The Yoga Teaching Train
In 2008, I shuttered the doors on my women’s boutique business. In the first 6 months after closing down shop I stayed home with my kids wondering what I would do for my career. After 12 years of building a fashion brand and boutique, I felt wrung out and disenchanted with the industry. I needed a fresh start, but I felt like a battered ship, without a compass, lost at sea.
After a while, I began to help my parents with the family business in order to get out of the house and do something different.
My family has a skilled nursing facility which my parents have run for years. If you've ever worked in a nursing home, you will know that it is not a very happy place. Some elder adults are fortunate enough to have family who live locally, who continue to visit them, shower them with love, and continue to show them that they are not forgotten.
Inevitably however, there's always one or a handful of residents who don't receive visits, or residents who are no longer able to recall who their family members are due to memory impairments.
I'd often feel a mix of emotions when I’d see a resident's family member visit, care for and spend time with them. Sometimes, once in a while you'd see that even if that resident couldn't recall who their visitor was, they'd smile or be at ease. Sometimes, they'd be more agitated, frustrated or even angry during their family visits.
The nursing home has a mix of long term and short term residents.
Short term residents are admitted from the hospital, post surgery for recovery and access to physical therapy and skilled nursing care. This way, they can receive assistance with their Activities of Daily Living, known as ADL's.
Being able to get out of bed, get dressed, shower or bathe one's self, walk without assistance, use the bathroom and feed one self - these are all considered under ADL's. Just take a moment to imagine not being able to do any of these things for yourself, and having to rely on someone else to help you do something as "simple" as wash your hair.
Aging is not for the weak.
The short term patients who come to stay at the nursing home are admitted because they require two things.
- Post surgery, they require assistance with their ADL's and don't have family who can provide them with around the clock assistance.
- Access to physical, occupational and speech therapy at 5 days a week.
Short term residents usually plan to gain mobility, independence and recover to a functional status where they may safely return to their home.
In my time working at the nursing home I had a lot of interaction with the residents. There were residents who were always upbeat, ready to get to therapy and regain their strength. These residents' number one goal was to get well enough to go home. Once in a while, we'd have someone who would flat out refuse any therapy.
Why would someone refuse therapy, when they know they need it to get better, you ask?
Well because if you've ever had to recover from major surgery, I can tell you that it's incredibly painful. It's painful to not be able to walk. Every step, every movement brings on waves of intense pain that you wonder if it's better to just stay in bed. Some days, that's all you may want to do.
In my time working at the home I was lucky to meet a truly amazing lady. Let's call her Esther.
When I first met Esther, she was already in her early 90's. Esther came to stay with us after hip surgery. She required physical and occupational therapy daily. Esther was in fairly good health prior her surgery. She had been living fully on her own without assistance and still remained active in her community.
Esther was determined to maintain her independence. She’d often tell me how she did not want to have to depend on her daughter to take care of her. Despite having gone through major hip surgery, she persisted and made it to her therapy sessions every day. She'd always make sure she was ready to go after breakfast, and she would crack jokes with other patients during therapy, keeping a positive energy and inspiring those around her to do the exercises.
One of Esther’s best memories that she shared with me was her experience in ascending Mount Everest. Esther was a climber for the majority of her adult life and she loved alpine living.
Even in our present time, with the ease of global communication and booking travel plans online, mapping out an expedition such as ascending Mount Everest is no easy task. It requires physical stamina, years of training and preparation. Just to give you an idea of the type of training you need, here is what Alpine Ascents and the British Mountaineering Council recommend.
“To reach the summit of Everest (29,035 ft./8,850 m) you must be in top physical, emotional, and psychological condition.” Alpine Ascents
Benchmarks for physical conditioning include:
- Successful previous trips above 20,000 ft. whenever possible, during which you need to gain experience dealing with gear and equipment
- Handling extremely cold temperatures and extreme altitude;
- Gaining solid cramponing skills both on and off rock, snow, and ice
- Rappelling with a pack on; and using ascenders and jumars on a fixed line.
- In addition to solid alpine living, snow, and ice-climbing skills, you need significant strength endurance, high-altitude tolerance, and strong cardiovascular conditioning.
“Keep in mind that just because you exercise regularly at significantly lower elevation does not mean you have suitable conditioning needed to stand on top of the world. Cardiovascular fitness is simply not enough. You should focus on building physical conditioning at lower altitudes necessary to ascend 4,000 ft. of elevation on successive days carrying 50–60 lbs. Although you will not be carrying such weight on Everest, by conditioning your body to that degree of high tolerance, you will have built extra reserves that will serve you very well on the mountain as you inevitably start to lose musculature and body fat from being at extreme altitudes for two months. This extra reserve will also make it possible to focus on the many, many other components involved in a climb of such extremes, rather than dealing with the added harsh reality that your physical preparation may have been somewhat less than adequate.”
The highest peaks that I’ve ever stood atop of have been in Lake Tahoe and in the Swiss pre-alps. These peaks measured about 6,500-9,000 feet (2,000-2,700m). I cannot even begin to imagine what 3x this amount would feel like.
