By Rachel Holmes
Teaching Yoga to seniors is a skill that requires constant study. A chair yoga teacher training course is an eye opener, but to go out into the world teaching students is an awakening. As a result of its promise for low impact activity that both strengthens the body and makes it more flexible, yoga is becoming ever more popular among seniors. In fact, most people past middle age acknowledge how important to their health a regular activity is, and medical research demonstrates the necessity for body weight strength exercises that build muscle and can help reverse bone loss, as well.
Yoga’s appeal to seniors is clear: regular practice can improve physical health, soothe aches and pains that are common during the aging process and offer calming strategies for anxious or fearful minds.
Yoga instructors should be aware that a class aimed at seniors requires careful planning and plenty of flexibility. Physical limitations can make it difficult for many to students to do a pose completely, so instructors need to be prepared to make modifications whenever appropriate. I keep the following ideas in mind when I begin planning to teach yoga to seniors.
Know Thy Student
Due to the fact that some classes have older students who are strong, in shape, and sometimes even advanced yoga practitioners, teaching them can be invigorating and insightful. On the other hand, I have also taught classes where many students are just being introduced to asana practice or have injuries or medical issues that can be severely limiting to their practice. Whenever I meet a new student, I make sure we talk about his or her physical health and that I have a clear idea of any problems or pain that might throw up a red flag. Knowing a student’s medical history can be incredibly important during the planning process, as well.
Once you know what your students can and cannot do, you must plan your yoga sequences accordingly. For example, one student I work with regularly has a weak hip and accompanying lower back pain. We modify poses for him by using a chair to keep him off the floor and to keep pressure off his hip. Planning ahead of time ensures the yoga sequence still flows smoothly without breaks or delays.
There is nothing wrong with a student using props to do his or her personal best asana practice. I know some instructors who shy away from using props because they worry that those beginning students, who start out using props, will never completely master an asana or sequence. The problem with this mindset is that many students need to begin with props, and as they become more flexible, they might begin to phase off the props. Planning to utilize them from the beginning can help protect seniors who need to ease into poses and, hopefully, help convert those students into lifelong practitioners.
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