One of my teachers, Martyn Jackson, would tell us that the best time to begin yoga is in your forties. That’s when children are grown and you have the time and maturity to devote to your practice.
In October I was graced with one of my favorite teaching experience in recent times. I am teaching 2 classes a week to seniors. I first wondered what is a senior, or who considers themselves a senior and what do they expect from yoga? Most of my students are in their late 60’s and up with one woman in her 80’s. Most of them have not done yoga before, others have done some yoga but most of them are having revelations in ways that are completely new to their physical experience.
Yoga therapeutics from years of studying Iyengar yoga, and more recently Yoga Tune-up has given me great tools to break down 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.
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 are already doing it!” She now comes to every class with a big smile and leaves even happier with astonishment at her progression. 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, an empowering and encouraging shift. This is a woman who has only been doing Yoga for two months!
My 82 year old woman could not get down or up without help and said she would bring Champaign when she could get up on her own to celebrate. I spent that entire class dissecting the mechanics of sitting and standing. From this One can understand the beauty of the classical “chair pose”/Utkatasana. With all of the elements of Utkatasana dissected the understanding of what most of us take for granted becomes illuminated. One week later she demonstrated how she could now get up and down from a bolster on the ground. She wouldn’t fork over the Champaign though until she could do it without the bolster. She was in tears as she was showing the class her progress.
What is that we want from yoga? At different times in life, our needs and experiences changes. When I first started in my late teens and early 20’s I just wanted a great workout. 35 years later my practice and focus has profoundly changed. For these seniors it is to regain their birthright of freedom to move; to be able to stand, sit, walk, and to lie down without pain.
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 legs have to regain their strength to support the downward decent and the upward lift. Calves and Achilles must be able to stretch so the legs can find the bounce in the step or the 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 extending slightly backward movement of the lumbar spine.
This is what I discovered teaching to seniors as well in my own practice as I am in the senior category. First let’s bring back the freedom of what our body was created to do. Regaining joint mobility, greater strength, recreating the natural curves of the spine, and cultivating greater awareness of deeper breathing.
Seniors are a wonderful group who benefit greatly from Yoga. They are expressive, emotive, grateful, and very steady in attendance. For me it has been a rewarding, creative, and inventive teaching experience.