Several of our relatives and friends are going back to, or are interested in practicing yoga to maintain balance and health. So we thought it would be fun and helpful to write about local women-run yoga centers. We’ll publish interviews this month, and in September and October. And tell us about your experiences with yoga, too!
Rosie Richardson is a Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher (CIYT), Certified Yoga Therapist (C-IAYT) and a graduate of the Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco’s 2-year Advanced Studies/Teacher Training program. Rosie currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Iyengar Yoga Association of New England. She teaches at www.downunderyoga.com. We asked Rosie how women 60+ can incorporate yoga into their lives…
What’s your advice for women 60+ who haven’t tried yoga before but would like to try it?
My advice is go for it!
First, just know that the practice of yoga is for every BODY. There is a style of practice for any age or stage or condition. In the Western hemisphere, what we call “yoga” usually refers to the practice of asana or poses. Yoga is, in fact, a multi-faceted practice which includes the poses, breath and other forms of meditation and philosophy study.
Second, for beginners – especially older beginners – it is important to find an experienced and well-trained teacher, particularly one who understands how to work with students across all ages and stages of life. The staff at a reputable yoga center will be able to guide you to a teacher or teachers with whom you might resonate. Feel free to ask the teacher about their training, years of experience and the style of yoga they practice.
Third, commit to a course of 8-12 weeks for newcomers to yoga, rather than an all levels class. Or, take a level 1 or beginner class and stick with it for a while. You will learn a range of beginner poses, become familiar with the vocabulary and the style of instruction, and be in an environment in which you will feel at ease asking questions. Importantly, consistent attendance allows the teacher to get to know you, and provide you with the structure and modifications you might need.
In addition to yoga centers, here in the Boston area many Councils on Aging have yoga classes that are designed specifically with the 60+ student in mind. Learn what the different styles of yoga entail. For example, I teach in the Iyengar style of hatha yoga that does one pose at a time, focuses on precise instruction and alignment, and has “levels” so one can start at the beginning level. Newcomers start with standing poses, a few seated poses and very gentle twists, forward and back extensions. Over time new poses are introduced as the students show readiness.
At the center where I teach, there are other styles of yoga including those influenced by the vinyasa method, which is to say the poses are taken briefly, brought together in a sequence or flow, and sun salutations tend to be the mainstay of the practice. For the older beginner, I think the one-pose-at-a-time practice will provide a wonderful foundation. Progressing from there, one could either advance in that method or explore the vinyasa style, particularly if one has a moderate to high level of fitness.
What are the most important benefits yoga gives to women in their 60s and older?
For anybody, practicing yoga has many positive “side effects.” We move and breathe easier, and feel more stable and strong when standing, walking or doing other activities. Beyond the physical side effects, there is a greater sense of awareness, well-being, mental balance, concentration and equanimity that comes to those who make this a regular part of their day.
For women, however, there is another important component of the yoga practice. The natural cycle of a woman’s life involves physiological, metabolic and emotional changes that the yoga practice can support and nurture. As women 60 or older, we are, by and large on the far side of menopause – hurray! Our energy and creativity have increased, and we are often exploring the next stage of our lives. Over the next 2-3 decades, we will find ourselves walking the line between maintaining strength and accepting new limitations.
One example is that bone health in particular is at risk as we age. Practiced with certain considerations, yoga poses have been shown to help build bone mass and even stem bone loss. I teach a 4-week series that provides safe practice principles for those with osteoporosis and osteopenia and shows how to use the yoga practice to build strength, mobility, improve posture and balance, and reduce stress.
How can a woman prepare to take an online yoga class to make her environment as close as possible to being in the studio with the instructor and other students?
My students have all found a way to make the space for this practice in their homes, and let me tell you, it is delightful and inspiring to see how they manage – whether in a kitchen, study, family room, bedroom or deck. I love that pets and family members wander through. I love seeing how creatively folks use a nearby bed or piece of furniture or window sill to help do a pose. My advice…
- Find a clean, firm floor in your house, one with enough clearance to roll out a sticky mat, maybe 2 feet on either edge and preferably near a clear wall space or door. For beginners, the wall is an important first “prop” for teaching the poses.
- Then, place your laptop or tablet at a distance of about 7-8 feet and about 3 feet off the ground. After signing into a class, ask your teacher whether you need to adjust the device. You should be able to see yourself clearly from head to toe, and the teacher will appreciate being able to see you as well. Once class has started, switch yourself to “speaker view” so that the teacher is on full screen and you can follow their example and instruction more easily. It’s nice if your space is well-lit so you can be seen well.
- In my teaching method, it is helpful to have a few yoga props like an 8-foot strap, a few blocks, and a few yoga blankets. But in the beginning, one can manage with a chair, sturdy books, beach towels and a bathrobe strap. Like learning to cook, it is helpful to have good tools, but work with what you have at home at first, and don’t let not having yoga props be an obstacle. Over time, you can get what you need.
Let me close by saying that we are all beginners along the path of yoga, even those of us who have practiced this for years. It is an endlessly fascinating subject, from the exploration of the poses and the breath work to the more philosophical studies of the yoga sutras. Take your fist step!
Learn more about Rosie, her classes, One-2-One Instruction, Workshops and Retreats at www.rosierichardsonyoga.com. Visit www.downunderyoga.com to learn more about Down Under School of Yoga, with locations in Brookline, Newton and Cambridge.
Wonderful photo of Rosie Richardson is courtesy of Rick Bern Photography. Thanks, Rick!