On a side note - check out this photo of these guys my daughter and I had the pleasure of observing training on a high line in the Swiss pre-alps. I literally felt vertigo just watching them cross, at times, losing their balance and falling off. Talk about courage!
But I digress. Back to Esther. What really struck me about Esther was that she had a lifelong passion for climbing and fitness. Though her mountain climbing days were more a memory in her 90’s, Esther continued to remain active. She went on daily walks, spent time working on her garden and interacted with her community.
Esther did rehabilitate to the point where she was able to go home. Her daughter came to visit from out of state and provided her with some assistance, but eventually Esther was able to take care of herself again with no additional help.
After meeting Esther, I began to pay more attention to the Residents who lived at the nursing home. I noticed a direct relationship between rate of recovery and a resident's pre-existing movement lifestyle.
Residents who remained active and exercised regularly were more adaptable and amenable to physical therapy. I also found that patients who led fairly sedentary lives, who did not have a pre-existing movement routine had more trouble adjusting.
Imagine that you haven't strapped on running shoes in years and suddenly being asked to run a 10k tomorrow, especially if you're like me and don't really enjoy running.
It's not an uncommon challenge for a therapist to be faced with a non-compliant patient.
I also noticed that patients who had no pre-existing fitness routine recovered at a slower rate, and for some, loss of mobility and independence was significant enough that they would either need full time help to be able to safely return home or would end up staying as long term Residents.
I've done a bit of further reading into this relationship and here are some findings.
In the article Age Antidote by Len Kravitz, Ph.D, author and researcher at the University of New Mexico, he states:
"The one intervention proposed to have the most eminent preventative and therapeutic impact on age-related changes is physical activity. Physical activity for the elderly needs to take into account the individual's health status, fitness level and age.”
The article continues to describe the various effects of aging on the physical body as outlined below.
- Cardiovascular system - there is a 20 to 30% decrease in cardiac output by the age 65.
- Respiratory System - Maximal oxygen uptake decreases approximately 9% and 5% per decade, for sedentary men and women, respectively.
- Circulatory System - There is a loss in elasticity of the major blood vessels which contributes to a 10 to 40 mm Hg elevation in systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
- Muscular system - undergoes a 40% loss of muscle mass and 30% decrease in strength by age 70.
This examination into the relationship between aging, mobility and recovery is really what inspired me to teach yoga. For further reading into a correlated and fascinating study funded by the Government of Korea, conducted at the National Research Foundation of Korea, click here.
In 2009 I decided to enroll into a 200 hour yoga teacher training course. I was interested in learning more about the practice beyond the postures and deepening my understanding of yoga philosophy. In retrospect, at the time I had no idea just how vast the study would be, but it's been one of the best decisions I've made in my adult life.
Primarily my main desire was to help bring a little movement into people's day via the physical practice. I also wished to expand my own meditation practice and teach as I noticed personally how powerful a regular meditation was in helping me with my anxiety disorder at the time.
This is really what lit the fire in my desire to teach yoga. I had no idea what kind of train I was jumping on at the time.
All I knew, was that I could see the patients who had a lifelong habit of moving, had a better rate and a higher percentage of returning home versus those who had to suddenly start doing physical therapy without a previous foundation for movement.
After 7 years of teaching I’ve now come to realize that even if someone decides yoga is not their “thing” that it’s ok. If they find something that moves them, that gives them a chance to connect to their breath and body, then that is better than no movement at all.
In Kravitz's article his conclusion:
As fitness professionals, we need to focus our attention on creating wonderful opportunities of lifetime fitness, for our students of all ages, and provide a broad overview of health to a population with diverse interests and backgrounds. With the elderly, preventing the complication associated with inactivity is far more cost effective than having to pay the costs of long-term care.
If you like to walk, then walk daily.
If you like hiking, grab a backpack, some solid shoes, maybe your furry four legged friend and get outdoors.
If you like climbing, get your harness, shoes and gear and climb on.
If you like swimming, grab your suit and get in the water.
If cycling makes your blood sing, strap on your shoes and get on the road or hit your local cycle class.
If lifting makes you feel empowered, hit the gym and lift.
Do what you love. Do what makes you feel alive. Get your sweat on the way you enjoy getting it on.
And if yoga is what makes you feel alive, then you know where to find me.
2018 Yoga Teaching Mission
What I'd really like to do is get back to why I decided to teach and offer classes in the work place. Not just corporate yoga, but small and large businesses. Especially to those in the service based industry - restaurant workers, skilled nursing staff, cosmetologists, massage therapists, your local neighborhood baristas - you get the drift. So if you know of any business owners who may want to gift their staff a yoga, mindfulness and meditation session, please send them my way.
Stay tuned for next week's post. I'll be sharing some news for the new year and will be offering some new services per students' requests. I'm super excited to share it with you and I hope you'll like it.
Until then, see you on the mat, in the gym our out on a mountain trail.
Thank you and wishing everyone a peaceful holiday season and a wonderful New Year.