In the last few months I've fielded the following questions.
What kind of Yoga is this? Actually, there was an anecdote to this question. The student had recently been traveling and was asked by friends, when she told them she was going to yoga classes, what kind of yoga she was practicing. Her response was: "Yes!"
I loved this answer and I'm on the brink of renaming my classes: Yes Yoga.
The longer answer to her question is, my teachers trained me in what they call integral yoga. From their website: ShivaShakti Yoga is an integral approach to yoga, cultivating harmony within the body, mind, and spirit. Rather than being a style, ShivaShakti Yoga is a methodology based on traditional teachings suited for householders of today’s world.
We are householders living here on the coast of Maine. We live, love, work, retire, raise children and grandchildren, participate in our communities, fish, farm, adapt, invent and so on. Woven into the daily fabric of our lives are the opportunities to cultivate harmony with the body, mind, and spirit. I believe that life on the St. George Peninsula demands a level of yogic engagement whether or not you come take a class at the studio. This community thrives because so many give so much of themselves to support the overall wellbeing of people and place. People makes this place their home, or return as often as they can, for the way body, mind and spirit wake up surrounded by the beauty of this piece of coast.
However, it's not a bad idea to come and take an hour to drop into the physical body and notice your breath and give the body itself a time to stretch and strengthen. There are innumerable studies "out there" now that suggest staying physically active, practicing breathing and deep relaxation are all very beneficial to the body. If we are going to live longer, yoga can support living well. Life is conducive to Yoga here. And Yoga conducive to Life.
The Second Question was: "What kinds of things would we be doing if this were a regular yoga class?" Or maybe that question was: "What don't we do in your classes, that you would do in a regular class?"
In a nutshell: I don't teach many seated or standing forward folds, nor seated twists, no headstands, shoulder stands, or plough. And rarely do I teach downward dog on the floor (yes, downward dog at a wall and yes, downward puppy).
My other teachers, Carol Krucoff and Kimberly Carson, have been pioneering the art of teaching yoga to seniors. More recently, they've been teaching yoga teachers how to teach older adults at Duke's Center for Integrative Medicine in North Carolina.
According to their 2010 article in the Journal for Complementary and Alternative Medicine here are some of the reasons why it is imperative as yoga instructors we consider adapting traditional practices to meet the needs of a growing and enthusiastic population of students:
Like the reality society faces with an historical proportion of our population living to more advanced ages than ever before with a very broad range of functional capacities and needs, yoga teachers of older adults are—in many ways— navigating uncharted territory. The great sages who originated the yogic practices thousands of years ago had never encountered artificial joints, canisters of supplemental oxygen, or prosthetic heart valves in large numbers of people who have reached extremely advanced age. As recently as 1900, the average life expectancy in the United States was 46.3 for men and 48.3 for women. In 2005 that number had jumped to 75.2 for men and 80.4 for women.
Training yoga teachers who work with seniors—like all practice of healing arts—represents a blend of scientific knowledge and research, philosophy, and opinion based on direct experience. It is our belief that, in service of ahimsa and the imperative to ‘‘first do no harm,’’ yoga teachers working with seniors should recognize the importance of adapting the practice to senior bodies, minds, and spirits.
The Integrative Yoga for Seniors training highlights for yoga teachers the potential health risks we may encounter as teachers - from high blood pressure to diabetes, chronic pain to COPD, as well as the silent diseases: osteoporosis, heart disease and hypertension - and how to prepare a class that will do no harm, as well as highlight the benefits of a mindful yoga practice.
As a yoga teacher living and working in Maine, the majority of my students are considered older adults. Once I started teaching public classes and realized that this was the greatest demographic where I lived, and the one I had the least wisdom about, I took the training at Duke. It sometimes feel like I am swimming against the tide of yoga here in America - a yoga I find to be perplexing in its competitive edge - however, in the words of a great teacher, Krishnamacharya, "if you can breathe, you can do yoga."
This was confirmed for me (again), a few weeks back when I had a drop-in student - another yoga instructor - who snuck in just as class was starting. We'd never met before and didn't have time to check in before the class began, so I spent a few anxious moments as she settled in thinking "oh, how will she like this class, how can i challenge her..." In the end, I didn't do anything different for her - it was a restorative class, meant to slough off a long day and designed to calm or relax the body for a good night's rest. As it turned out, this guest is also a young mother of an infant who'd been sick. There was no need for a challenge, only the breath and a time out for mom. As the class came to a close, she sat up and exclaimed that she would have named the hour Yum Yoga.