Roughly 300 million people practice yoga in the world today and it seems those over 50 are especially drawn to it, their numbers tripling from 2014 to 2018. Yoga has entered mainstream long ago, so people have learned about it even if they didn’t have time for practice. With kids leaving home and/or parents’ retirement, huge numbers of not-so-young show(ed) up in classes. Benefits are many: I’ll just point out increased mobility, bone density, better proprioception which could mean a difference between life and death in unintentional falls, the leading cause of injury death among those 65 years and older.
Hatha Yoga Pradipika 1.64. says one can succeed in all yogas through energetic practice, even if one is old and very old. What would be energetic practice for someone 65+? Clearly there are many approaches, not all of them successful. Take a look at this graph first, taken from “Yoga-Related Injuries in the United States From 2001 to 2014” paper.
Orange line paints a bleak picture. Injuries in 65+ population went up 8,4 times in just thirteen years. If you go to the original paper, there’s another graphic tracking injury by site. Trunk and shoulders. Trunk and shoulders will get you (“doors and corners” if you’re an Expanse fan, too).
One explanation could be lack of competent teachers. The other could be practitioners’ unrealistic expectations, but those should be recognized and checked by teacher, so back to one. Third, could be systemic. If asanas with ancient patina, like those from Hatha Yoga Pradipika, are perceived within the given “traditional” system as cure-all, novice teacher could find himself teaching older people with the best of intentions, and yet lead them into injury.
Imagine 65+ novice yoga student’s spine and joints after lifetime of wild (long uninterrupted) sitting in this classic asana series. By the way, this was my first yoga practice, still love the effects, but I teach none of those postures to resemble what is shown here, no matter the age (with the exception of headstand if one can transfer almost all weight from head to the forearms).
I don’t have the resources to make fair comparison of styles and their understanding of postural yoga effects on ageing body, so I’ll offer some thoughts that served me well so far.
* If possible, aim for stable leg balances
Help your older students maintain or regain strength. One of my 70+ students got hit by bike. Guess who was left standing?
* Dont load the spine unless it is actively stabilized
Shoulderstand, plough, fish, passive twist without resistance are inferior to viparita karani, flexed knees forward fold, bird-dog and all actively resisted twists.
*If in doubt, let them rest
Only benefits here.
* Constantly upgrade your knowledge and adapt your teaching
And diversify your sources, too!
* Break out of the tradition
Reading and learning about physical rehabilitation, sports recreation, anything about avoiding injuries has greatly helped me teach mixed classes, from giving more exact verbal cues to eliminating postures that are done just for aesthetics or challenge.
Would be happy to hear your thoughts!