Deciding to embark upon the journey in becoming a yoga teacher is no easy feat. It’s one of those decisions that can quite literally change the course your life path forever.
I remember back in 2011; I was drifting in time and space and unsure of the next step in my path. I was living in Madrid, Spain and working as a live-in nanny or au pair. I felt in my bones that I was at a crossroad but unsure of whether I would put roots down in Europe or make my way back to the states. It was during this transitional phase that I learned one of the yoga teachers I admired and respected was offering a 200-hour yoga teacher training; something I wanted to do ever since my first yoga class in college. I spent time sitting alone in a park while watching over the little boy I was caring for and surrendering my next steps to the Universe. That evening, I applied to Tiffany Cruikshank’s200-hour teacher training and had no idea if I would be accepted to her program.
After a week of waiting, I was accepted into the yoga teacher training program, which set my return to the states in motion. It felt amazing to have a renewed sense of purpose. After settling back into life in the Pacific North West, I prepared as best as I could with the prerequisite work we received (daily practices and books to read). Our program began in the fall with a one-week intensive, which continued to meet every weekend from September until early February, where we ended with another one-week intensive. To say I was woefully unprepared for the experience would be an understatement.
On the first day of our first week-long intensive, I walked into our practice room a few minutes before 7 am only to find a woman holding a perfect handstand in the middle of the room. I remember feeling like I should have just turned around and left at that point. I totally had a WTF moment, thinking that I had no business being in a room with people that were that advanced and that maybe I was accidentally accepted to this particular program. As you know, I stuck it out and stayed. I worked through my own insecurities in the process—reminding myself that we are all on our own individual journey, knowing that comparison is the thief of joy. Grant yourself grace to be human and honor your own journey.
After making it through my two-hundred hour yoga teacher training, I’ve since gone on to work through my 500-hour certification and am now actively working on 1,000-hours of training with Yoga Medicine. What I can say is that there are always nerves and what-if scenarios that arise, no matter how many trainings I complete. So, if you’re preparing for your first yoga teacher training or even diving back in for additional training, here are a few things to expect and how to better prepare.
Long, Yet Fulfilling Days
Most days will start with an early morning asana practice that will fuel the learnings in lecture throughout the day. After a lengthy practice, you’ll break for breakfast before settling into the first lecture for the day. If you’re lucky, you’ll have seats or back support, if not be prepared to use your creative juices to arrange props in a way that you can actively listen and feel comfortable while sitting on the ground. You’ll have a nice break for lunch—where I encourage you not to study but instead take a walk, listen to feel-good music, move your body. After lunch, round two of lecture will begin, leading right into a restorative evening practice before dinner. Each night before bed, review your notes for 30-minutes or talk through your learnings with a partner. It helps to solidify the new information while sleeping. A little down time and studying goes a long way.
It’s usually around day three or four when things start to get blurry, and signals begin to cross. Without fail, there’s always this moment of uncertainty, as if you’re in over your head. The information you’re trying to learn might feel insurmountable, but I promise that if you stick with it, by the end of the
week, everything usually begins to gel together. Trust that as you return home to implement your new learnings, you might even surprise yourself with how much knowledge you’ve acquired. Be sure to take plenty of notes and try your best to remain attentive during lecture.
Nearly every person I’ve ever met in any of my yoga trainings has been awesome! There are so many interesting people living their best lives and have so much to share. Be open to everyone you encounter; you never know what their life story is or how much you might be able to learn from the folks that are in your training class. I’m proud to say that many of my lifelong friendships have grown from yoga teacher trainings.
You’re in for a life-changing experience no matter what, remember to be open to possibility, leave all expectations at the door, and trust the process!
Tiffany Cruikshank is not your average Yogi. She began practicing yoga in her early teens, and quickly realized that there were huge health benefits to the practice. She went off to study pre-med, and received a Bachelor’s degree in medicinal plant biology, and a Master’s degree in acupuncture and oriental medicine with a specialty in sports medicine and orthopedics. Her effective teaching methods combine the knowledge of the body (anatomy, kinesiology, and physiology) with the Eastern tradition of yoga. 20 years later, the internationally acclaimed founder of Yoga Medicine has treated more than 25,000 patients from around the world using yoga, acupuncture, nutrition, meditation, and holistic health. She was the acupuncturist and yoga teacher at the Nike World Headquarters, graced the cover of over a dozen magazines, and is the best selling author of two books: Meditate Your Weight and Optimal Health For A Vibrant Life.
