I talk to a lot of yoga teachers who want to or are teaching older students. Although those who have experienced teaching older students authentically feel that it is a privilege to teach seniors, the overriding emotion for everyone when I talk to them is fear – that they don’t know enough - that their lack of knowledge could lead to injuries or worse. This is a genuine concern as generic yoga training does not have the time to delve with any depth into the issues of the aging body. However, the real issue is do you have the “heart” to teach older students.
Teaching older students is significantly different from the average class of 20 and 30 year olds. These older bodies have been used for 50 plus years and that use has written itself on the body in stiff and swollen joints, old injuries, and the uneven strength of muscles, etc. You will not in general find the lovely young flexible bodies of a younger class; you will find great variations and unfortunately almost everyone will be dealing with some common conditions and diseases of aging. So being cautious about teaching seniors is legitimate.
But the real difference is what the older person wants from a class. They are not interested in complex asanas that twist the body in multiple ways. They in general will have no ego about their physical practice, they are instead just trying to perform the asana, perhaps modified, but making the attempt. They usually don’t care what kind of clothes they have on as long as they are comfortable and the clothes allow them to move. The yoga teacher will usually have to slow the class pace and perhaps make an effort for everyone in the class to hear him/her as hearing loss is quite common among older people.
So teaching older students will not give you the satisfaction of your students excelling at difficult asanas, losing toxins in heated rooms, or becoming much stronger and fitter through yoga. If these are your goals as a yoga teacher, you probably would not be happy teaching older students.
In general, over 50’s decide to attend a class because they understand that they are at risk of losing abilities if they don’t continue to move their bodies. They are not looking to work from simple to complex asanas but are looking for someone who has experience or knowledge with the pain of arthritis, the difficulties of living with insomnia, the understanding of isolation. The yoga teacher whobelieves that they want to be their students’ friend as well as their teacher, recognises that a class can be a social gathering as well as improving or maintaining fitness, and believes the full spectrum of yoga (breathing, relaxation and meditation) should be taught in a class will have the “heart” to teach older students. Listening to their stories (which are usually quite fascinating), understanding and appreciating their courage to live with pain and grief daily, and accepting them where they are and knowing that possibly this is the best fitness level that they can attain is the perfect yoga teacher for over 50’s.
Yes there are risks teaching older students. Teachers and students should know the risks to make an informed choice. If the student decides to take the risk, (and these are adults and should be given the choice of making a decision that includes risk) they should be made aware of what may be the consequences. I have been teaching over 50s classes for many years and have broad experience and education in the area. I can help you gather the knowledge so you understand the risks of what you are likely to face in an older class and how to communicate those risks to your students. I can mentor you through the stages to build a rewarding practice so that you build your classes and expectations that are suitable for this age group.
But I can’t give you “heart”. If you 1) genuinely want to teach seniors, 2) have expectations appropriate for this age group and 3) believe that these older students have as much to teach you as you have to teach them, then you are definitely on the path to being a senior yoga teacher with HEART!