I do not sugar coat. I regularly yell: Ladies, the fastest way to die is to fall and break a hip! Not on my watch Not if I can help it! Now stay in the pose and hold it for 10 more breathes.
Why should I lie to my students? I am must make them stronger yet keep them safe while they gain muscle memory and brain plasticity around balance. I play favorites. I shamelessly dote on one student. I regularly announce at some point in the class, that all students can go to Le Madeleine for brunch because I only care about one person. The only person I care about it Thetis. Why? She is 76 and she is a rock star.
True, I have my strong adroit 25 year old dude, but Thetis can hold plank longer and in better form than he ever has. Why? She has been working with me for over three years. Since working with me she ceased taking her asthma medication. Her wrists and hands no longer curl up. She balances in the center of the room now while before she would steady herself on the wall. (Please see her on the wall in an l-shaped handstand!)
The joy of seeing students improve keeps me enthused about teaching. For my vintage demographic, it’s not about looking good in stretch pants, although they are all adorable. For these vintage models, victories on the mat lets them leave the studio beaming and better equipped to be balance in many situations. This confidence goes far beyond yoga.
They are stronger and more nimble. They age backwards. They stand taller. More importantly, they brag about how they are my golden girls. This corps group of women have become seven strong and they continue to invite their friends. They come and study yoga. They travel together. They gang up on me together. They discuss geriatric specialists and they defy ravages of osteoporosis by doing smart, slow, safe yoga with my hawk eye to create classes just for them.
Now, I must be careful with my vintage models. Because they are slower, I have more alignment cues built in to their sequence. They like more rest between poses. We use sand bags to add weight bearing elements. The Golden Girl Crew likes to work hard. They often do crow. They are pictured here doing l-shaped handstand on the wall. With my assistance, they can often jump into handstands in the middle of the room. The stretching makes them longer and the core work makes them groan and complain. I am deaf to their complaints. The strong core and back makes balance easier.
I do workshops for them inspired by the book Yoga for Osteoporosis by Loren Fishman, MD and Ellen Saltonstall. I have found ways to hold them in the poses longer to create just enough good stress on their long bones and especially the hips. We work feet diligently so arthritis does not rob the toes of gripping power.
The best strategy I have to teach them to fall. I let them know that 25% of older people who fall and break a hip will die within one year of the accident. (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/04/science/a-tiny-stumble-a-life-upended.html) I intentionally stand them on blankets or one block so they learn to navigate through the instability. The fear of falling is always with them. I make falling part of their lexicon. They fall smart and flow to the floor instead of freezing up and receiving a blunt flow.
Our mantra: It is good to fall. Now get back up. You must fall well. You’re okay. Now get up and try again. They have quad strength to lower down slowly.
I give them preferential treatment. I work with them closely. They do not push themselves. They have nothing to prove. They chat about grandkids and little aches and pains. They celebrate each others’ victories. One student learned to get up from the floor without using a chair after two sessions. For an 85 year old, she now has a victory that means life continues with dignity.
My mom inspired this class. I designed the class to keep her strong and bendy. I am interested in having her healthy vibrant. Her mom and dad both lived into their 90s. If I am blessed, she will still come to class 30 years from now and do yoga with me at 100! I want her to continue pestering my dad so he keeps working out too!
The great Iyengar Teacher Mary Dunn gave me the idea. I often went to her classes in New York and her mom was often in class. I thought, “I want that too! I want my mom to be in class when she is 90!” With any luck and lots of yoga, I will have my wish and prayer come true. Until then, I will invest in my mom and all my 60-77 year old students all the love and joy I can give.
They are growing young. I only hope I can keep up with them.