Recently I took on teaching yoga to seniors in nursing homes. Initially I thought it would something nice to do, and was happy to pick up a few more teaching gigs. It’s become so much more than that.
The classes are small, ranging from 2 to 15 participants aged 75 to 97. One of my yogis is a beautiful woman (we’ll call her Sheila – not her real name). Sheila is 96 years young and always has her makeup on and wears lovely matching outfits. Despite being the oldest person in class, she spurs everyone on to work harder, stretch higher and do their best. She’s wonderfully inspiring.
In another home, the day after I see Sheila, there’s another woman, Lucy (also not her real name), aged 97. In an environment where people are often frustrated by the changes in life that brought them to the home, Sheila has a beautiful sense of acceptance and hope. She was brought into care 12 months ago after having a health scare. She wasn’t even allowed to return to her house before entering care permanently. That’s a concept I can’t imagine for myself and her grace is truly inspiring. Similar to Sheila, Lucy is the driving force behind morning yoga, recruiting other residents and friends to join in. The first day I met Lucy I had the group doing leg exercises in what I call “dance steps” (everything we do is based from a sitting position). Lucy turned to me, an apologetic look on her face and said “I’m so sorry this hip doesn’t go as high as the other one. I’ve got a touch of arthritis.” At 97 she’s walking, talking, and most importantly, she’s vivacious. She’s amazing.
Most days I try to wear a knit top. Usually it’s the same one each week, but it never gets old. Invariably a resident will compliment me on it and ask if it is handmade, saying “they don’t make things like that any more.”
Following seeing Lucy I head downstairs and work with residents who have progressed in dementia. I have to say that initially I was intimidated by this ward, unsure of how I would connect with and motivate this group, but I really had no reason to feel this way. Dementia patients have good days and less-good days, but all people love good music and sociability. Everyone loves enthusiasm and a smile. Yesterday I found a key to working with all of these amazing people, whether it’s a good day or a bad day.
Usually I begin with some chair yoga, gentle stretching, coordination and hand mobility exercises. From there we began with a story – we were going sailing. We climbed up the ladder onto the boat, reaching hands up for the ladder rungs, lifting our feet to step up, and made our way to the viewing deck, taking big, confident strides, swinging our arms. We lifted hand to shield our eyes as we looked all the way left and all the way right… and there it was! A whale on the horizon! We pointed out to it, stretched our arms towards it, waved our friends over so they would see too. But then – bad weather hit! We had to hold on tight to the rails (the arms of our chairs) as we swayed back and forth. Here participants shout out ideas of what’s happening and we go along with the story. Anything can happen! We ended up swimming to a deserted island, taking our arms in big circles, pulling ourselves up the sand bank. Once we arrive at the beach of our tropical paradise, we lean back, resting from our efforts. We can feel the sun on our faces and the the support of the sand underneath us. We look at our friends on both sides and say “We made it! Good job!”, then we close our eyes and relax.