Long gone is the expectation that you have to be able to touch your toes in order to do yoga.
Whether you’re 6 years old or 60 years old, through breathing practices, prop usage and gentle stretching, yoga is accessible and adaptable for anyone of any age. And when it’s done regularly, it has a lengthy list of both physical and mental benefits for those over the age of 55.
We spoke with Heather Hagaman of Beloved Yoga about her eight years of teaching senior-level yoga, and how it’s about much more than just the physical benefits. Highlights from our conversation are below.
How did you get started teaching senior yoga?
About eight years ago I started teaching senior yoga at the Reston Community Center. At the time, I was really focused on making it a warm and friendly atmosphere for everyone who came. I wanted people to come and get to know each other, and that’s truly what happened. As everyone started taking the class regularly, there was a lot of sharing of stories and experiences, and with that, people started having coffee together, getting lunch together and building a really great community. Then I decided to move to the studio, which is quite different in terms of space and atmosphere, but many of them came with me and now we’re working on expanding our program at Beloved Yoga (even though the Chair Yoga classes are almost full every week).
What’s different about senior yoga, versus what people might think of as just general yoga?
The practices are very prop-oriented and inclusionary. For example, we’re using blankets under our knees if we’re on the floor, we’re using a chair on the mat to do a variety of poses, we’re doing a lot of wrist movement and we’re all starting on the same level, regardless of physical ability. It’s like we’re getting out every cobweb in the body. But the biggest thing that’s different is it’s more about the engagement. Every senior class, I have everyone go around and introduce themselves and I usually ask a basic question to get everyone talking. Then we make sure that the class is fun with a focus on music, a little bit of dance movement and movements/tactics for brain health.
Why do you find the social engagement to be so important in class?
The loneliness that people are experiencing is tremendous. I want to have a space where these seniors feel seen, heard and loved, and where they also feel that they’re all together. They always tell me that the reason they come back and the reason they love it isn’t just because of the movement and the class, it’s because they love the attitude and the energy that comes with it. This has been some of the most rewarding work I’ve ever done in my life and it’s because I just love them. These seniors have become like my ambassadors, and I am so deeply moved by being able to challenge them and see that they can still be strong and powerful.
What would you suggest to someone looking to start senior yoga?
I would say, if you haven’t done yoga in a while or at all, start with a chair yoga class. If you’re still concerned that you might not be confident enough for the class, you can always schedule a one-on-one session where we’ll go through the breathing practices, a bit of the motions and go from there. And I’m not the only one who will tell you this, but if you can breathe, you can do yoga.
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