?” Most of my students are in their late sixties and up with one woman in her eighties. Most of them have not done yoga before and others have done some yoga but are looking for a more thoughtful approach. All of them are having revelations in ways that are completely new to their experience.
Yoga Tune Up® has given me greater tools to dissect movements and introduce seniors to various positions, which are not intimidating but amazing therapeutics. YTU also has given me a launching pad to find new and creative approaches to encourage all of my senior students to work within their limitations. With bodies that carry a history of pain, disconnect, lack of awareness, surgeries and time, moving through fear is an essential element of my teaching. Breathing through intimidation, and strange new sensations becomes a major tool to beginning a practice with new yoga students who are just beginning yoga as seniors.
One woman started the first class with a big question, “do you think I should even try this since I have a so many limitations?” I quickly responded, “you’ve already started, you’re already doing it!” She now comes to every class with a big smile and leaves even happier, astonished at her progress. She told me during a balance practice that it was the first time she stood on one leg in 67 years since she had polio as a child. This Thanksgiving, She spent all day on her feet cooking without pain. For her, and others like her, this was a profound, empowering and encouraging shift. This is a woman who has only been doing Yoga for two months! It wasn’t a deep backbend that she was aiming for. She wasn’t asking when she would be able to stand on her head. She was just thrilled to be able to stand in her kitchen, preparing a holiday meal without pain or fatigue.
My 82 yr old student could not get down or up without help. I suggested that in a month or so she may be able to get up from the floor without any assistance. She said she would bring a bottle of champagne to celebrate when that happens. That inspired me to spend that entire class dissecting the mechanics of sitting and standing and I quickly discovered the perfection of classical chair pose/Utkatasana. One week later she demonstrated how she could now stand up and sit down from a bolster. She wouldn’t fork over the champagne though until she could do it without the bolster. She was in tears as she was showing the class. We take getting up and sitting down for granted. As people age, without keen awareness to what starts slipping away and keeping the body moving it becomes more and more difficult to do ‘normal’ life movements. Tight latissimus, calves and Achilles, weak quadriceps, knees, psoas, and abdominals all effect what we consider “normal’ daily functions of moving through life.
The Sacrum (sacred bone) must move in and up in order to support the tower of the spine by setting into action the lumbar spine to find freedom and movement. The hips have to flex to be able to sit down and get up. The quadriceps must regain tone to support propelling the body up and down and the Calves and Achilles must be able to stretch so the legs can find the bounce and freedom to sit and stand rather then having to lean back and fall on whatever you are sitting upon. As one sits down the thoracic spine extends up to balance the slight anterior tilt of the hips.
What is that we want from yoga? At different times in life, our needs and experience changes. When I first started in my late teens and early twenties I just wanted a great workout. Thirty-five years later my practice and focus has profoundly changed. For seniors just beginning yoga it is my intention to help them to regain their birthright of freedom in movement and to be able to stand, sit, walk and lie down without pain.
This is what I discovered teaching seniors. First let’s bring back the freedom of what the body was created to do. Regaining joint mobility, greater strength, recreating the natural curves of the spine, and cultivating awareness of deeper breathing.
Seniors are a wonderful group who benefit greatly from Yoga Tune Up®. They are expressive, emotive, grateful, and very steady in attendance. For me it has been a rewarding, creative, and inventive teaching experience.
Read about Yoga Tune Up® for seniors.
Learn about Yoga Tune Up at home.
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Thank you so much for your inspiration! I am currently training lots of seniors one on one as a personal trainer, but I hadn’t really considered doing a Yoga Tune Up class geared to seniors until now. You are so right – it is the perfect way to help them improve their relationship with their bodies and discover functional strength, balance and mobility. You are clearly a great teacher – your words to your nervous student were perfect: “you’ve already started, you’re already doing it!” Hurray!
Shelley, Thank you for sharing you experience teaching seniors. I too find great joy in teaching a group of dedicated seniors. I am encouraged by your experience to add more ball rolling into class to improve mobility and relieve stress.
I will turn 60 in two weeks and have been regularly practicing yoga for five years.