Since she practices what she preaches, we wanted to learn how she prioritizes her day. In an exclusive interview with Thrive, she shares her morning and evening routine with tips and tools to help anyone start and end their day with productivity and mindfulness.
THRIVE GLOBAL: WHAT TIME DO YOU WAKE UP?
TIFFANY CRUIKSHANK: Sleep is very important to me, so when I’m working from home, I usually let myself wake naturally. It’s usually around 7 a.m. When I’m working on the road, I wake up early (around 5 a.m.) and work until 9 p.m. When I’m working from home, I try to arrange my days around my most efficient hours and refuel by getting plenty of sleep, so I can also be more productive.
TG: HOW DO YOU WAKE UP?
TC: I wake up naturally, but by an alarm when I’m on the road.
TG: WHAT IS THE FIRST THING YOU DO WHEN YOU WAKE UP?
TC: I like to drink some matcha and check my emails; it helps me wake up and get excited for my day. Then I’ll meditate to help clear my head and prepare to do more lengthy tasks. After that, I usually take a few minutes to tidy my house; it helps me prepare to work efficiently. Then I’ll sit down and do the longer tasks of the day: writing content, drafting plans, interviews, schedule planning, meetings, etc. Sometime in the mid-morning before lunch I’ll do my yoga practice or some sort of movement.
TC: Green smoothie with whatever veggies I have that sound good, ground flax seed, and I5 energize protein powder by Xymogen. It’s kind of like my multivitamin, protein/fuel, gut health, detox, and energy all in one.
TG: WHAT IS YOUR GO-TO BEAUTY ROUTINE?
TC: I love Goop skincare products; they’re pricey but worth every penny, especially the luminous melting cleanser. My dry skin soaks it up like no product I’ve ever tried before.
TG: DO YOU DO A WORKOUT IN THE MORNING?
TC: Usually yoga, sometimes pilates, or the gym. I like to play around in the gym and experiment with moving and challenging my body in different ways. I believe physical health is more about variability than repetition, so I like to do different things. When I’m short on time, I’ll do a quick HIIT routine or hop on a Glo.com class.
TG: ANYTHING SPECIAL YOU DO THAT IS PART OF YOUR MORNING ROUTINE?
TC: I usually incorporate some myofascial release in my yoga practice or workouts to keep my tissues healthy and mobile. Most people think of strength as just muscle, but tissue strength and injury prevention are also dependent on collagen and hyaluronic acid production, which can be influenced by many things — one of which is myofascial release. As I get older, I can sense the importance of this more.
TG: HOW DO YOU SET YOURSELF UP TO THRIVE FOR THE DAY?
TC: It’s all mindset for me. After specializing in orthopedics and seeing patients for over 16 years and teaching yoga for over 24 years, the more I do this, the more I really see and believe in the power of the mind. When I see a new patient, I can usually tell pretty quickly how fast they will respond to treatments. The placebo effect has a negative connotation in the medical world, but the reality is that it represents our mental resilience and just how powerful this central processing system of the mind is. For instance, as we continue to learn more about pain, we see how powerful something as simple as pain education can be on the experience of pain itself. So for me preparing for my day mentally, having a plan, being able to visualize what I want to create, and creating a positive mental landscape are all very important to me, and are why I start my day with a meditation to prepare me for what’s ahead.
TG: WHAT SETS YOU BACK THAT YOU AVOID?
TC: Meditating and tidying used to feel like they took too much time, but I quickly realized that they constituted an investment in my efficiency through the day, and I actually got more work done that way. However, when I work from home, it’s easy to get distracted by the unending list of things I have to do around the house, so I have to create a space to work in to tune that out.
TG: HOW DO YOU ORGANIZE YOUR DAY? HOW DO YOU PRIORITIZE YOUR TO-DO LIST?
