I teach a gentle yoga class at my dance studio two days/week. The students in class are all women over the age of 60 including my mother who is almost 20 years older. Each of them comes to class with her concerns, complaints, wisdom, wit, humor, and willingness to practice yoga. They arrive stiff with arthritis resulting from old athletic injuries or recent falls. All of them experience post-menopausal balance issues and flexibility loss, a few have post-surgical limitations including the lack of ability to hang their heads, and many deal with chronic pain. Teaching them has become the highlight of my week. Each exemplifies what I adore about women. They are willing, coachable, and brave; and they have chosen to deal with aging through the support of others and lots of humor! These women faithfully show up for class; sometimes griping about how they feel physically, but always willing to share and reveal how they feel emotionally. As their yoga teacher it is my job to get them out of their heads and into their bodies; but I can’t resist participating in the gab session before class. In fact, I am often guilty of starting a conversation with something on my mind and they supportively chime in sharing their life experience in support of my tribulation. Each time we meet is an opportunity to vent, which means we begin and end class 10 minutes late!
Sometimes we start class sitting on folding chairs but usually we begin sitting cross-legged on the floor. For some, this requires the use of blankets and blocks to create what we refer to in the yoga community as “modifications” because many have tight hips, “bad knees”, or newly replaced joints. Regardless, we begin class breathing deeply and turning inward together. I am always humbled and somewhat amused by their trust in me. They allow me to lead them through breathing exercises and mantras seated like a pretzel with their eyes closed. However, once we start moving, I am snapped back into reality as they will verbalize shameless protests at my instructions, at the same time, giving a valiant effort to try to do what I am telling them to.
It is my responsibility to keep my students safe and make sure that they aren’t stretching too far or attempting something that may cause injury. At the same time, I want them to realize their potential and help them make changes to their bodies that will improve how they feel. Often, one of them will remind me that they have already reached their potential and they are as good as they are going to get! So I do what any good yoga teacher would do. I continue to teach. One of them will snicker, half of them will obediently take action and inevitably someone will bellow, “Robin, that’s just not gonna happen today!”
To which I respond with a number of solutions involving the use of yoga props, body placement modifications, and a reminder to breathe, which is then usually met with affirmation that the changes were successful, but sometimes uproarious laughter contagious to the whole class, including the teacher. Even though we spend much of our class time laughing, I am impressed by their progress and eagerness to enrich and improve their lives. They have chosen to learn to adapt to the changes they have experienced in their lives by participating in something supportive, humorous, fun and healthy.
Congratulations to the women who take my gentle yoga class!!
I am grateful to you for many reasons. You have made me a better yoga and dance teacher, by example you have shown me how to be supportive of one another, how to be brave, how to laugh and mostly how to love each other!