If you have been teaching yoga for a while then you will likely already have realised that yoga is for everybody and every body! Although there are often some stereotypes and misconceptions connected to the yoga world, the truth is that this practice is for absolutely everyone.
It is becoming increasingly common for older people (that is those aged 50 plus) to begin to embrace the benefits of yoga as they reach this phase of life. It is also of course possible that a person in this age bracket has been practicing yoga for a long time and is simply continuing with their practice.
Today I want to talk about how you can adapt your yoga classes for older students to make sure everyone is having the safest and most enjoyable experience!
Health and Wellbeing
As we age there are several additional concerns when it comes to our health and wellbeing. We can be more prone to falls and accidents, and the recovery time from these incidents can be longer than when we are in our younger years.
The range of motion, flexibility, strength and balance that we are used to can begin to diminish in later life, and yoga is a fantastic tool for helping to better maintain all of these things!
Osteoporosis is a particular concern among the ageing population, and this condition is characterised by a weakening of the bones that will increase the risk of fractures. A regular yoga practice, in conjunction with a healthy diet, can help to protect the bones and keep them healthier for longer.
Teaching Older Students
For students in their younger years, the main focus of a yoga practice tends to be challenging the body to take on new poses, building strength and developing new skills. However, for those who are a few decades ahead in their lives, the focus will start to move towards injury prevention and the maintenance of optimum health. These are things that can be worked towards via a different approach on the mat.
If you ask a young yogi what their motivation for practicing yoga is, then you will likely get a variety of answers. However, they are most likely to desire a firmer body and stronger muscle tone, in addition to proactively combatting stress and encouraging feelings of peace and calm – basically the benefits that are connected to the physical appearance, as well as being able to tackle the stresses of everyday life.
On the other hand, your older students are more likely to be seeking the benefits that pertain to their movement and function, such as how yoga can help to loosen tight joints and enable a greater flexibility and awareness of the body.
Adapting your Classes
If you have older students in your class, or you are aiming to teach an entire class of students in this age range, then there are a few simple ways to adapt your lessons plans and teaching style.
It can be helpful to start your classes with a lying down pose that can then develop into more challenging poses, with the option to choose the simpler alternatives each time. This will allow you to see who feels able to flow quickly into the more intricate asanas, and who chooses to take a gentle approach.
Educating yourself on the inevitable physical changes that come with ageing will help you to better connect and understand your students. Everyone has different physical capabilities, and finding the appropriate challenge for each student is important to their individual progression.
This is something you can easily do by reading up on common age-related health conditions. You can also of course ask your students to share any relevant information in regards to their personal physical capabilities.
Common issues are likely to be pain and stiffness in the body (especially in the back and neck), knee and hip problems, and also concerns related to heart health and blood pressure.
Set The Pace
The pace of your class should always be adapted to suit the needs of those in attendance. This becomes all the more important when your students are in their more senior years.
If you have an older person in your class who has been practicing yoga for a long time, then it might be a challenge in itself to encourage them to slow the pace. It may also prove difficult to discourage these students from pushing themselves to keep up with the younger yogis in the class.
Maintaining a slow and gentle pace can enable students of any age to ease into each pose with greater confidence. When you have older students in your class, you may try slowing the pace down for everyone so that the entire class can feel as though they are truly learning side by side. This also reduces the chances of someone trying to get ahead of themselves, which could potentially become unsafe.
On a similar note, it is always advisable to have modifications in mind for any pose that you are going to ask your students to attempt. This means that there is always an easier option available to everyone. And, of course, always make sure that all of your students know that they can always take a rest in Child's Pose whenever they feel like they want or need to!
Props can be helpful and necessary in a yoga class for students of any age. They can help to make poses more safe and comfortable, as well as helping your students to ease into certain positions and hold them for longer periods of time.
Making sure that props are always available to your older students is a simple way to help keep the class safe. It also helps everybody to feel supported in every way. If a student is struggling to hold a stretch or move their body all the way into a pose, then showing them how best to use a prop will encourage them to continue working towards it. It will also help to ensure they feel accomplished in the pose they were trying to master!
Although props may be most useful to beginners and older students, encouraging everyone in your class to use them is a good idea. This can help to prevent people feeling out of place when they do so!
Understand Each Individual
As a yoga teacher, it is your job to understand that every single body in your class is different. Be sure to never judge a student by their age, and to never make assumptions about their abilities based on how old they are.
When you begin each class it is always a good idea to give your students a chance to share any specific limitations they feel they might have for the class ahead. This is information you can also encourage your students to give you ahead of time. You can then use this information to decide who may need extra help and if you need to tailor your class in any way.
As long as you are always treating all of your students with kindness, compassion, and patience, then you surely can't go wrong!
If you are looking for further advice on how to be your very best and thrive as a yoga teacher, then check out my post from last week!
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