TC: I like to get quick emails out of the way first because it helps me feel like I get some work done right away. Then I carve out time for tasks that require more creativity or time to complete. I usually end my day by cleaning out my email inbox again to prepare for the next day. At the end of the day, I like to take some time to plan out my upcoming day to be sure I’m on track with deadlines and long-term projects.
TG: WHAT IS YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH TECHNOLOGY? HOW DOES IT IMPACT YOUR DAY? DO YOU TAKE TECH BREAKS?
TC: I like to start by cleaning out emails, but I have to be careful not to let it take over my day. As the brain behind the business, I have many projects that also require me to write content or plan creative direction for the business, and that necessitates time without the internet so I can stay focused. I’ll carve out time to write and create most days, and on Fridays, I carve out time to sort through research to stay up to date. My tech breaks are also spent on my yoga mat. As a teacher, my best inspiration happens in my personal practice, as I feel and find nuances in alignment or other details in my body.
TG: WHAT DO YOU DO TO UNWIND BEFORE BED?
TC: A couple hours before bed, I start to slow down, power down, and turn the lights down to help slowly lower my cortisol. I’m very protective of this sleep ritual, no matter where I am in the world. Sleep is such a critical part of my health and wellness; it’s irreplaceable.
TG: WALK US THROUGH YOUR EVENING ROUTINE.
TC: I usually unplug before dinner, then take some time to eat and nourish myself. After dinner, I like to look at my day ahead, and do anything I need to prepare to be efficient the next day before it gets too late. Sometimes that’s carving out my day to be productive, and setting aside time for things that require more creativity and brainpower, like writing new content for our trainings or new projects. Then I get ready for bed, turn off lights and devices, and watch some TV with my husband before we fall asleep.
TG: IS TECH A BIG PART OF YOUR EVENING?
TC: I usually power down by dinner, though if my husband is out of town, sometimes I’ll work later. However, I know I’m sacrificing the next morning if I do that, since it will take me longer to go to bed and turn my brain off. When I’m writing books or manuals or creative things, I just make the best use of whenever I’m inspired.
TG: HOW DO YOU SET YOURSELF UP FOR A GOOD NIGHT’S REST?
TC: Powering down before bed. I’m a firm believer in dimming the lights slowly before bed; it’s crucial for me to get my cortisol down and prepare for sleep. I think it’s really important. I like watching TV at night. I know it’s bad for your sleep, but it helps me turn my mind off. I love my job, so if left to my own volition, I’ll keep thinking and planning and preparing.
TG: WHAT KEEPS YOU UP AT NIGHT? HOW DO YOU COMBAT THAT?
TC: I’m usually a really good sleeper, I think partly because I enjoy sleep. I look forward to the time where I don’t have to make decisions or do anything at all. It feels luxurious and indulgent to get time to relax at night and be away from it all. I think that mindset helps a lot as well. If I really need to sleep and I’m having trouble falling asleep, like with jet lag, I’ll take tryptophan and do some breathing practices to slow down my mind. My favorite practice that I’ll do in bed is to inhale for four counts and exhale for five counts, then exhale six, seven, and eight, and repeat four counts in and eight counts out until I feel myself drifting off. It feels like a countdown to sleep as my nervous system unwinds and my brain lands in bed in the process.
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Your yoga practice can be a therapeutic tool for pain management and prevention. Try this gentle sequence by Tiffany Cruikshank to target your nerves and protect their signaling powers.
With all of the new and emerging information on pain science, yoga students and teachers have the opportunity to apply modern research to their practices and help alleviate and prevent pain.
Preliminary research suggests that gentle movement of your nerves is vital to both managing pain and supporting the general health of your nervous system. The idea is that healthy nerves should be able to gently slide, elongate, and angulate within neural tissues (some nerves can move as much as ¾ inch) in order to adapt to different loads and minimize pressure that can worsen existing pain, alter sensation, or lead to new pain patterns. Sometimes, tone and tension around neural tissues can be a problem. These tissues are bloodthirsty and rely on an important pressure gradient around them to maintain adequate blood flow. So even small changes in tissue tension around a nerve can be enough to block nerve mobility and lead to compression that disrupts blood flow and nerve signaling back to the brain, contributing to pain.
