I read so many books and articles about how to keep a midlife student safe that I’m ready to barf.
Of course, we need to be safe. I’m not advocating that we do something crazy and hurt ourselves. But what a midlife person often needs has little do with gentle stretching.
For starters, more than breath or asana, older yogis need friends. They need to feel more, not less, and they need to re-discover their inner badass. Their spirit needs as much attention as their bodies in today’s yoga class.
Social isolation, and the depression and anxiety that comes from it, afflicts this generation like none other. Cell phones and internet access has made us more alone, not less. Relying on social media for interaction has created perhaps the loneliest generation in history. In fact, social isolation may soon be the new smoking. Loneliness has been shown to lead to a decrease in mental, physical and spiritual health. Gerontology studies show that a person requires a minimum of 13 physical touches or hugs a day to thrive, and often an older person is not touched by another – at all – for weeks on end.
To thrive we need friends and communities that support us at this time in life. We need to know we are not alone in the trenches. We need friends with the benefit of keeping us on our mats, with empathy and encouragement. They keep us going.
Are You Teaching Fear? Or Fearlessness?
Secondly, midlife yogis are already afraid. Believe me when I say it’s disconcerting to lose some of your capabilities. We need to hear, “You can do this.” Instead, we are often told, “Don’t do this at your age.”
I’m not saying that we should be reckless. Not at all. But I do believe we should be encouraged. We should never, ever be held back by what someone else thinks we can do. We should not be pigeonholed into a certain kind of practice by our age. We should be carefully encouraged into the deepest, safest and strongest practice we can manage with our physical health at any age.
Badassery is a Learned Behavior. Yoga is the fountain of youth. A supple and strong body leads to a resilient spirit. If the older yogi feels more alive in the body, he or she will also re-discover their inner badass.
While there is a time and place for gentle yoga (and believe me, I do it regularly), if you always practice this way then over time you lose your muscles, and perhaps your nerve.
Older yogis need to work twice as hard as when we were younger to keep our strength. Muscles keep our bones intact and our metabolism fired. We should be encouraged to use every bit of muscular energy we can muster, and try the arm balances and inversions when we dare.
Here are some ideas to bring in some of the 14 million yogis in this age group:
Set up a sitting area, provide tea, and encourage students to hang out after classes.
Be mindful when offering retreats. For example, camping out in an eco-hut without running water may not work for someone who takes medicine at night.
Offer a discount. Many studios offer a discount at 55, but AARP benefits begin at 50. If you can afford it, offer it at 50+ and they will come.
Feature older teachers. There is nothing more depressing to a midlife person than a twenty-year-old chirping, “you can do it.” Seriously.
Promote strength for this age group. Ask older yogis to engage the muscles, balance when they’d rather not, and try the arm balances.
We want to walk with swagger. We want to feel the confidence of our youth, combined with the earned grace of age. The studios can support us with yoga, and good company along the way.
Article Photo Credit: Mario Covic