Concern for Safety of a Gentle Yoga Student who struggles to keep up

Concern for Safety of a Gentle Yoga Student who struggles to keep up

I have a 78-year old student in my Gentle Yoga Class that struggles with many of the poses. I’m concerned that he will hurt himself by over trying.

I’d appreciate your input on a student of mine. I run a ‘gentle yoga class’ for over 60s (in the UK).  One of my students is a gentleman of 78 who had polio when he was a child. Whilst he is generally able to get about fairly well, he struggles in many of the yoga poses, as one of his legs has been left with poor muscle tone and strength due to his childhood illness. He can’t manage  poses such as chair (or the stool version of chair), hero pose, sit in easy pose, or  any type of squatting position. He also can’t easily stand in warrior poses without losing his balance.

I offer him modifications and I have even shown him the chair version of some poses, but he seems disinterested in these and continues to try as hard as he can to keep up with the others. I also run a chair yoga class and I feel this would be a better fit for him, but I have a feeling he will decline taking this up and want to stay with mat classes.  I’m concerned that he will hurt himself  by over trying.

Any suggestions? Thanks.

Answer from Sherry

This is a delicate balance as a Yoga Teacher.  I can relate. I had a male student, similar age, who had Parkinson’s.  He struggled with most of the standing poses and every time I looked over at him, I would worry. He continued coming to my Gentle Yoga classes for quite a few years as he said he was trying to keep his Parkinson’s from getting worse.

We had a serious conversation one day where I suggested that perhaps he should try the Chair Yoga classes, and he was adamantly against it.  He said he wanted and needed to learn how to trust his body and himself with his body.  At that moment, I understood that the Yoga class was much more than a physical workout for him, but it was psychological and spiritual exercise as well. I suggested he practice near a wall so that he could experiment more with his balance knowing that support was nearby.  He accepted that suggestion gracefully because I framed it in such a way that encouraged him that he COULD improve with support.

Teaching Yoga to People with Physical Limitations

Teaching to people with physical limitations is not for the faint of heart.  It is like watching a toddler getting too close to the street or to the stove, we want to reach out and keep them safe.  But working with adults we need to be encouraging, supportive and hopeful – all while staying vigilant.  My approach has always been to empower my students rather than to shelter them, but that decision is a personal one for each Yoga teacher to consider for themselves

Standing Yoga Sequences with Chair Optional

When I ran my Yoga Vista Studio, we offered an Adaptive Yoga Class that included both Gentle and Chair Yoga students.  It is a more complex class to teach, but it is an “inclusive” way to teach. Perhaps you can do a segment in your Gentle Yoga class where everyone uses a chair for a series of poses.  This can help him understand the benefit of using a chair without feeling he is being “demoted” because of his physical issues.  The video series below offers up some Standing Yoga Sequences with a Chair as an option.

Good luck!  Trust your inner wisdom!


Strong Bones for Midlifers with Sherry Zak Morris, Certified Yoga Therapist

In this 4-part Yoga Series, I share 15 minute short (but impactful) practices targeted at the specific places where bone density and bone strength is needed the most. Great for beginners as I demonstrate how all these movements can be done using a Chair for optional support.

Nix your Fear of Falling with this Adaptive Version of Half Moon Pose with Heather from Yoga Vista

Does your fear of falling stop you from doing certain Yoga poses? We all know that fear can be an over-exaggeration of our creative minds. Try this “adapted” version of Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon pose) and you will feel your fear diminish and your courage arise. Heather teaches Adaptive Yoga at the Yoga Vista Studio in Vista, California. She is creative and determined to keep her students safe and elated in every class!

Online Workshop: Teaching Mat/Chair Yoga Classes

“There’s something magical about getting down on the Mat” says Helena Bray, E-RYT, about her Silver Age Yoga students. Many of them are 60, 70, 80 years old and want to maintain their independence and flexibility as long as they can. Some use the Chair and some are on the Mat, which we know as Yoga Teachers, can get quite complicated.

In this Online Workshop, we highlight the work of various Yoga Teachers who are teaching this format to give you ideas and inspiration. Each of them have a different perspective, style and approach to teaching a combo Mat/Chair Class.