Specialised classes, small groups, or one-on-one sessions are the ideal format for older students new to yoga. And this is exactly what I specialise in today.
Today much of my work involves teaching students in this age group (60+ also those in their 50s), many of whom started with me as beginners. They are perhaps the most varied beginner population I have come across, and a highly flexible and individual approach is required. However, I’ve encountered some common themes which i discuss below.
1. MAINTAIN MOBILITY.
We can become increasingly sedentary as we age. Gentle movements in varied directions can help maintain tissue elasticity, lubrication, and hydration while also circulating synovial fluid in the joints and lymphatic fluid. It can also bring students’ awareness to differences in sensation or range of motion between left and right sides.
Yoga with modifications helps to gently mobilize the joints, including:
• Lying supine while circling the ankles, hips, and wrists or rolling the head from side to side.
• Gentle backbends, such as cat and cow or flowing into and out of bridge pose
• Easy side bends, seated side bends or in child's pose taking the hands over to the left and then the right.
• Supported twists and my favourite Supine windshield wipers for the knees can release the hips and lower back this can be done seated or lying down.
• Chest and shoulder mobilisers, such as circling the arms or shoulders circles.
2. BUILD STRENGTH IN UNDERUTILISED AREAS.
Gentle mobility work is hugely beneficial, because muscle mass and function tend to decline as we age, strength work is crucial.
Commonly overlooked areas include:
• The upper body, where strength tends to decline along with a decrease in lifting and manual work. Holding the arms in a T-shape or cactus shape during standing poses like warrior II or Warrior I can be used to build upper-body endurance. Weight-bearing on either hands or forearms is also useful; options include tabletop, plank, downward facing dog.
• The posterior shoulder and upper back, where weakness can accentuate the tendency for the upper back to round into kyphosis as we age. Include active backbends like baby cobra or locust. Cactus arms and squeezing the shoulder blades together.
• The glutes. Active backbends like locust and bridge pose to target the gluteus maximus, crescent lunge, and single-legged standing balance poses like tree pose to target the gluteus medius.
• The core and pelvic floor. Focus on neutral-spine core work that strengthens the transverse abdominis, such as kneeling balance bird dog where we extend the opposite arm and leg from all fours. Learning to engage the pelvic floor can help students feel grounded during pranayama, core work, and standing poses.
• The diaphragm. Many students find it challenging to breathe without using accessory muscles in the neck and at the top of the rib cage. Learning to use the diaphragm more effectively by practicing relaxed abdominal breathing can have a surprisingly positive impact on posture, neck tension, digestion, balance, strength, and endurance.
3. IMPROVE STABILITY AND COORDINATION TO PREVENT FALLS.
We know that stability tends to decline and that falls increase as we age. It's vital to incorporate balance and coordination exercises with older beginners, though it might be sensible to ensure a chair is available to hold onto if required.
Here are some possibilities:
• Introduce movements or poses that coordinate opposite sides of the body—like circling the arms in opposite directions, extending the opposite arm and leg in locust pose or bird dog.
• Kneeling balance work is a great option to maintain hip, spine, and shoulder stability without risking a fall (though the student’s knees or wrists may need cushioning). Bird dog is one of my favourite options.
• Traditional one-legged balances like tree pose or warrior III are always options. If your student needs a little extra support, suggest they use a wall; placing their back to the wall will feel much steadier or lightly hold onto the back of a chair or work surface.
• Working with one or both feet on tiptoes is another way to build foot and ankle strength and improve stability. Crescent lunge is one example, so is lifting the front heel in warrior II, or taking mountain pose on tiptoes.
• Training stability during movement is also key to maintaining keen proprioception and coordination. Starting in a low lunge with the back knee down and slowly lifting the hands and torso is a challenge for many students. For variety, take inspiration from smooth, slow-moving practices like tai chi (also called taiji).
4. DOWN-REGULATE THE NERVOUS SYSTEM.
pranayama and meditation emphasize the parasympathetic nervous system, which creates the “relaxation response”—lowering heart rate and blood pressure, stimulating digestion and immunity, and eventually reducing chronic inflammation. These changes benefit any age group but are particularly relevant for older students, especially those managing chronic medical conditions or injuries.
Consider including some or all of the following:
• Mindful movement and embodiment practices.
• Restorative postures, guided relaxation, Yoga Nidra, and savasana.
5. CULTIVATE ACCEPTANCE.
Building on a foundation of asana, pranayama, and meditation, the philosophical practices of yoga can help us navigate these changes more smoothly.
Yoga philosophy teaches us that change is inevitable but that the suffering that sometimes accompanies change is not. Freedom from suffering requires the practice of non-attachment or equilibrium (vairagya).
As a teacher of older students, I invite my students to create space for deeper reflection and self-study (svadhyaya). In fact, seeing how this depth of practice supports my older students has reaffirmed my own commitment to it.
Working with beginners over 60 can seem daunting to begin with, especially if, like me you are currently in a younger age group. Many of them seek—the need to maintain mobility and strength, to support themselves through the uncertainties of life which can benefit students of all ages.
To join my Gentle Hatha Yoga class or invest in private 1:1 please find more information here