When I said Yes to teaching yoga to a 75 year old couple I thought I would be the one bearing gifts.

Turns out I was the receiver, not the giver. Here are 5 surprising things I learned about teaching yoga to Senior Citizens.

Breath is everything

Senior Citizen YogaA sixty minute class focused mostly on breath can create an amazing day.  This was especially clear after teaching a class to seniors. After our first class a senior student reflected, “It’s quite a thing to wake up one morning at my age and realize I’ve never given a moment’s thought to the breath.” Describing the breath as Prana, Life Force, was both poignant and practical – they get it. And they wanted to know more. I introduced a new technique each week as an opening practice. One week we did Nadi Shodhana, alternate nose breathing. The next week Shitali, a rolled tongue or cooling breath. We added a new technique each week until we found a favorite. Throughout our sequence we used a deep loud Ujjayi breath, each of us trying to breathe louder than each other. Once we started Ujayyi the sweat would start too – something that Seniors actually don’t do very often and which is so healthy considering the fact that our skin is our largest organ.  As a closing sequence, I called on a controlled Pranayama breath, developed and researched by Dr Andrew Weil: inhale for a 4 count, hold breath for a 7 count, exhale slowly for an 8 count. Repeat three more times. Then release breath control and move into silence. As we lay down one of them would inevitably whisper – “Here comes the best part.”

Slowing down is harder than you think

Slowing down makes practice so worthwhile. In my power classes I work up to calling one breath one movement, so I was amazed when it took a full five minutes to move into our first Down Dog. Transitioning from Down Dog to Forward Bend was also an adventure. Slowing down, and I mean slowing WAY down (maybe two or three Sun Salutations in an hour) meant I could watch and listen to where the students are. He can walk his feet to his hands, but she can only walk her hands to her feet. Interesting.

Structuring the class to move slowly in each transition makes arriving at the pose feel like a victory. It also created laser like, in the moment, ‘life is beautiful’ type of drishti and focus.

Balance is easily lost and hard won

For most of our lives we take balance for granted, and then one day it’s gone. Tree pose looks deceivingly simple yet requires tremendous focus;a solid drishti and being 100% in the moment.  “Have you noticed,” she asked, “that the standing foot is not at all still?!” But balance is like that right? Looks still, but actually it takes many micro adjustments to keep ‘not moving’. Having plenty of props: a chair or maybe two, a strap, sturdy blocks and the wall nearby helped us build up to holding the pose – at first for only a second or two then a little longer. Eventually we were able to move into full tree, arms open wide, and count our breath.

Everyday is a chance to try again.

The best part about Seniors is the willingness to show up and give it a shot.  They are past the whole failure/success drama of youth. If we tried and almost got a pose on Friday it was the first request to try again on Monday. The willingness to try again creates expectation – they ‘practice’ between classes, and leads to high fives and hugs when the pose is nailed. “Check out my Crescent lunge – Awesome, right?”

It’s just yoga

Laugh about it already. Being serious and getting pissed off about a pose is so 30-something. So Warrior 3 seems out of the question? There’s always Warrior 1 and Warrior 2 and don’t ignore the beautiful feels so good Peaceful Warrior. There’s always room for nice long juicy Viparita Karani -legs up the wall, taking plenty of time to move into it and plenty of room to move out.  And of course there’s Savasana. Here’s a little tip from him- “Sweetheart, I did not need to know this is called Corpse Pose, sort of ruins it for me. Let’s just call it Savasana and dim the lights…” That works for me!

Read the original at Teachasana – an online journal by yoga teachers, for yoga teachers.



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