One of the many great things about yoga is that truly any person of any body type at any age can use it as a tool to achieve health. As a yoga teacher, however, it is up to you to adjust your lesson plan to make each class accessible for students, no matter their age or shape.
Sadly, seniors are often overlooked in society. But as a yoga teacher, opportunities for teaching to seniors are a great way to gain experience and to share the gift of yoga. Seniors especially can benefit from yoga to increase their strength and vitality.
When teaching yoga to seniors there are several things to keep in mind so that they stay safe and can truly gain from the practice.
Seniors can suffer from ailments like osteoporosis, stiffness, loss of bone, muscle density and so on. Therefore, it’s important to remember to take things slowly and to be gentle in your approach. It is a good idea to come prepared with props like bolsters and straps to make it easier for the students to feel comfortable in the postures.
Remember that what might be easy for younger students might be a challenge for those in their autumn years. A 75 minute class can be reduced to 45 minutes for seniors. Vigorous, cardio based flows can be substituted with gentle stretches and simple movements. For example, you can lead senior students to slowly stretching the neck back and forth or up and down, being mindful that some students might be frail and stiff.
As mentioned, props like bolsters and straps can come in handy. But there are other aids you can use if you are teaching yoga to seniors. For example, you can use the wall for support, either standing against to stretch forward it or keeping a hand on it for balancing postures.
Chairs are also a good prop to have nearby. That way things like arm and shoulder stretches can be done seated. This takes away the stress of having to get up and down from the floor, which is often a difficult motion for seniors.
Another great tool is a large inflated exercise ball. These are great to help with balance and to develop core strength. However, remind students to be careful as they can easily slip out from under a person.
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Use Breathing Exercises
Yoga exercises the entire body and all of its systems, and breathing exercises are an important component. Pranayama, or breathing techniques like single nostril breathing, are good for anyone of any age. This is a good addition to a class for seniors because deep breathing and meditation reduces stress, allows the nervous system to relax while, at the same time, heightens awareness.
Seniors will likely appreciate breathing techniques because it increases energy and vitality, and who wouldn’t want that?
Yoga is meant to make people feel good and happy and it’s no different with seniors. Therefore, it’s a good idea to keep the mood of the class light and joyful. Remind the students, that no matter their age, even coming to class is an accomplishment. Mention that it’s not a big deal if they can’t do everything you are teaching.
It’s also good (in any class) to offer a range of access points into each posture. Start easy, then offer an alternative that’s a little harder for those that can do it, and then go a little further and so on. This way, everyone has something to do and can see where they can potentially go if they keep working at it.
Age is simply a number and some seniors have a great amount of energy. If you are teaching yoga to seniors, of course it is best to make sure that the pace, flow and intensity are adjusted to the class at hand, but that is true for every class. Safety comes first so offer as much help so that people are not getting hurt in your class. Yoga is joyful, healing and rewarding, and you can be sure that seniors will love it as much as anyone else.