Real Life is Real Yoga
Safe, healthy yoga principles from two expert teachers
BY MAGAZINE EDITOR SUSAN MAIER-MOUL
Seniors age 65 and older represent the fastest-growing sector of the population and, like many Americans, are increasingly drawn to yoga. This presents both an extraordinary opportunity and a serious challenge for yoga instructors who must be both a resource and guardians of safety for this uniquely vulnerable group.
A typical class of seniors is likely to represent the most diverse mix of abilities of any age group. While some may be exceedingly healthy, most fit the profile of the average older adult in America, 80% of whom have at least one chronic health condition and 50% of whom have at least two.
Whether you are teaching yoga or a practitioner over 65, it’s valuable and life giving to educate yourself in the subtleties and susceptibilities of movement for mature bodies.
Great resources to help you get started or develop skill
Carol Krucoff and Kimberly Carson have recently published their advice. Teaching Yoga to Seniors: Essential Considerations to Enhance Safety and Reduce Risk in a Uniquely Vulnerable Age Group is a free download from The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. [EDITOR'S NOTE: THIS IS NO LONGER A FREE DOWNLOAD. IT'S $49 SO CHECK YOUR PUBLIC LIBRARY. GRATEFUL THANKS TO READER R.E. FOR LETTING US KNOW!]
Their paper “explores three areas that pose the greatest risk of compromise to older adult students: sedentary lifestyle, cardiovascular disease, and osteoporosis.”
Krucoff and Carson want to provide “a skillful framework for teaching yoga to seniors, we have developed specific Principles of Practice that integrate the knowledge gained from Western medicine with yogic teachings.”
You’re doubly lucky if it’s time to take a course to maintain your teacher certification status, or time for retreat and renewal.
Krucoff’s and Carson’s popular program Therapeutic Yoga for Seniors Teacher Training which is ordinarily only presented at Duke Integrative Medicine in North Carolina is offered for the first time at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health December 5-10th and there’s still time to register.
How did you begin teaching yoga to seniors?
Susan Maier-Moul Have you had any personal experiences which gave you courage and/ or a sense of vocation about working with this underserved population?
Carol Krucoff As part of my Yoga Teacher Training with Esther Myers, we were required to do 12 hours of community service, which I arranged to do with the Gerofit gerontology rehabilitation program at the Durham, NC, Veteran’s Administration Hospital.
Staffed by an amazing team of exercise physiologists, this program helped members boost their fitness level and reduce disease risk through aerobics and strength training. Participants were older adult veterans, mostly male, who had never done yoga—for the first few weeks they kept asking me “what kind of Yogurt are you going to serve us?”
I planned to teach yoga once a week there for 12 weeks to fulfill my service requirement. But the experience proved to be incredibly powerful—participants told me that the yoga we did helped them sleep better, relieve pain, lower their blood pressure, enhance their mood. I wound up volunteering at Gerofit, teaching a weekly yoga class, for five years—it was an extraordinary learning experience that impressed upon me the profound healing potential of even a simple yoga practice, consisting of breathing and gentle movement.
It also clarified for me that need for yoga teachers working with seniors to become educated in the special needs and conditions common to older adults and to appropriately modify the practice to older bodies, minds and spirits.
Kimberly Carson As with many things in this life, working with seniors was an opportunity that was presented to me unbidden.
I was teaching in a local yoga studio in NC and the director wanted to offer a class for seniors. I have always taught a relatively gentle style and she thought I would be the teacher best energetically suited for the class. Almost simultaneously, I was asked to teach gentle classes at the Center for Living at Duke Medical Center.
Over the years, I learned so much from the students about the various medical conditions they were living with as well as how to match the asana practice to their abilities. Teaching in these venues really allowed my graduate training as a health educator to come alive.
The central orientation of meeting people where they are, was forever helpful in working with these populations. The commitment to continue working with seniors and people living with medical conditions, was continually reinforced by the immense receptivity and ripeness to the teachings of yoga I observed in these groups.
What were the difficulties in acquiring skill in this area?
Susan What feelings were the most difficult for you to work with initially? How did you move through those feelings? Please describe the rewards of your own personal growth in this area.
Carol Probably the most difficult feelings for me to work with was letting go of the desire to “fix things.”
It’s not uncommon for older adults to have complicated health histories and many different ailments and problems. Before and after class students will often come and discuss these concerns, and –at first—I struggled with feeling that I needed to help solve their problems.
It was nice to start at Gerofit, held in the VA hospital, where I knew folks had medical support—and would typically suggest they speak with their doctor. It’s very important that, as yoga teachers, we respect our scope of practice – we are not physicians and should not be trying to diagnose.
Over time, I’ve come to appreciate that simply listening to students—being present for them—is, in its own way, extremely helpful. It is not up to me to “fix things,” but to point to yogic practices that could be helpful—such as breathing or meditation—and to offer love and support.
Kimberly The most difficult aspect of working in these arenas was – and still can be – the diversity of abilities that can be present in any given class. Finding ways to meet everyone where they are and to keep the group moving together through the class in an engaged and inspired way is quite challenging.
To continue having faith and confidence in the moment is – for me — the ultimate practice.
Tomorrow on The Magazine of Yoga If you want to be of greater service as well as grow your teaching practice, seniors may be the community where you find the most rewarding opportunities. Our conversation continues with advice for teachers and practitioners over 65.
Co directors of Therapeutic Yoga for Seniors
Carol Krucoff E-RYT 500, is a yoga therapist at Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham, North Carolina, and has practiced yoga for more than 30 years. Carol was founding editor of the Washington Post’s Health section and is author of Healing Yoga for Neck and Shoulder Pain. www.healingmoves.com
Kimberly Carson MPH, E-RYT 200, is a yoga therapist in Portland, Oregon. A yoga practitioner for more than 20 years, Kimberly taught and did yoga research for more than 10 years Duke University Health System. She teaches and researches yoga for special populations—including cancer and fibromyalgia—and offers Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction at Oregon Health Sciences University. www.yogaofawareness.org
Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health Reservations 866.200.5203
The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Volume 16, Number 8, 2010, pp. 899–905 a Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. DOI: 10.1089/acm.2009.0501
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.