Article by Melanie A. Bell
Come into one of my typical yoga classes, and you’ll be met by joyful chatter, laughter, occasional tears of grief, and shared hugs.
Silver-haired men and women with a bit more “mileage” under their yoga outfits make up the majority of my participants these days.
In my early years of teaching, “superstar” yoga was attractive – classes of young, agile bodies with no limitations, who were seemingly boneless; endlessly flexible. But the appeal and relative ease of leading those athletic yogis has faded and transformed into a passion for working with those who are just as eager and enthusiastic to learn, but whose bodies now face the trials of the aging process.
If you’ve never worked with older adults before, consider it. The challenge of adapting poses, meeting varied needs and interests, and connecting with a generation who never experienced yoga as a “mainstream” activity can be extremely rewarding.
But before you become a trusted member of their tribe, there are a few tips to keep in mind as their instructor:
• Be prompt. Older adults were generally raised to be punctual. They will often show up at least fifteen minutes before your start time, so be ready. Their time is just as valuable as yours; if you are late, acknowledge and apologize.
• Dress professionally. An “edgy” look may work with your younger participants, but consider toning it down for this group. Many of them were taught to dress for the position or the occasion, and you, as their leader, must present yourself in a neat, professional manner.
• Speak clearly. As hearing and eyesight decline with age, many participants struggle to understand what an instructor is saying. Give visual and verbal cues; slow down your speech and give them time to digest your instructions.
• Encourage social time. Some older adults come to class for the social interaction as much as for the physical benefits. Build in time for them to chat, offer opinions, and ask questions.
• Have fun! Try laughter yoga; play games; let them enjoy themselves. This group is usually less inhibited and self-conscious than younger groups. When they see you being light-hearted and having fun, chances are, they’ll follow your lead.
Remember: Your mature participants offer a wealth of life experience, wisdom, and perspective.
Who knows? If you pay attention, you may find yourself becoming the student and they the teachers in the great Yoga Studio of Life.
Melanie A. Bell is a triumphant cancer survivor, passionately sharing her love of life and well-being with others through the practices of Yoga, Reiki, and Aromatherapy. She would love to hear from you and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org