To help you keep your nerves adaptable and protected, try the asana technique on the following pages based on an understanding of neurodynamics (the study of nerve movement through its surrounding tissues) and nerve pathways. We have the ability to alternately put tension on different ends of the nerve to create a movement of the nerve through the tissues, often referred to as nerve gliding. As you floss the nerve, you potentially allow it to move more freely so that it can communicate more efficiently with your brain. For example, the sciatic nerve runs through the back of your leg, so in Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose) if you bend your knee (raised leg) and flex your foot, you’ll put tension on one end of the nerve (by your foot) and slack the other end (by your knee). This action draws the sciatic nerve and its branches toward your foot. Then, as you extend your knee and point your toes, you’ll reverse the areas of tension and slack. This action draws the branches of the sciatic nerve toward your knee. When you put these movements together you can encourage the sciatic nerve to move back and forth through its tissues more effortlessly. You also may down-regulate local inflammatory responses, restore healthy blood flow to the hard-working nerve, and encourage more efficient communication between your brain and body. Optimal signaling is crucial if you want your immune and nervous systems to function at their best, which is another reason to add nerve gliding to your repertoire.
The key to nerve gliding is to move gently within an easy range of motion. Since your target is the pain-free movement of your nerves, not of your muscles and fascia, you want very little sensation or stretch. It’s a great reminder that even in the physical body there’s clearly more to what we do than just sensations or the feel-good endorphins associated with them. Another thing I love about this approach is that, in addition to being a safe way to work with pain, it’s very accessible since it’s about simple, gentle movements.
Sequence – Neurodynamic Movement
To begin, pick a nerve you want to focus on and find a range of motion that’s accessible, pain-free, and with very little (if any) stretching sensation. Do 5–10 repetitions of the pose or this sequence once or twice a day. If you’re using these moves more preventatively, try rotating a few of them into your regular practice a couple times a week, and remember that in group classes there’s more than just stretch and sensation affecting the tissues. Happy flossing!
Target: Sciatic Nerve
The largest and longest nerve in your body. It stretches from your lower back to your feet.
Not only is the sciatic nerve the largest and longest nerve in your body, it’s also the most commonly irritated. Flossing this nerve is a great place to start, and return to again and again.
A Lie on your back with your right knee bent and your right foot flexed to move your sciatic nerve toward the end of your foot.
B Then, extend your right knee (but there’s no need to straighten it completely), and point your foot to move your sciatic nerve toward your spine. Find an easy, pain-free and stretch-free range of motion.
Repeat 5–10 times. Switch sides.
Target: Spinal Cord
The tube of your central nervous system that extends from your brain stem to your lower back.
Flexion of your spine puts more pressure on your spinal column and nerves, so for this pose you can use opposite movements of your cervical spine (neck) to create a more centralized flossing effect on your spinal cord. This one may feel strange if you’re familiar with Cat-Cow Pose, but it’s a great way to target the central nervous system.
A As you come into Cat Pose, look up to take your neck into extension.
B Then, move into Cow Pose as you tuck your chin to bring your neck into flexion. Find an easy range of motion.
Repeat 5–10 times. Then, switch sides.
Target: Femoral Nerve
Runs along the front of your hips and thighs.
3. SPHINX POSE, VARIATION
A From Sphinx Pose, simply lift one leg off the ground as you look up.
B Then, lower your leg as you tuck your chin. Find an easy range of motion to help rejuvenate the femoral nerve, which is important for the health of your mid-lower back (second to fourth lumbar vertebrae) and front hip.
Repeat 5–10 times. Then, switch sides.
Target: Femoral Nerve & Sciatic Nerve
Get two nerves in one move.
4. ANJANEYASANA (LOW LUNGE)
The back-leg action targets the femoral nerve on the front of your hip, and the front-leg action targets the sciatic nerve on the back of your leg.
A Start in Low Lunge with your left knee on the ground as you lift your head to look straight ahead.
B Then, lean your hips back to straighten your right leg (no need to straighten completely), round your back, and tuck your chin.
Repeat 5–10 times. Then, switch sides.
Target: Sciatic Nerve
This technique is for people who are using nerve flossing as a preventative practice.
