The elegant, silver-haired woman poked her head tentatively into my classroom as students were setting up their mats and chairs for a “gentle yoga” class. “Is it okay if I just watch?” she asked, then told me she had tried a yoga class to ease pain in her neck and back, only to find that actually made her problem worse.
It’s a complaint I’ve heard many times, particularly from older adults: that the supposedly healing practice of yoga caused pain. As a teacher specializing in therapeutic yoga for seniors and people with health challenges, I often work with those who have had a negative experience in a yoga class, frequently because it was an inappropriate style or level for the participant or was taught by an inexperienced or poorly trained instructor.
“Teaching yoga at a senior center is an entry-level job in many communities, which means they’re putting the least-trained people with the hardest crowd,” says Gale A. Greendale, a professor of medicine and gerontology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “There’s often a cacophony of preexisting conditions in this age group, and a yoga teacher has to be very skilled to not get older adults into trouble.”
With studies suggesting that yoga may be helpful in reducing heart rate and blood pressure, relieving anxiety and depression, and easing back pain, studios are filling up with baby boomers and older adults. Yet, seniors pose a special challenge for yoga instructors, because of their very mix of abilities and condition: Some 80-year-olds are still running marathons, and some 70-year-olds are unable to get up out of a chair. Continue reading >>