The demand for Yoga among older active adults is on the rise and will continue to increase over the next couple of decades. Consider the figures: almost 14 million Americans over 50 practice Yoga. Every day 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 and in 2014, the youngest boomers began turning 50. People exercise well into their 70’s and beyond. When you consider the potential benefits of Yoga, it is a natural choice for many older adults. Many people feel stronger, more flexible and energetic from a regular Yoga practice.
Other benefits may include:
- Improved posture, balance and eye-hand coordination
- Stretch and strengthen muscles
- Reduced stiffness, aches and pains
- Improved range of motion in joints
- Calm the mind and improve sleep
- Improve concentration and focus
- Improve blood circulation, digestion and respiratory efficiency
What is unique about Yoga for students over 50?
Older students practice many of the poses taught in an all levels class. The primary difference is in the sequencing and the pace. Practioners over 50 may not have the strength or balance to hold a deep pose for an extended length of time. Nor is it safe for many older students to move quickly from pose to pose. I recently met with Sheryl Stitch, who teaches Yoga Over 50 at Whole Life Yoga. We agreed on four common elements in our Yoga classes:
#1 Stress balance!
For a variety of reasons, our balance decreases as we age. A Yoga class designed for older adults should include balance poses as well as poses that strengthen legs, increase hip flexibility and stretch heel cords. Certain poses, such as Warrior 1 can accomplish all four, but may be challenging. A gentle option can be done with the support of a chair, making it accessible to most students.
#2 Be aware of physical conditions common in older adults.
But don’t make assumptions about a person based solely on age. It varies from individual to individual. Many older adults have osteoporosis, osteopenia, arthritis or blood pressure issues. Eyesight and hearing also diminish with age. Most of our students have had some type of injury or surgery. Compensation for an injury or chronic pain often leads to more physical imbalances and limitations. By the time we reach our 50’s, we have had a lifetime of patterning – mental, emotional, spiritual and physical. It takes time and perseverance to reverse deep-seated habits. Yoga offers a powerful way to teach our bodies to move safely.
#3 Older adults are often on a renewed path of self-discovery and may be experiencing profound life changes.
Allow space for silence and mindfulness. Include meditation, breath work (pranayama) and relaxation in each class. A full Yoga practice that includes postures (asanas), pranayama, meditation and relaxation can help us maintain a healthy, energetic body, quiet the mind, increase our sense of well-being and reconnect us with our inner wisdom.
#4 Focus on success and accomplishments.
Yoga class should be an accessible and welcoming community. Students stay with a particular Yoga class not only for the health benefits, but for the supportive and friendly atmosphere. Include joy and laughter.
Some simple guidelines for teachers:
- Class size should be smaller so students get more individualized attention.
- Class should be at least 75 minutes long to allow for slower transitions.
- Begin class with a check-in to see how students are feeling.
- Include breath awareness, meditation and relaxation.
- Focus attention inward and connect breath and movement.
- Speak clearly and audibly.
- Avoid the use of Sanskrit and complex anatomical terms.
- Don’t over cue, but give enough instruction to keep students safe and increase body awareness.
- Do not make physical adjustments and do not touch without asking.
- Begin with subtle, small movements.
- Warm up all of the joints including fingers and toes.
- Encourage the use of padding and use caution in kneeling poses – wrists may be weak and knee injuries are common.
- Do not stay in poses for extended periods of time.
- Slow down the transition between poses. At each major transition (kneeling to standing), coach students to check in with their breath, energy and body.
- Limit the number of challenging poses in each class and always offer moderate and gentle variations. But don’t underestimate your students either!
- Encourage rest when needed.
- Include weight-bearing poses to keep back, hips and legs strong.
- Include at least one balance posture in every class! Coach students to focus their gaze on a specific spot. Encourage students to use the wall or chair for support when practicing balance poses.
Where can I find classes for older active adults?
It can be an overwhelming process to find the right Yoga class. Seattle offers many Yoga classes in a wide array of venues and styles. We have a thriving Yoga community and there are quite a few options for active older adults, but we need more. Most YMCA locations offer Yoga classes for seniors, as do Community Centers, Senior Centers and Assisted Living Facilities. Some Health Clubs also offer Yoga for students over 50.
In my research, I found three Yoga studios offering classes specifically for students over 50: Whole Life Yoga in Greenwood, 8 Limbs Yoga with various locations in Seattle and Holman Health Connections in Everett. Quite a few studios offer Gentle yoga classes. Several class descriptions indicated that they are suitable for older students. Many older students enjoy Yoga Nidra (a deeply relaxing guided meditation). This practice is offered at a number of yoga studios in the Seattle area.
What is most important is that you find a Yoga practice that is right for you. The guidelines listed in the article should help you find a safe and supportive practice. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It is your body, your health and wellness. Remember – Yoga is for everyone.
Photo by Beth Scupman – CC BY
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