This version of Standing Splits offers a more challenging and functional approach for those who are pain-free.
A For Standing Splits on your right side, bend both of your knees and tap your left knee to your right calf as you look forward.
B Then, straighten your legs and lift your left leg as you come onto the ball of your right foot and tuck your chin. Find an easy range of motion.
Repeat 5–10 times. Then, switch sides.
Target: Median Nerve
This nerve runs through your arm and hand.
6. VIRABHADRASANA II (WARRIOR POSE II, VARIATION)
The median nerve is the most commonly irritated nerve in your hands and arms. Since pressure on the median nerve is what causes the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, this move can be helpful for this condition and other wrist pain.
A From Warrior II on your right side, take your arms out to your sides with your palms facing forward (toward the long edge of the mat). Take your right fingers back so that your palm faces the front of your mat. Bring your left fingers forward as you lean your head to the right.
B Then, switch positions with your hands and head so that your right fingers are pointing forward and your left fingers are back as you lean your head to the left. Find an easy, pain-free range of motion.
Many people view a yoga practice as a stretching session. And while yoga is a great way to stretch and strengthen the muscles, it also can be used to mobilize and invigorate the fascia and tissues before or after a workout.
Below, Tiffany Cruikshank, creator of Yoga Medicine, is sharing a three-move yoga flow that will strengthen and mobilize the muscles and the fascia before a workout if you’re stiff or tight, or as a cool-down after an intense workout to clear out the tissues.
Short on time? Flow through this sequence three or four times for a quick movement session and get on with your day!
Low Lunge to Standing Leg
On a non-slip surface, plant one foot in front of you, knee bent to come into a high crescent lunge. Back leg is straight, stand on the ball of your back foot, heel lifted.
Steady the lumbar spine by bracing your abdominals.
Inhale your arms up overhead, as you exhale, hinge your torso forward halfway.
Inhale and press through your front foot to come up, sweeping your arms overhead. Exhale and hinge forward again, bringing your arms down behind you.
Continue on the inhale and exhale. After 10 reps, repeat on the opposite side.
If you want more, as you hinge forward, straighten your front leg until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Bend your front knee as you come up on the inhale.
Extended Side Angle to Revolved Lunge
In your crescent-lunge position, bring your hands close to the ground.
Push down through your front foot to turn on your glutes, and pull your belly back to come off your thigh.
Bring your left hand by your front right ankle and your right hand up to the ceiling.
Rotate through your torso to open up toward your back leg, spinning your back leg down and rotating on an axis to bring your left hand up to the sky and your right hand down by your front knee.
Lift your back heel up as you rotate back to start. Repeat, opening and closing with your breath.
Perform five to 10 reps, then repeat on the opposite side.
Standing Split Taps
From your side-angle position, plant your hands on the ground in front of your left foot and bring your right leg up off the floor behind you.
Don’t worry about how high your back leg goes. On your inhale, lift up onto the ball of your standing foot.
As you exhale, bend your standing knee as you bend your back leg and bring your kneecap to your front leg.
Inhale to lift, exhale to bend and tap. To target the sciatic nerve more, as you lift up, turn your head forward, and as you tap forward, tuck your neck.
Perform five to 10 rounds on one side before repeating on the opposite side.
Tips for working with a fast-growing segment of the yoga student population.
Older beginners are a fast-growing segment of the yoga student population. According to the 2016 Yoga in America Study commissioned by Yoga Alliance and Yoga Journal, over one in three yoga students in the U.S. were aged over 50 and that number had more than doubled since 2012.
Unfortunately, yoga injuries in older students have increased even more markedly. Another 2016 study found that while yoga-related injuries in the U.S. had become twice as common between 2001 and 2014, they had increased more than eightfold in students aged over 65.
These two factors make specialized classes, small groups, or one-on-one sessions the ideal format for older students new to yoga. But the Yoga In America Study highlighted another potential issue: that while more than one in three students were aged over 50, just one in seven teachers was in that age range—meaning most teachers don’t know how it feels to be an older beginner.
