By Eleanor Bartel
Yoga is a beneficial practice that can be enjoyed by anyone, from children to seniors. Older adults in particular can physically and mentally benefit by keeping their muscles from deteriorating, improving their cognitive awareness, increasing their balance, and improving overall flexibility. However, when considering a yoga class for seniors, it is important to take into account any physical limitations that you may encounter while teaching. Older students may come into class with existing issues, such as previous injuries, medical conditions like arthritis, or limited mobility or flexibility. Being prepared for encountering these issues in a yoga class for seniors will ensure all your students can practice yoga safely and effectively.
Pose Modifications Using Props
Props can be an excellent way to modify certain yoga poses to make them more suitable for older bodies that may be in pain. If you are going to teach a senior yoga class, be sure to have appropriate props available for your students. You should try to have straps, bolsters, blocks, and blankets available for pose modification. Nearly every pose can be modified depending on the individual needs of the student. For example, blocks can help someone with low flexibility still benefit from a standing forward bend. A blanket can be an easy way to reduce hip or knee pain in seated positions. Consider the limitations of your students and offer modifications as needed so that everyone can get the maximum benefit from each pose.
For seniors with limited mobility, chair yoga is an excellent way to introduce older adults to a variety of modified yoga poses. Even adults who are confined to a wheelchair can do this practice to improve their mental and physical state. Doing yoga poses while seated in a chair still provides the student with innumerable benefits related to strength, cognition, and flexibility. Poses such as forward bends, twists, and back stretches can all be modified for chair practice. You can have chairs available at your studio for your students if you like. Chairs with wheels should not be used unless they can be securely locked into a stopped position. Pillows, blankets, and straps can all be used in chair yoga to make positions even more comfortable for your students.
Pranayama and Breathing
As we age, we can start to have issues with breathing and our overall lung capacity. Some of the students in a senior yoga class may struggle with deep breathing and lung function. For your older students, it can be beneficial to add a pranayama, or breathing exercise, to your yoga class. Pranayama can be especially beneficial at both the start and the end of the practice, as a way to relax both the body and the mind. There are many different types of pranayama, such as breath of fire, alternate nostril breathing, and ujjayi breathing. Consider the level of your students and choose a pranayama exercise that will be suitable for the physical ability and pace of the overall class. Remember not to push any student beyond their limit – let them find their own comfort zone.
As yoga becomes more popular, more people of different age groups want to experience the practice for themselves. As a teacher, you should be aware of the age groups in your classes. By being prepared, you can offer a senior yoga class for older adults who want to improve their health through yoga. Whether you simply welcome seniors to any of your regular classes or offer senior-specific yoga instruction, being aware of modifications, limitations, and constraints you may come across will ensure your class runs smoothly, no matter what age group you are teaching.
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