5 Lessons I Learned Teaching Yoga To Seniors

Written by Laura McDonald

While on our annual summer vacation at the Jersey Shore, I ran into Karen, one of the many friends I’ve made here over the years. Karen is my mother's age, and the matriarch of a huge family: three daughters, their husbands, and tons of grandkids.

She asked me if I'd train her and her friend, Marion, who “worked out a lot.”

Karen and I had been on several walks together. I admired her plucky attitude about getting out there and moving on a daily basis even though she’s a bit heavier than she’d like to be and has several physical issues that make it challenging.

I had been doing my own morning practice, so I suggested yoga on the beach.

Karen’s eyes lit up! Then she sighed, “But I’ve never done yoga before. I’ve done spinning.”

I explained that if she could spin, she could do yoga.

Early the following morning we all met on the beach, towels and water bottles in hand. I was blown away when I laid eyes on Marion for the first time. Standing before me was a 75 year-old-woman who was ridiculously buff! (Note to self: keep working out.) I was thankful I'd spent some time preparing a sequence that I hoped would be stimulating for Marion, the exercise fanatic, as well as introducing yoga to Karen for the first time.

While we were getting settled, I asked Marion if she had any physical issues I should know about. Lo-and-behold she had pneumonia last winter and was put on medication that had weakened her muscles and caused her joint pain. She still looked fit, but was easing back into the world of exercise after a six-month hiatus.

Here's what I learned from teaching yoga to these two ladies: 

1. You can't plan everything. 

We began in Mountain Pose under a clear, deep blue sky. The ocean breeze kissing our skin, the sun warming our backs, and the sound of the waves crashing into the shore eased us into a deep, connected moment. We held the pose longer than I planned, but that is what we were meant to do.

2. Don’t be afraid to let the moment guide you.

A few joggers ran by, giving us the once over. A dad and his kids were hunting for sea glass, one loudly asking, “Daddy, what are they doing?” In the distance I could see a huge tractor beach sweeper barreling right towards us. I said, “Just keep breathing, stay here a little longer, the tractor will go around.” It did, and we held firm, staying connected to our breath and the sights and sounds that mattered in the moment.

3. Focus on what you're doing, not on the distractions. 

As we moved into Warrior One, I could see and feel this was becoming more difficult for Karen. She was eyeballing Marion, who flowed into the pose with relative ease. Karen didn’t have the same range of motion or stability her friend had. She lost her balance and said, “I can’t do this.” I knew she might be afraid of looking silly, and I could relate. I came over to gently assist her and said, “You look incredible. The most amazing thing to know about yoga is there are no judgements, it’s not a competition. Just do what you can do right in this moment.” She gave me a little nod, took in a nice big breath and exhaled into the pose a little deeper. She was a beautiful sight.

4. It’s OK to look silly.

We flowed from pose to pose for close to an hour and ended with Savasana. As we lay there relaxing deeper into the sand, I felt a collective sense of calm and peace encircling us on the beach. I felt a profound connection to these ladies and was honored to have been their guide on a journey that morning. I felt a deep, pure gratitude for everything I have in my life and for being able to share the gift of yoga and better health. Then it suddenly struck me. I had learned from them. In their mid-70’s, Karen’s willingness to try something totally foreign to her, and Marion’s eagerness to get back into working out, all exposed in the vast openness on the beach, no less, was pure inspiration.

5. Embrace growing older.

After practice, we sat around and chatted for another 30 minutes or so. We remarked on how alive we felt, how renewed and energized we felt, and how what we had just experienced applies to everyday life. We had all made a deeper connection within ourselves.

We finally rose from the sand and began walking back towards the street.

“Same time tomorrow?” Karen asked.

“Sure” I said.

The next morning as I headed down to the beach, I didn’t see two seniors waiting for me, I saw three.


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