The statistics reflect my personal experience. I started teaching yoga in my mid-30s, physically fit, and two decades away from my first time on a yoga mat. I received a new private yoga student as a referral—a woman in her late 60s who was recovering from a spinal fracture related to osteoporosis and highly motivated to see how yoga could help her feel better in her body.
Though I regularly taught experienced students in their 50s and 60s in group classes, it’s no exaggeration to say that I was terrified. My new student was no longer in serious pain but was not capable of, or interested in, flowing through sun salutations or working on peak poses. Even making her way down to the floor and back up to standing involved significant time and effort. I had no idea where to start, but we figured it out together and learned along the way.
Fast-forward to today and much of my work involves teaching students in this age group, 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, and these are my top five to consider when working with beginners over 60.
1. Maintain Mobility
You’ve heard the saying “Move it or lose it.” Many of us become increasingly sedentary as we age, so the adage can apply even more to older beginners. Gentle movements in varied directions can help maintain tissue elasticity, lubrication, and hydration while also circulating syn
ovial 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 ABOUNDS WITH OPTIONS TO GENTLY MOBILIZE THE JOINTS, INCLUDING:
• Unweighted joint movement, such as 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 rolling bridge, flowing into and out of bridge pose one vertebra at a time.
• Easy side bends, including a variation of cat and cow on all fours, which involves sliding the lower legs to one side and looking over the same shoulder.
• Supported twists. Supine windshield wipers for the knees can release the hips and lower back. The thoracic spine can be mobilized from side-lying with bent knees level with the hips, using the top arm to flow into and out of a gentle supine twist as if opening and closing the cover of a book.
• Chest and shoulder mobilizers, such as circling the arms holding a strap between the hands, or taking supine “snow angels,” where the arms glide out wide and overhead aiming to maintain contact with the floor.
2. Build Strength in Underutilized Areas
Gentle mobility work is hugely beneficial, but don’t be afraid of challenging your older students. Because muscle mass and function tend to decline as we age, strength work is crucial. Muscles used regularly for work or sport will often still be strong, so look for areas that have been overlooked.
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 chair pose can be used to build upper-body endurance. Weight-bearing on either hands or forearms is also useful; options include tabletop, plank, side plank, downward facing dog, or dolphin pose. Creative options such as using light hand weights or resistance bands in asana practice can also help.
• 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 cobra or locust, as well as positions in which arms externally rotate (palms turning forward) or the shoulder blades retract toward the spine.
• The glutes. Include active backbends like locust and bridge pose to target the gluteus maximus, plus side plank, 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 supine knee lifts and toe taps or the 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 can have more serious repercussions on our lives as we age. It makes sense to incorporate balance and coordination exercises with older beginners, though it might be sensible to ensure that your student can reach a wall or prop so there’s no risk of falling while they build stability.
HERE ARE SOME POSSIBILITIES:
• Introduce movements or poses that coordinate opposite sides of the body—like circling the arms in opposite directions, practicing eagle pose, or 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 favorite options. A kneeling version of half moon is also a fun challenge, as is the side plank variation with the bottom knee on the floor.
• Placing one or both feet on soft foam yoga blocks during standing poses is surprisingly challenging and a great way to awaken neuromuscular connections in the legs and feet. This option works in mountain pose, fierce pose, warrior I and II, and crescent lunge.
• Traditional one-legged balances like tree pose, eagle pose, half moon 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, but if they are ready to up the ante, a student could also play with positioning themselves so that one knee (in the case of tree pose), one hip (for eagle pose), or the lifted foot (for half moon and warrior III) is pressing into the wall.
• 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 or fierce 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. Walking in a straight line as if on a tightrope—both forward and backward—can also help. Stepping forward, sideways, or backward over an obstacle like a yoga block is also good practice for avoiding real-life tripping hazards. For variety, take inspiration from smooth, slow-moving practices like tai chi (also called taiji).
4. Down-Regulate the Nervous System
Reflective and introspective practices like pranayama and meditation emphasize the parasympathetic nervous system, which creates the “relaxation response”—decreasing feelings of vigilance, 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.
• Calming and balancing pranayama, including diaphragmatic breathing, 2:1 yogic breathing, bumble bee breath (brahmari), left-nostril breathing (chandra bheda), and alternate-nostril breathing (nadi shodhana).
