Age Is Not Just a Number!
Written by Cathy Geier.
Age Is Important Valuable Information!
Sometimes in human potential lectures or from Life Coaches one may hear, "age is just a number. You can do anything." While it is true that the number of ones' years on earth is simply that, a number, and NOT a definition of one's personality or a barrier through which one can not ever reach; the number of one's age gives a great deal of information about the person.
One's birth year is nestled in 'cultural mores', social beliefs and customs as well as an indicator of one's, loosely put, stage in life. Some of us in our 60s and 70s were raised with the masculine ruler bread winner mind set. Men went out into the world, were strong and 'brought home the bacon". Women married, had children and cleaned house. Period. Girls of my bygone era, 63 now, were taught to play basketball with only 3 bounces and then pass it away, a game of non-contact!
Some of us believed and acted in our 20s, 30s, maybe 40s, as though we were Wonder Woman in our athletic and study pursuits- learning to 'run' the ball as Title 9 implemented new rights for girls and women. We were rebels of this time. Now women celebrate and carry on pushing at boundaries; their life roles and expectations are much wider.
How does this relate to yoga teaching, you may wonder. Now aging Wonder Women and some SuperMen flock to yoga, to maintain that wild wonderful complex, to heal from overdoing it in more vigorous sports and to maintain strength and flexibility. As yoga teachers we face students of all ages from teens to young adults in 20s and 30s to the middle aged in their 50s and then the older ones, in their 60s and beyond all in the same classes.
If we teach with the belief that age is just a number which can be extended to 'everyone is the same' thinking we do our students potential great harm through either potentially devalidating their life knowledge or experience or by assuming that their body can do and will respond to yoga activity and poses in the same way as the body of a much younger person.
Devalidating one's knowledge or life experience causes separation and disrespect. If we treat anyone as though their knowledge, experience or feedback is not important we have created a separation between ourselves and the student. Older people, now possibly a little stooped, with a little more weight, grey hair or sun spots may not bend as others in class, but may have been or still work as administrators, professional educators, consultants, writers.. people who contribute greatly to society in their profession. Their career talents are not important when doing downward dog in yoga class, but when discussing anatomy, questions about law or in doing problem-solving their skill may be valuable to you in the studio. Or maybe someday that slightly overweight grey-haired student will be the judge in your traffic ticket case!
The human body growth stages are few: birth, infant, child, teen, young adult, adult, elderly. BLAM. That's it from recent research. I prefer to consider additional stages of mid-life: cresting and retiring before elderly. The word 'elderly' carries connotations of infirmity to me. That's my concern or trigger. Websters Dictionary defines elderly as, "rather old, being past middle age". The fact remains that the term 'elderly' is used quickly in human growth stages literature and many consider 'elderly' as frail and losing faculties. Using this info, our students in their 60s, 70s and beyond are ELDERLY! And after elderly is death.
Whatever connotation this brings to you is your lens to consider when teaching yoga to people of all ages. The Merck Manual of Health and Aging states that the traditional age considered "old' is 65, but not necessarily based in biological terms. It continues with discussion about how one may be 40 and very inactive while another in their 60s may be vital, vigorous. However, the occurrences and chances for disease, injury and health impairments increase as one ages, per Merck.
I am not trying to scare you, new yoga teachers, nor myself! I wish to underscore that as yoga teachers for older students we need to be thoughtful of our words and expectations. In older adults, cartilage thins; ligaments and tendons thin, and become slightly more brittle; and with reduced career work or activity, muscle is less used. Injuries which can happen to anyone may (medical literature uses 'will' instead of 'may') take longer to heal.
An older person who tells you, their yoga teacher, that he/she can not do something is not necessarily telling you that he/she is afraid or has set limits on their ability to succeed in life. They may be telling you that with personal body knowledge that a knee does not bend so much or that a joint will not take complete body weight. These are honest, direct safety concerns and show a willingness from your student to trust your ability to discern needs and show understanding of many body needs and differences. I am asking you to really listen to these comments and needs and not jump to "if you say can't you are making up excuses" or "can't means you are holding onto fear" simplistic thinking which is sometimes touted in yoga coaching.
All students deserve respect, good teacher listening skills, thoughtful modifications, and expectations that all try and do their best in class, but everyone's best does not look the same in poses. At the same time students need to empower themselves to listen to their bodies and reflect on their physical fitness states and body responses to yoga poses and other athletics. Yoga instruction and study can develop one's body sense. Skilled yoga instructors can include careful empowering vocabulary in their instruction without diminishing students for modifications needed or because there is something they feel they can't or shouldn't do.
Thank you for reading. This article was inspired from hearing the words, "age is just a number. You can do anything" from a 20 year old fitness coach whose youthful exuberance set my 'watch out' alarms ringing, especially when he laughed at my concerns about knee pain and said I could heal it the same as he healed a joint problem. There is a lot of research in the area of human growth, aging and longevity. Measurement of HGH and/or DHEA levels are other ways of measuring aging, as well as other hormone production and senses of self-esteem and life purpose. Research and much information is available about how one may greatly impact and improve their health and slow the 'woes' of aging through meditation, healthy eating, positivity, having love and a meaning in their life. That is for a few more articles.
- Read more of Cathy Geier.
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