Does 55+ yoga make sense?

In a March 1, 2010, New York Times article,  “Old Age, From Youth’s Narrow Prism,” Marc E Agronin, MD, examines our conceptions (and misconceptions) about old age. He’s often surprised when his geriatric patients contradict his expectations.

He writes, “All of us lapse into such mistaken impressions of old age from time to time. It stems in part from an age-centered perspective, in which we view our own age as the most normal of times, the way all life should be. At 18 the 50-year-olds may seem ancient, but at 50 we are apt to say the same about the 80-year-olds.”

Senior yoga classes

Many studios offer yoga classes targeted at older students, such as “senior yoga” or “yoga for 55+.” I can imagine the rationale for such classes, but age doesn’t always correlate with asana ability. In my own teaching, I’ve seen students in their 50s and 60s who are undoubtedly more fit, coordinated, and aligned than their decades-younger classmates. While my 20-something students might be able to shoot hoops or run a mile faster, that doesn’t mean they can perform asanas “better.”

The real determinants of asana class level are experience level, innate physical fitness, and eagerness to learn. Age matters most at the extremities, if students are kids or geriatric patients. For the vast pool in between, beginner classes, gentle classes, restorative classes, and pre- and post-natal classes make sense. But I’m not convinced about 55+ classes (and I suspect that the health-conscious, youth-conscious Baby Boomers would agree!).

“Mature” Olympians in the 2010 Winter Games

On the topic of age, I was impressed by the stellar performances by Olympians in their 30s and even 40s at the 2010 Winter Games. All athletes listed below still await birthdays and will go up a year in 2010:

  • Men’s Ice Hockey (gold): Martin Brodeur, 37; Scott Niedermayer, 36
  • Pairs figure skaters (gold): Xue Shen, 31; Hongbo Zhao, 36
  • Men’s Snowboard Parallel Giant Slalom (gold): Jasey Jay Anderson, 34
  • Ladies’ Snowboard Cross (gold): Maelle Ricker, 31
  • Men’s Snowboard Cross (gold): Seth Wescott, 33
  • Men’s Curling (gold): Kevin Martin, 43
  • Ladies’ Curling (gold and silver): Anette Norberg, 43, and Cheryl Bernard, 43

I bet I’m missing other prime examples, but you get the picture.

Image: About.com: Animated TV

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9 thoughts on “Does 55+ yoga make sense?

  1. Hey Yoga Spy, Good question.
    I’m with you on senior’s classes not really serving a purpose, with the possible exception of easing a mature beginner’s fears about being in a room full of limber 20-somethings, and feeling like a fossil.

    People who need a more gentle practice can need it at any age.

    In yoga, I think it actually helps to be older, especially if your age has made you calmer, slower, less competitive and more open to listening to yourself.

    Fifteen year old gymnasts can achieve the form of almost any yoga pose, but that doesn’t mean that they have a mature practice, or that they are integrating their minds and bodies through the poses, and reaching stillness.

    Unlike any other form of movement I’ve experienced, yoga seems to deepen and become better with age. Even the tough poses yield in time to practice. (I’ll manage lolasana one of these days.)

    Eve Johnson
    http://myfiveminuteyoga.com/wordpress/

  2. I agree, a “gentle yoga” class for those who need a gentler approach, regardless of age, probably makes more sense. There are all kinds of reasons for this — recovering from injury or illness, extra weight or other restrictive conditions, etc. But while age is only one factor, for those just learning yoga, needs and abilities can be quite different depending on age, which is why there are seniors classes. For those of us who have been practicing a long time, it’s a different story. I’m just about to turn 49, and have been practicing yoga since my 20s; I don’t have any problem keeping up in even the most challenging astanga class — though I don’t want to do a practice that strenuous every day any more.

    Around the time of the last summer Olympics, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a very interesting story about the older athletes competing in those games. Swimmer Dana Torees was the big sensation, but there were quite a few others, including a gymnast in her 30s (almost unheard of!) who I believe took the silver medal in the vault. It discussed some studies being done at Stanford that are changing our conception of aging. One finding is that older athletes can’t train as hard — they have to have more rest and recovery time, and fewer days of going full out — but that they can and do train “smarter” and can remain competitive far longer than previously thought.

  3. I think the point is to attract older people in to yoga classes. Some people like being catered to by their age group. “Yoga for people with limited range of motion” probably won’t do it.
    People may like to know they are going in to a class with people they may relate to. Of course the class is relevant, just as Yoga for Golfers or for Runners is. Trying to attract a particular group of people is just marketing.

  4. My Mom did her teacher training at age 57 and has the most grounded, fluid and smooth practice imaginable. I aspire to the day when I will be as bendy as she is! I am all for diversity in class – it is wonderful to practice with people who have a confident, mature practice and life wisdom to share.

    Interestingly, my Mom’s training included a “Yoga for Seniors” module aimed at teaching elderly practitioners. The course included exercised designed to keep mobility in places that we hardly think about as younger practitioners, such as mobility in the fingers! Many of the women in my Grandmother’s home are in their 80’s and 90’s and enjoy twice weekly yoga sessions with options for all range of mobility (such as doing standing poses from a chair).

    I think that 55 is a young cut-off, but once you get to 75 or 85 there is perhaps a strong reason to have a specialised class with a teacher who understands the needs of students in the ‘golden years’.

  5. I started 2 years ago and at 52 I find it a pleasure to see that my practice has made me strong if not stronger than my younger body from years ago. I do agree there is there is a need to cultivate the mind and body balance in the practice….I see no need for over age groups…except for those bodies needing the extra attention…

  6. The first yoga class I ever went to – about 5 years ago – was with my grandma, who was in her late 60s at the time. It was not a senior class, and my grandma was a regular attendee. I agree with some of the other posters – the only time I could see a 55+ class having an important purpose would be to make older beginners feel more comfortable, to keep them from feeling intimidated before they even get to class.

  7. I can’t speak from experience in terms of age, but I just want to share something Judith Lasater once said, “much of what we think of as old age is inactivity.”

  8. ive read that people live longer in cultures that dont have assumptions about what people of an “advanced” age can do. theyre not told they cant, so they just keep can-ing.

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