5. Cultivate Acceptance
Whether we like it or not, change is inevitable. If we are lucky enough to enjoy a long life, we will see changes in how we look, feel, and view the world; we will have to let go of some things and embrace others. 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. Yogis believe that suffering can stem from either desire (raga), defined as clinging to a person, possession, ability, or situation, or aversion (dvesha), the fear of pain or suffering. Freedom from suffering requires the practice of non-attachment or equilibrium (vairagya). As a teacher of older students, you may want to introduce these concepts, and invite your 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 the majority of teachers, you are currently in a younger age group. But this population isn’t weak or fragile; in fact, they have weathered a lifetime of storms. When you really get down to it, the real-world outcomes many of them seek—the need to maintain mobility and strength, to support themselves through the uncertainties of life—can benefit students of all ages. Devising creative ways to meet these needs is some of the most challenging, but also most satisfying, work we can do as teachers.
Senior Yoga Medicine® teacher and therapeutic specialist, Allie Geer, explains why the power of restorative yoga is not to be underestimated.
As a teacher and practitioner of restorative yoga I often come to wonder how I ever got by without this practice. More than ever, students are turning to this form of yoga as a way to alleviate stress. Stress in small doses can be a very adaptive, natural, and healthy experience for your body. However, we run into trouble when the body becomes chronically stressed. Restorative yoga provides us with tools and techniques to help us better manage the symptoms of stress and chronic stress. When we learn to cope with stress, we can support our body’s natural rhythms and cycles. Restorative yoga encourages the body’s innate capacity to heal. The ability to relax is truly a learned habit, and must be practiced over time and with patience. The first time you try restorative yoga, you might struggle to get comfortable. You might fidget and move around throughout class. Just know that this is OK. Sometimes, the biggest hurdle is giving your body permission to rest. I also encourage you to get curious and to notice the effects the restorative yoga poses have on your body, breath, and even your heart rate.
The Benefits of Restorative Yoga
Restorative yoga is a practice that effects the body from the inside out. It targets our nervous system, our digestive system, and also has a direct impact on all the internal systems within our body. It helps restore our body’s natural capacity for health by targeting the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is a branch of the nervous system that regulates our body’s ability to rest, digest, and heal. When we can balance the nervous system and activate the parasympathetic response. This response will help us manage the symptoms of stress and fatigue.
Restorative Yoga: Here’s What You Need to Know Before You Get Started
Unlike other styles of yoga, restorative yoga is a passive and deeply receptive practice. Typically poses are held anywhere from 5-25 minutes. Sometimes, it includes the use of yoga props to set the body up to be as comfortable as possible. There is little to no muscular activity. The goal is not to stretch or stimulate our tissues. Once we settle into a pose, we stay. We become a witness to our internal environment within our body. If you are new to restorative yoga, try the following sequence. The props suggested include a strap, a bolster, two blocks, and four blankets. However, if you don’t have the suggested props, you can always modify with scarves, towels, pillows, couch cushions, and even large books in lieu of the blocks. The goal is to rest and set your body up so that you give it permission to just be, relax, unwind, and nourish from the inside out. This short sequence is one of my go-to sequences whenever I need a system reboot and overall the class could take you anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. It’s up to you how much time you can carve out. The longer you can hold, the better. Try setting a gentle timer or just come out of the pose when you feel ready.
Try These 4 Restorative Yoga Poses to Relax Your Body and Mind:
Before you begin your practice, take a few moments to ground. Find a comfortable seated position that will allow you to feel the weight of your sit bones dropping into the earth.
Then, take a moment to welcome the breath into your body. Begin to observe the breath in its natural state.
Take three vocal sighs out through your mouth for three exhales. If possible, try to sit for a few moments just observing your breath and sensations within your body without the need to change, interpret, or shift anything. Linger in the exhalations.
1. Legs on the Bolster
Suggested props: 1 blanket, strap, bolster, 2 blocks, or a wall
This gentle inversion massages your heart and improves blood flow and circulation. It helps to calm your mind and nervous system. It also alleviates soreness due to muscle aches and pains in the legs and feet.
