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Meredith W. Watts

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Senior Yoga Stories

[NOTE: For more photos of the people and classes described here, see the Yoga Photo Gallery on this site's Yoga page.


Two Models of Senior Yoga – The Community Center and the Yoga Center

In the community center approach, many senior yoga programs begin by community programs working with an individual instructor to provide classes for their members; in the “yoga center” approach, an established studio wishes to broaden its offerings to provide classes for older participants.  Each approach has different advantages and disadvantages in providing reasonable cost, access to the senior population, adequate communication, instructor training, and adequate (and safe) facilities.  A third approach combines the strengths of both approaches.  The example described here developed from cooperation between the Milwaukee Yoga Center and the Senior Resource Center of Shorewood (Milwaukee), Wisconsin, but the general idea could be adapted nearly anywhere. 

One of the first technical problems in the community center approach is to find props to adapt postures for varying abilities, usually making use of whatever is available.  In this case there were walls, tables and chairs, but no budget or storage space for mats, bolsters or blankets.  One form of prop – simple yoga belts – are a an important and convenient addition since they are easy to transport yet offer many forms of support for such poses as leg and arm extensions, and shoulder exercises.  They are quite versatile in both standing and chair work


Participants in a Community Center Class

Senior Class_SRC


Participants in a Class in a Fully-Equipped Yoga Studio




Adaptive Postures for Mature Bodies

            There was a space available with chairs, open walls and tables that could be used to modify and support postures.  There were a few guidelines in this first class:  No students are required to get down on the floor, and alternative postures were adapted with various forms of support to suit a range of physical condition of virtually everyone.

The community center had a good space for classes, but limited “props” (mainly chairs and tables) and little space for storing additional materials.  The challenge was to work safely and effectively with what was available.  The photos below show some of the possibilities. For more, go to the Yoga page. 


Modified Trikonasana on Table (Linda Murphy, Milwaukee Yoga Center)



Trikonasa (Triangle Pose) can be performed in the center of the room (when balance is good), using a chair for support, using the wall to support the back, or using a table where there are balance or other issues.  Community center tables turn out to be useful for a wide variety of postures, such as the modified Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I) below. In this version, the real heel is at the wall; when students have more experience, they can experiment raising the arms into the full pose.

Modified Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I) with Table Support

SRC_Warrior I


Utthanasna (forward extension) is an important posture for toning the legs, but where balance is an issue, extra support can make the possible accessible and assist in toning the legs and torso. In this version, the wall ropes help keep the legs perpendicular and allow a more effective torso extension.

Modified Utthanasana (Forward Extension), With Rope & Chair Support

Supported Utthanasana_MYC

Parivrtta Trikonasana (Rotated Triangle Pose) is not easily accessible for many bodies, but the version below supports simultaneous extension of the legs and rotation of the torso while keeping balance.


Variation of Parivrtta Trikonassns (Rotated Triangle Pose)

   Supported Rotated Triangle_MYC    

Participants in Senior Yoga Talk about their Experience

            Often people think about “doing yoga” as simply another form of stretching, perhaps with a bit of breath work, balance exercises and possibly simple meditation exercises for relaxation and concentration.  It can be all these things, but it can mean much more in the lives of practitioners.  As these vignettes from senior yoga practitioners show, the practice of yoga can help with ordinary, and extraordinary, activities in everyday life.

Sharon Stadler writes that “Yoga is my passion! Without it I could not have accomplished what I have this past year.  My husband and I recently brought a single family home after living for thirty-five years in our duplex on the East Side.  We rented our flat almost immediately, and now have income for our retirement.  My yoga practice has given me the energy, strength, and balance to do what needed to be done to accomplish this goal!”

Mike Drew, age 78, spent a distinguished career as writer for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and continues to dedicate himself to writing, public service and, as he writes here, to an active life of sports as well.  He writes: Yoga, I've discovered can help enable aging would-be athletes stay not only upright but somewhat competitive.  Since I began working with … Meredith Watts twice weekly through the Shorewood Senior Center at 78, I've not missed a day in my perpetual, often futile, quest to win games: tennis, golf and sailboat racing. I've also managed to continue regular weight training, biking, swimming, walking and volunteer activities without the pesky muscle pulls and tears and joint issues that have benched me periodically in the past. If all of those activities aren't fighting off senility (my goal), they surely are enhancing my quality of life -- partly because, as a bonus, Meredith adds lots of laughs to my day.”

Mike Drew



Else Ankel retired from a scientific career and is now active in many areas, particularly when they have something to do with ecology.  She offers this “Yoga Winter Story” as an example of how her physical training has helped her to deal with normal, and not so normal, daily activities:

“I am an 80 year old woman and I live in an old farm house on the Upper Eastside of Milwaukee. My car is a 15 year old hatchback with two doors and a stick shift. The car lives on the street because the old farmhouse has neither a garage nor a driveway.

            It was a cold winter day in January …. I needed to run an errand at a place too far away to walk to. The city plows had pushed lots of snow unto the driver’s side of the cars parked on the street. I did some serious thinking and then I shoveled the snow off the left car door and tried to turn the car key to open the door. It didn’t work, the lock was frozen. I removed the snow from the right door, tried to open the door. It didn’t work, this lock was frozen too.

            I shoveled snow from the hatchback and tried to open the hatchback door. Hurrah - this lock was not frozen.

I opened the back door, pushed down the two back seats, crawled in on all fours to the right front seat to open the right door from the inside. It did not open.

            I crawled over the stick shift to the driver’s seat to open the left door. It did not open.

            I was almost ready to give up and crawl back out again. Last try: I turned on the heater and waited for 5 minutes. Hurrah, the left door thawed up and opened from the inside.

I went out to close the hatchback and tried to open the right door. Another hurrah - this door opened too.

            I wiggled the car back and forth in the snow and finally out to the street and off we went.

            I could just imagine what some neighbors who saw me were thinking, something like “this old lady is really crazy to crawl into the back of her car”. But what they didn’t know is that this old lady is not crazy at all. This old lady is smart, and she is taking two yoga classes a week at the Milwaukee Yoga Center that keep her in good shape. This old lady has just saved herself some taxi money because she is flexible enough to crawl into her hatch back car from the back and over the stick shift to get the ignition started and the car door locks thawed from the inside.

            With many thanks to my yoga teachers Meredith and Karen from Else Ankel.”

Else Ankel (photo right)

Rope Trikonasa_MYC

Milwaukee/Shorewood senior yoga has many stories of participants who felt better prepared for medical procedures, or felt their recovery was smoother and faster, or who simply feel they are in better mental and physical shape for their daily activities.  Perhaps not all will improve their “serve and volley” tennis game (or their golf drive) like Mike, or better negotiate the hardships of the Midwestern winter like Else, but most feel an improvement in their balance, strength and flexibility.  As Sharon points, it can provide the strength and support for challenges and transitions that come later in life.  At the very least, it is a productive way to spend an hour or two a week with active, vibrant people who are determined to make the most of their mature years.  


Meredith Watts is a yoga instructor, researcher on Brazilian popular culture, (particularly cultura popular as celebrated in the Northeast of Brazil), and a photographer. For more information see this site's Yoga page; his Yoga Bio gives more information on his yoga training and experience.


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