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50+ Yoga: The Students Are My Teachers by Sarah Harvey

Sarah3I began teaching Gentle Yoga classes 12 years ago when one of my teachers asked if I would take over a class she had been teaching at Rossmoor, a retirement community in Walnut Creek.  Almost 70 years of age, she was concerned about being pigeon-holed as the “old folks yoga teacher”, and wanted to focus on her other classes.  Although I was slightly taken aback by her pronouncement, I jumped at the chance to take on this commitment.  I had just started the Teacher Training Program at IYISF, and this was my first regular weekly class.

shteachThe validity of her perspective was immediately apparent – these people were old, many had serious physical limitations or mobility issues, and most had little or no recent involvement with yoga.  On top of that, the space where the class meets is far from ideal – linoleum floors, florescent lighting, mirrors along one wall; and plastic chairs and a few foam blocks as the only props available to us.   For me as a new teacher, the prospect was daunting, to say the least.

Right away I began to pay more attention to how my teachers worked with students who had injuries.  My practice changed as I directed more effort to understanding how to apply those techniques my own teaching.  And, as is typical with how life unfolds, I suffered a couple of injuries that really woke me up to the reality of what my students faced every day.  There was no avoiding the lessons of acceptance and patience; paying attention to my body’s needs; and the creative use of props to adapt active poses for less active people.

However, my greatest source of knowledge and inspiration has always come from my students.  One of the ultimate gifts of yoga – being and living in the present moment – develops more easily in older students.   Equanimity in the face of adversity seems to come with the territory.   I have new respect for the process of learning by trial and error; and for the importance of laughing at those errors whenever possible.  For example, after a bout with vertigo, I know first hand that all standing poses are balance poses.  If it helps you feel safer or more confident, then by all means, use the wall or a chair to assist you.   Above all, my students taught me the value of having fun with yoga.

Last fall we established the 50+ Yoga class at Adeline, with the intention of sharing what I had learned over the years from my experience with older students.  The class meets on Thursday morning from 10 – 11:30.  The work is active, and purposefully challenging.  However, each student is encouraged to work at their own pace, and within the bounds of their own limitations.  It is a treat for me to finally teach this kind of class in an Iyengar Yoga Studio, equipped with a full complement of props and supplies.  And I am honored to serve this segment of the Adeline community by offering this class.

 If you have comments or questions about this class, please feel free to contact Sarah at:

Studio Note: AYS student Jill Israel had this to say about Sarah Harvey’s class:

I want to recommend Sarah Harvey. I have been studying yoga with her for the last few months. She is a wonderful teacher- very knowledgable, calm and focused. her classes are as also varied but well organized. She gives excellent instructions and helps you get into poses in a very safe way. As I am in the over 50 category, this is even more important to me than ever. Sarah has excellent knowledge of yoga and the human body and will always take time to give someone an alternate pose or position.