Let’s try it:
Take two blocks and set them towards the end of your mat on the medium height
Place the bolster on top of the blocks, like you are making a table
Loop your strap, and slowly come down on to your back. Place your legs on top of the bolster so that the calves are fully resting on top of the bolster with the legs at about a 90-degree angle
Place the strap around your mid-thigh to allow your hips to feel fully relaxed and supported
Additionally, for extra comfort place a blanket under your head and perhaps one on top of your belly. Stay in this pose anywhere from 5-20 minutes
Once you arrive into the posture allow a few moments to settle in. Welcome your breath into your body and begin to visualize fatigue, tension, and stress slowly draining out of your body starting at your feet.
Take your time transitioning out of the posture. Making mindful, easy movements arriving back to a seat. You can also modify this posture by elevating your legs on a wall instead of a bolster.
2. Elevated Prone Twist
Suggested props: 4 blankets, 2 blocks, 1 bolster
Twists, and this twist in particular, offers gentle stimulation for the digestive organs, liver and spleen. It can help alleviate tension in the muscles of the back and hips and gently stretch your intercostal muscles between your ribs to enhance your breathing.
Let’s try it:
Start by placing one block on the medium height and one on the lower height. Place your bolster on top of the blocks so the bolster slopes downward
Place a blanket in front of the bolster. Sit on the blanket with your right hip next to the bolster and the knees stacked
Place a blanket in between your knees. Place a blanket on each side of the bolster to support your arms
Begin by sitting upright and connecting to the breath, feeling the pelvis drop into the floor. Slowly rotate your torso towards the bolster and recline down on top of it
Settle in and stay for 5-10 minutes before switching sides. Allow the props to support the body. To modify, this pose can also be done without using the blocks for elevation.
3. Supta Baddha Konasana or “The Goddess”
Suggested props: 4 blankets, 2 blocks, 1 bolster
Supta Baddha Konasana softens your shoulders and relaxes your chest, abdomen, and pelvis. It can be helpful during menstruation, menopause, and pregnancy.
Let’s try it:
Keep the same prop set up as the previous pose with the bolster and blocks elevated and the blankets to each side
This time, sit in front of the bolster with the sacrum as close to the edge of the bolster as possible. Bring the soles of your feet to touch and let your knees open wide as if you were making a diamond shape with your legs
Slowly recline down onto the bolster and tuck the rolled blankets beside you under your hips
Should you need more support, add another blanket under your head and neck and a blanket to cover for warmth. Option to add an eye pillow for your eyes. Stay in the pose anywhere from 5-20 minutes.
To modify, adjust the height of props to personal comfort.
Savasana seals your practice and allows your entire body to relax by inviting it to find a deeply restful and supportive state.
This pose encourages rest and repair of tissues and helps ease stress, anxiety, tension and insomnia while balancing your parasympathetic response in the nervous system.
It is important to take the time to set up Savasana to provide maximum amount of comfort for your body.
Let’s try it:
Try setting up in Savasana by laying down with a bolster under your knees, a rolled blanket under your ankles, and a rolled blanket to support the curvature of your neck
Support for your neck is key here to really tap into the parasympathetic response
Get the most out of the pose by adding the weight and support of a sandbag or pillow on top of your belly. Rest in Savasana anywhere from 5-25 minutes. Feel your body fully supported and landing onto the earth. Give your body permission to relax and be at ease.
Do You Feel Relaxed After These 4 Restorative Yoga Poses?
Restorative yoga is a practice that nourishes the body from the inside out. It is a practice of non-judgment. It is a practice of curiosity and tuning in to your body’s internal state. Restorative yoga taps into our body’s natural capacity to heal and maintain a healthy state of balance. I hope this practice helps you feel deeply rested, supported, rejuvenated, and restored. Rest is best, especially when we are feeling tired, stressed, and overwhelmed. May this practice be of benefit. Namaste Yogis!
Yoga Medicine®’s is a trademark used to identify products and services offered, related to the study and practice of yoga. None of these products or services involve the practice of medicine or take the place of medical consultation. We urge you to consult a physician or other health care professional of your choice before undertaking any form of exercise, including yoga, to make sure that it is safe and appropriate for you.
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