Iyengar Yoga is for All: A Senior’s Story

by Lillian Vergara




  I had mixed feelings when I joined the Beginners’ Class at the Sankalpa studio. People were warm and welcoming but I was so insecure because I’ve always lived a sedentary life. With a history of rheumatic fever in primary school that exempted me from Physical Education (ergo, marked as fragile by my family), I am what you’d consider lampa.


    Prior to joining the class, I had terribly painful sciatica and was just recovering with the help of painkillers and numerous therapy sessions at home and in two hospitals. I had vehemently resisted surgery, so for a few months, I was walking lopsided. Getting up from bed, standing from a sitting position, or walking more than 10 steps was excruciating. One of the doctors I consulted said in cases where the pain may gradually fade but not totally disappear, patients forget they need to strengthen their core through regular exercise. In his experience, he said there were two effective choices to strengthen the core and thus manage the pain: yoga or Pilates.


    Pilates can be very demanding so I concluded  that yoga may be the gentler option for me. After all, friends of mine who are into yoga seem so calm, so poised, so put-together. I looked for studios close to home. Then a dear friend recommended Sankalpa because the instructors and classmates were “cool”: they would not be judgmental.


   On my first few sessions, I was so uncoordinated and stiff and afraid of many things. Forward bends, even with wall support ropes, a chair, and the teacher in front of me, terrified me. I felt that the teacher and my classmates must have gotten red holding their laughter in, or holding back their tears in pity. When the others had moved on to do sarvangasana or sirsasana, I was told to lie down and be in savasana till the class ended. I felt totally out of place.


    But I persisted because the prospect of another sciatica attack haunted me. In an effort to practice the poses, I asked Elena if I could attend tutorial classes.  There were two or three of us in that class tutorial until Elena, perhaps out of mercy and pity, decided to open a class for Seniors. 


   Our Seniors class met once a week, on Friday mornings. I diligently attended these, despite the occasional lateness because of unexpected traffic. My classmates and I were nearing or over 70, and many of us had some health issues—sciatica, frozen shoulder, hypertension, nausea, etc.—and certain poses were adjusted based on our specific needs.

But when the government-mandated quarantine took effect, all classes went online, and two Seniors classes were offered: Tuesdays with Elena and Fridays with Alya*. I enrolled in both, and because I didn’t have to drive to the studio, I could just log on to take the Zoom classes and always be on time. Those of us who were Manila-based were joined by classmates from Davao and Cagayan de Oro.


   I feel fortunate to have the best, most patient, and intuitive teachers. If they see us gasping for breath or quivering when holding poses, they give us some time to rest or move on to stretching exercises. We use all possible props: blocks or books, a yoga belt or scarf, bolsters or blankets and pillows, and chairs. The props are there to help us achieve alignment, balance, and as always, aspire for precision in the pose. We are encouraged to listen to our bodies and develop mind-body-spirit awareness and to take responsibility for our own safety and endurance. Our teachers expect us to challenge ourselves as we correct our poses according to their instructions, but we decide how far we can go. 


   I’ve just realized that I am the most senior among the Seniors and I have been faithfully attending classes for over two years now! Because the sessions are posted for a month on the website’s content library, I practice in between classes too, whenever I can.


 I now actually look forward to the asanas, and dream of moving on to pranayama classes next. I feel more energetic, pliant, and conscious of my posture, whether standing in tadasana or sitting with the chest open, shoulders down, belly button in, spine strong, thighs active. I’ve somewhat adjusted to the Iyengar weekly rhythm of standing poses then forward bends, on to twists and backbends and the restorative sessions. Then and the end of each session, my favorite: savasana.


    There is hope for us who are elderly. That, for me, is the biggest takeaway from Seniors class. While each of us has different health issues, we share the same desire to stay fit and healthy as we advance in years. Most of all, we are learning how to improve our strength and minimize our aches and pains.


    I love knowing that I can grow old doing yoga. Namaskar.


*Senior classes are now taught by Elena and Monica.