By Rachel Holmes and Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500, YACEP
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 of 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 for them. Additionally, medical research demonstrates the necessity for bodyweight strength exercises that build muscle and can help improve bone density, as well. Yoga’s appeal to seniors is clear. Uniquely, regular practice can improve physical health, and soothe aches or pains that are common during the aging process. Furthermore, Yoga offers calming strategies for anxious or fearful minds.
What Should a Yoga Teacher Know?
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 students to perform a pose according to the traditional methods. Teachers should know how to use props and modify postures if needed. Therefore, instructors need to be prepared to make modifications whenever appropriate. Please keep the following ideas in mind when you begin planning to teach Yoga to seniors.
Know Your Students
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, we 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 you meet a new student, make sure you talk about his or her physical health before class. In this way, you 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. These matters are private and should not be discussed in the middle of the classroom.
Providing props is a big plus for students. Once you know what your students can and cannot do, you must plan your Yoga sequences accordingly. For example, one student we 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 class still flows smoothly without breaks or delays. Equally important is the acceptance of questions during class. Students who are in pain, or do not understand how to modify, deserve to receive help.
There is nothing wrong with a student using props to do his or her personal best asana practice. There are some instructors who shy away from using props. They may not be well versed in the use of props. Additionally, some teachers 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.
Sometimes, teachers and students have great expectations about what the classroom experience should be. Generally, most students have a great time and they get to meet new people as they continue their practice. As a matter of fact, we’ve witnessed many friendships that developed over the years. Yoga has enriched the lives of many students and will continue to do so in the future. However, progress is day-by-day and there may be setbacks. Students can struggle with illness, injuries, or cognitive decline. Teachers must accept the fact that classes might not always follow the lesson plan. Life throws us curves and we do our best to keep students on the path of progress. Teaching Yoga to seniors has rewards, but it also teaches us to accept change.
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