Did you know that 38% of people who practice yoga in the United States are over 50 years old? That’s about 14 million people. Yoga has countless benefits for people across ages, including seniors.
For seniors, it has additional benefits. That’s why it’s more common to see older students in yoga classes. If you’re a yoga teacher who likes to cater to this age demographic, learning how to teach yoga for seniors is necessary.
Why is Yoga Good for Seniors?
Aging poses many risks. As we age, we lose water in our tissues and spine, which causes stiffness in our joints. This natural part of aging also reduces our bone density and muscle mass. Yoga is one of the best exercises for older people. Here are some of the benefits of yoga for seniors:
Improves Balance and Stability
Aging causes us to lose our balance by reducing the ability to issue motor commands. It also causes loss of musculoskeletal function. Yoga helps seniors improve balance and stability by working and strengthening the core muscles, including stabilizers in the body.
This practice helps us to improve our balance and become more stable. Yoga also improves our proprioception or our ability to perceive the position of the body in space.
Improves Bone Health
As we age, we naturally lose more calcium and minerals in the bone, which reduces bone density. This natural part of aging also makes us more prone to osteoporosis as we age. Exercising is one of the best ways to prevent bone density and muscle mass loss.
The physical aspect of yoga helps us to strengthen our bones and muscles as well as encourage growth.
Improves Muscle Mass
Like the bones, we also lose muscle mass naturally as we age, especially when we don’t use them. Muscle mass only grows when stress caused by physical exercise breaks down muscle fibers.
Asanas or physical postures practiced in yoga are lightweight exercises that use the muscles and the bones. These poses stress the muscle fibers, which heal by infusing together and growing in mass and strength.
Lessens the Risk for Anxiety and Depression
Depression and anxiety are common as we age, but this is not normal. These mental health issues affect 20% of people ages 50-65. Only 10% of them get treatment.
Many studies show that yoga helps in reducing symptoms of depression. According to this study, an 8-week Hatha Yoga intervention resulted in reductions in depression severity.
Arthritis is the swelling of the joint that causes a dull or burning sensation. It causes stiffness in the joints as well as pain. About half of the people aged 65 and above have been diagnosed with arthritis.
Practicing yoga helps ease the pain of the joints caused by arthritis by stretching the muscles and improving the circulation of synovial fluid—the fluid that lubricates the joints and makes them more mobile. A meta-analysis concluded that yoga improved the daily function of 1,600 participants with joint pains, neck pain, and lower back pain.
Tips on How to Teach Yoga for Seniors
Yoga is very beneficial to the older demographic. Teaching yoga to seniors is challenging and requires you to improve your teaching skills constantly. Here are nine tips that will help you on how to teach yoga for seniors:
Expect It Will Be Challenging
Because most senior yogis are limited in flexibility, strength, and some also have visual and hearing impairments, expect your yoga classes to be challenging. But teaching yoga for seniors is fulfilling. Unlike many younger yogis who want to improve their fitness by practicing yoga, older yogis practice it to improve their quality of life and function.
Understand Their Bodies
The body changes as we age. While some seniors still have great strength and flexibility to join an Ashtanga Vinyasa class, some of them are more vulnerable. Just like in a class of twenty-something yogis, senior yoga students also come with unique conditions.
A small percentage of them are exceptionally fit and athletic and may have practiced fitness or sports their whole lives. Appreciate them and suggest that regular yoga classes may best serve them. But also appreciate that most seniors are the opposite.
You need to understand that the natural aging process makes everyone more prone to losing their balance, flexibility, and agility. But treat and teach them individually.
Prepare to Demo the Poses
If you teach yoga to people under 50 years old, I’m sure you rely more on giving verbal cues than demonstrating the yoga postures. In teaching yoga for seniors, you need to show most of the poses while verbally instructing them. Consider the fact that many of your senior yoga students may have hearing or visual problems.
Props Are Your Friends
Props are your friends when it comes to teaching yoga to seniors. Many seniors can’t go up and down the mat. Use props to help them be able to do this. If the seniors are very limited and can’t go up and down the mat even with the help of props, let them practice in a chair.
Most seated and standing yoga asanas are accessible with the use of a chair. Using the wall also helps in doing many standing poses, especially one-legged standing poses such as Tree Pose.
Keep it Simple
Again, the flexibility and strength of many senior yogis are limited. Keep the asanas you practice easy and straightforward. If possible, only make them do poses that only require up to three movement flows, such as bringing one knee up and bringing your two arms up.
The same goes for your verbal cues. Keep the verbal cues clear and concise. Do not add fluff, especially anatomical terms.
Arm Yourself with Lots of Modifications
Even if you keep your movements easy and simple, some of your senior yoga students may still find them challenging. Make sure that you already know the modifications to offer students who may have difficulty before the class.
Try Not to Change the Class Too Often
For young yogis, practicing the same flows over and over again may sound tedious. Changing poses has its benefits. But for seniors, changing the poses and flows too often may be confusing.
Also, with age comes age decline. Repeating poses help them to learn the poses and to develop the mind and body connection. To keep your classes not boring, change the sequence of the postures.
Never Underestimate or Overestimate Them
While we see seniors as fragile and vulnerable, not all of them are. Do not underestimate what they are capable of doing. Some seniors are strong. They just don’t know how to use their bodies.
Give them time to explore their bodies and discover if they have the flexibility and strength to do some poses. Doing this will develop their confidence. But, of course, don’t also overestimate them. Give them time to build the foundation of the pose before advancing.
Ask Before Giving Adjustments
Consent is always necessary, especially in yoga. Before giving physical adjustments to your senior yoga students (and yoga students from other age brackets), ask them if they are comfortable being touched. Some people may be sensitive to touch and may prefer to be verbally instructed on adjusting their bodies.
Ask Them to Use Their Eyes
Many people, especially seniors, suffer from dizziness and vertigo. Some feel the dizziness caused by sudden movement. When moving through poses, ask your students to move their eyes in the movement’s direction first before moving their heads. Focusing on one spot in front of them is also a great tip to keep their balance.
Asking your senior yoga students, especially those with cognitive decline, to raise your right hand or your left hand, may be too confusing to them. Some of them in the back row or those with hearing problems may not hear your verbal instructions as well. Mirror them, and they will follow what you show, even those at the back. It will make the instructions easy to follow.
Use Encouraging Words
Instead of cueing them to “bring your arms up,” prompt them to bring one arm up first and tell them to raise the other arm if they feel stronger or more daring today. By doing this, seniors who cannot raise both their arms don’t feel discouraged but are rather encouraged to try.
In regular classes, yogis don’t wear shoes. Seniors may have difficulty in taking off their shoes and wearing them back after class. Tell them they can keep their shoes on. Some of them may be wearing orthopedic shoes for plantar fasciitis, and taking them off might hurt them.
Yoga is for everyone. Seniors will benefit from yoga, but the practice needs to be modified based on their physical ability, limitations, and needs. It is inherent that yoga teachers be the guardian of their safety in the class.