Taking it Slow and Easy
With so many older yoga students on the mat, it's becoming easier to find classes tailored to seniors, as well as more teachers skilled in leading them. The poses in a 55-and-older class will probably focus on those key skills of sure-footedness, strength, and flexibility. Angelena Craig, a Kripalu instructor in Newburyport, Massachusetts, thinks forward bends, backbends, and spinal twists are essential, too. "You're only as young as your spine is flexible," she says. asanas done in a seniors' class are frequently offered in a modified version, with extra time spent doing gentle stretches to warm up the neck, back, shoulders, feet, and hands. There's usually ample time alloted for pPranayama, too. "Breathing is the biggest problem as we age," Iszak says. "Poor posture happens over time and compresses the lung area, so breathing gets shallower. Rhythmic, mindful breathing is one of the first things we emphasize, and students start feeling better, lighter."
Props, too, tend to figure prominently. A teacher may use a chair to raise the "floor" about 18 inches for a modified Downward-Facing Dog or Extended Side Angle Pose, or to help maintain balance in Tree Pose. For students who are disabled or especially fragile, doing yoga on a chair is an option when standing for a few minutes isn't possible. Blankets, bolsters, blocks, and straps can give extra support and ease stiffer bodies into and out of a pose. But don't make the mistake of thinking props or modifications are a crutch, Cappy says. She often uses them as a starting point. "I start with the modification. So if, for example, we're doing Warrior I, we might start with the feet only 2 to 2 1/2 feet apart so it's not too taxing. Then they work on that over a period of months at their own pace," she says. "The idea is that if you have them do the pose with their feet 4 feet apart, that knocks out a whole bunch of people who haven't stretched their legs in decades."!--page-->