Yoga for Seniors
by Jean Short
When I ask seniors what the benefits of aging are, I get answers like “There are none”, “I’m here”, “I get a cheque from the government”, “I get free cheques at the bank”, “I get to enjoy my grandkids.” The one thing they all agree on is that staying active makes aging much more enjoyable, and keeps them healthier. I can’t think of any better way to stay healthy then to do yoga. Where else do you learn to stretch gently, breathe deeply, quiet the mind, and relax all at the same time?
The following benefits from yoga are what I have experienced myself and/or I hear from my students: improved circulation, deeper breathing, relief from anxiety, rapid recovery from major surgery, got off all puffers and cortisone medication for asthma, better balance, feeling stronger¸ sleeping better, increased mobility in hips, more energy, giving back to community, more content, happier feet, less stress, my family like being around me more, increased stamina, more flexibility, improved posture, faster healing, improved walking and standing, lowered blood pressure and cholesterol, stronger immune system, improved cardiovascular health, healthier knees, improved sex life, lower blood sugar, feeling younger, have more joie de vivre, reduced swelling in joints, stronger bones, drive more comfortably and safely, taken off list for carpel tunnel surgery (gives credit to medication and yoga), better coordination, improved eyesight, fewer unnecessary visits to the doctor, aided in the grieving process, easier to cope with parents who have dementia and Alzheimer’s, eased symptoms of depression, more assertive, weight control, made friends, and no more orthotics after 21 years.
Lilias Folan, recognized as the “First Lady of Yoga” since her ground-breaking 1972 PBS television series, Lilias! Yoga and You, and writer of Lilias! Yoga Gets Better With Age says, “the one-size-fits-all approach to yoga practice has never felt comfortable to me. The idea of adapting yoga to the individual, however, rather than adapting the individual to the practice feels practical and natural... Developing and adapting a personal yoga practice means respectfully taking into consideration age, health issues, gender, capabilities, and activities.” Having taught the older population in community centres, senior’s centres, and nursing homes, I concur with Lilias. You cannot have someone with osteoporosis, a heart condition, and diabetes doing yoga postures in the same way you would have someone with no medical conditions. It is recommended that a student with rheumatoid arthritis or fibromyalgia not hold postures but to gently move in and out of them. Another recommendation is that people with multiple sclerosis (MS), carrying a lot of extra weight, or with fibromyalgia should drink water during class and not get overheated while other students benefit from the internal heat. These are just a few examples of how participants differ in a yoga class and why modifications for individuals are so important.
I have always enjoyed volunteering with older people and after completing my yoga teacher training in 2001, it was natural for me to teach young and old seniors. Before leaving Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia, last fall, my oldest student was 91, and here in Saskatoon the oldest is 93. In a nursing home in Halifax, the oldest participant in a Seated Yoga class was 95. The benefits of yoga can be enjoyed at any age.
In 2006, I participated in SAYCO, a yoga for seniors’ teacher workshop in San Diego, California, where I learned about the various health conditions students can bring to class, and how to modify the postures for the health conditions. Upon my arrival back in Halifax, I was encouraged to offer a workshop to the local yoga teachers, and have been facilitating this workshop for five years with participants from Newfoundland and Labrador, to Nunavut. Since my move to Saskatoon in September (2010),
I have been teaching yoga to seniors at the Pacific Heights Community Centre and le’ Renaissance Condominiums, and have classes planned for other locations in the fall.
I am currently planning fall weekend workshops for yoga teachers in Nova Scotia, Saskatoon, and West Kelowna, BC, where we will actively participate in the art of modifying postures. We will be using chairs, walls, bolsters, ties, wheelchairs, walkers, etc. As well as modifying postures, this experiential workshop also includes modified breathing practices, communication, laughter meditation, Partner Yoga, massage, meditation, relaxation, restorative savasana, and participation in Chair Yoga and Seated Yoga classes. A 100+ page manual includes 10 class plans for both Chair Yoga and Seated Yoga. The biggest surprise yoga teachers get when they complete the workshop is that they have the confidence to go out and teach seniors immediately.
Jean Short, YTT 500, a newcomer to Saskatoon via Halifax, has been a yoga student for 17 years, and celebrates her 10th anniversary of Kripalu yoga teaching in July, 2011. Other than her 200-hour and 500-hour teacher trainings, the highlights of her yoga life have included a 14-week Spiritual Lifestyle Program at the Kripalu Centre for Yoga and Health in Lennox,
Massachusettes (2003), SAYCO training in San Diego, CA (2006), and Restorative Yoga Teacher Training with Judith Lasater in New York (2010). She is very blessed to have had wonderful Kripalu teachers Jody Myers, Silver Frith, Isha Ward, and Iyengar yoga teachers Paula Heitzner and Patricia Dewar. Jean’s classes include Yoga for Round Bodies, Kripalu Yoga Level 2, and Chair Yoga. She facilitates three workshops: Yoga Teacher Training for Round Bodies, Yoga Teacher Training for Seniors, and Creating the Life You Really Want. You can find out more about this fun-loving yogini on her website: www.gentlepathyoga.ca or call