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.
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