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Teaching Yoga to Seniors: the Evolution Continues

Teaching Yoga to Seniors: the Evolution Continues
by Sarah Harvey

sarah_dsc1766b52950071a06c3-1024x640I began teaching Gentle Yoga classes 14 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. At almost 70 years of age, she was concerned about being labeled 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 (Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco), and this was my first opportunity to teach a class on a weekly basis.

The reality of her perspective was immediately apparent. These people were old: many had serious physical limitations or mobility issues, and many had little or no recent involvement with yoga. On top of that, the space where the class met was far from ideal, with linoleum floors, florescent lighting, and mirrors along one wall. Until recently, plastic chairs and a few foam blocks were 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 within 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 most older students face every day. There was no avoiding these lessons of acceptance and patience, the importance of 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 great gifts of yoga—living in the present moment—is more readily accessible to 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. Life’s too short to sweat the small stuff.


As the years have gone by, the initial distance I felt from older students is almost completely gone. Not just because I’ve worked with many of them over a long period of time, but because I really feel like we are all in the same boat. For example, vertigo is a fairly common problem among seniors. After a recent bout with this condition, I know firsthand how disconcerting and overwhelming it is. Even without vertigo, all standing poses can be balance poses. Fear of falling is real—the consequences are very serious. If it helps you feel safer or more confident, then by all means, use the wall or a chair to assist you.

Adeline Yoga is offering a new Yoga for Seniors class that launches with a 6-week series beginning October 13. It meets on Thursday mornings from 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. This special series is ideal for beginners and for those who want to deepen the foundation of their yoga practice. Each class focuses on supported poses that increase mobility and strength of the neck, shoulders, spine, and legs, as well as on poses that open the chest for optimal breathing. You will also learn how to establish and sequence a home practice.

Please join me in this yoga class that is specifically for the senior community. New students are
encouraged to take the whole series. Drop-ins and more experienced students are also welcome.

If you have comments or questions about this class, you can contact me directly at



Thursdays 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
Six-week series October 13 – November 17, 2016

$89 for the series of 6-classes – discounted price!
Or $17 per class

Adeline Yoga students may use their regular class pass or monthly pass.




Sarah Harvey is a certified Iyengar yoga instructor, CIYT-1000. She has studied and practiced yoga since 1991, and has been teaching yoga throughout the Bay Area since 2002. She teaches yoga for seniors at Rossmoor and San Leandro Hospital. Sarah is a a 2004 graduate of the 500-hour Advanced Studies/Teacher Training Program at the Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco. She has studied with the Iyengar family numerous times at various locations in the U.S. In 2008 she spent a month studying at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune, India. Her continuing education includes intermediate/advanced level classes with her teacher, Nora Burnett, as well as specialty workshops and classes with other senior Iyengar teachers.

Sarah brings a light, humorous approach to her teaching, combined with direct, detailed instructions for each student. Although yoga is central to her life and key to her well-being, she is also an avid sports fan (Go A’s! Go Dubs! Go Sharks!). She lives in a small cottage in Oakland with her two cats, and enjoys gardening and gourmet cooking.