This article about seniors drives home the point that a regular conscious movement practice can help keep us healthy and active in our later years.
The last thing I want to become is house-bound sitting in an EZ chair with a TV tray in front of me watching Wheel of Fortune re-runs
I also enjoy working with seniors. I am inspired by my father who is in his seventies and is just as active as he was in his thirties. His focus has shifted in recent years to include more therapeutic elements in his fitness program to maintain his mobility and living comfortably in his body. I look forward to sharing your blog post with him.
Thank you for your post, Shelley! I connect with the joy of teaching seniors and figuring out what might be useful to them while honoring the fear that is present about moving. I work with people with chronic pain, many in their 60s, 70s, and 80s and I am frequently dismayed to learn that their healthcare providers seem to take it for granted that they will lose mobility. I have just started integrating YTU training into my teaching and it is amazing how many light bulb moments my students have when we take time to explore their anatomy and physiology as part of increasing awareness and proprioception. I love the idea of focusing on chair pose to build awareness, strength, balance, and coordination.
I have been preaching the getting up from the floor message to my senior and not so senior students for years, but was never able to offer a precise map as a guide for these students. I’m beginning to see how YTU can be used for just this purpose.
In addition to a wide variety of levels and lineages, I teach 3 classes each week for 50 students. I’m fortunate in that the studios where I teach they have a wide variety of props. I’m always having to stay one step ahead when figuring out which prop or props to use and what would be the best way to use it, as each person seems to have different strengths and weaknesses. Most important, though, no matter how or what I teach, as long as they’re moving and stretching, they leave with smiles on their faces. I’m in the midst of my Level One Teacher training and can hardly wait to start to slowly introduce some of Jill’s principles into these classes.
[…] Stretches | Tags: beginnning yoga, hamstrings, practice, seniors, stretching When my beginning senior students ask me what they should practice at home, I always prescribe Leg Stretches. Never to overwhelm a […]
Many seniors are afflicted by arthritis in their joints. Research has shown that one of the best ways to combat arthritis pain is by strengthening the muscles around joints. Bravo to you Shelly for introducing YTU to seniors!
I especially love this blog because I teach 3 seniors classes per week and I am really excited to integrate YTU into these classes. My students range from mid-60’s all the way to my oldest at 100! Thank you for sharing your inspiring stories…As a side note I have found that another aspect my seniors love is the friendships they have developed within our yoga community These students are some of my most loyal, most caring and most engaged students.
‘At different times in life, our needs and experience changes’ (as the article states), but our ability to practice yoga is always present. This post and the picture are incredibly touching. One of the best feelings I had this weekend was rolling the ball on the plantar side of my foot from heel to toe which could be done seated in a chair and would be a great tiny piece of yoga to bring to my grandfather who has lost a lot of his mobility. I’m truly excited to be home at Thanksgiving with him and to start a small practice with him, at first just getting him to roll the balls under his feet once a day, and then to develop another small ball roll for him for Christmas when I see him again.
Thank you for your response.
I work a lot with the feet which anyone can do either standing with the support of the wall or even sitting down in a chair.
Most of the movements done on the floor can easily be modified to the wall, since for many seniors, it is too intense to use YTU Balls on the floor. This includes addressing most of the musculature of hips and buttocks as well as back and shoulders.
Movements in a side position addressing neck, face, and skull may be practiced on the floor.
I hope that that helps!
I love that Yoga Tune Up makes yoga available to everyone, including seniors! I’m wondering if there are certain YTU ball exercises that are particularly good or bad for seniors? Are there any rules or guidelines to be aware of when working with seniors? I’d love to know how you modified your class or if any modification was necessary.
This is a really sweet post. My Grandma is excited that I have started teacher training, but insists that I better not try and get her to do “that crazy yoga stuff.” I try to softly encourage her to maintain her mobility by doing something! She has severe sciatica pain and is dependent on cortizone shots. It breaks my heart to see her in pain and not willing to come and visit me fearing that her limited ability would be a drag. I’m encouraged by the stories in your post and hopefully she will also be encouraged since I just sent this post to her!