A year’s worth of progress

Hard to believe it’s been a year since I started teaching yoga to my senior citizens.  It’s amazing the progress they have made.  Their flexibility has increased dramatically, and they all look forward to our weekly sessions.  Last week I had 13 in class, so interest continues to build.  While I currently only teach at Heather Heights Assisted Living, I’m still hoping to connect with the Alzheimer’s Association to provide an in-home yoga practice, tailored specifically to the needs of the individual with the disease.

In the meantime, I am working with a couple women to establish a choir for individuals with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.  We have had three rehearsals thus far and word is spreading quickly.  It is the first one of its kind in the area and interest in this venture is growing as well.  If interested, please use my contact page to obtain details.

More to come as both of these projects blossom.

Be well. Namaste.


Alzheimer’s and music

We all have heard that music touches the soul and mind in ways we don’t understand or perhaps appreciate.  Music touches every part of the brain, not just the memory portion.  Using music effectively can open doors for a person like perhaps nothing else.  Here are two “must see” videos on youtube:



The power of music, as used in these settings, is amazing.  I was so impressed with these videos that I am definitely taking a closer look at the music I use during yoga practice with individuals.  Being able to reach behind the curtain and then teach them yoga would be so fantastic!  More on this subject as I proceed down the path.



Progress report

I “graduate” from my Alzheimer’s Association training this week.  The core work is done, and I plan to take some additional classes.  One is “Music and Alzheimer’s” and the other is about working with families.  These two classes will greatly enhance my plan to provide yoga to these individuals and their families.  I didn’t know this, but music is stored in a different part of the brain than your memory.  There is a story of a man who was basically beyond communication.  The staff put some headphones on him with a song he knew as a kid, and he sang along – he knew every single word to the song.  It is said that sometimes if instructions or other communications are sung to Alzheimer’s patients, sometimes that gets through when regular spoken words do not.  I often play music during a yoga practice, so I’ll be very interested in getting this new information and putting it to use.

As far as my class, it is going great!  I have about the same people each week, and they have learned a seated and standing Sun Salutation series, a seated Boat series, and we’re working on building a second standing series for them.  Today they did Warrior I, Warrior II, and moved into Peaceful Warrior.  It was great!!  Next week I’m planning on doing some simple movements that the NEXT week we can craft into Side Angle.  I can’t wait!

More information as it becomes available.  Until then, be well, and Namaste.

Misperception of “reality”

So this week I begin my training with the Alzheimer’s Association, and I’m looking forward to developing an in-depth knowledge about this disease.  I have already learned some important things through some of the lunch-and-learn events I have attended.  Even though I might not use the right terminology, I’ll share one with you.

“Back in the day”, a person’s misperception of reality was handled in a completely different way.  For example, if an elderly lady were to say, “Have you seen my mom today?”, people were to respond in a way as to orient the person to reality.  So one would say, “No, your mother died several years ago, remember?”  What this succeeded in doing was making the death of this person’s mother an instant, current reality.  It’s as if she JUST learned that her mother died, obviously causing her extreme distress.  This distress should never be underestimated.  For her, this “new” information is REAL, even though it happened long ago. 

The current way, and actually a much more effective way, to handle this situation would be to simply say “No, I haven’t seen your mom today” and then redirect the person’s attention to something different.  That’s the truth and she won’t be traumatized again by the loss of her mother.  And (fortunately and unfortunately) in a few minutes, she’ll probably forget she even asked.

Bottom line – why create a situation in which people with dementia could be re-traumatized by past unpleasant events.  There is enough to cope with in the present without having to be reminded that they can’t remember something from the past, especially something unpleasant and obviously beyond any control.  Keep their current “reality” going in a positive direction and always remember they are doing the very best they can to keep things straight.

As far as yoga, class yesterday went great!  We have added some silly, non-yoga “poses” that make everyone laugh.  I added in some strength-building exercises that everyone admitted were challenging, and I’m doing two sets of a standing series to help with balance.  And I can tell balance in the group is DEFINITELY improving.  I told them that every week we work together, all these poses will become easier and easier, and then I’ll have to figure out something NEW to challenge them with.  Everyone seemed eager to find out what the “new thing” will be.  What a terrific group!

And what a great journey thus far.  I’ll keep you posted!

Be well.

Moving Forward

Class yesterday was terrific!!  I have been working with the group on a seated Sun Salutation series.  Yesterday, we did the series both seated and standing.  And they did great!  If they got tired, they sat down and followed along doing the seated version of the poses; so everyone was able to participate at their level.  We also did Warrior I, and they did great!!  So next week I am going to add Warrior II and maybe a few other standing positions. 

I was also able to identify a couple of places where we need to do some additional strength building; so next week I’ll work in some poses to address those issues.

I am moving forward in my “master plan” as well.  I have decided to focus developing my teaching to three groups:  (1) individuals with dementia and/or Alzheimer’s Disease; (2) caregivers; and (3) “teams” of each segment.  I would like to go to retirement centers for the first group (as I am doing now with Heather Heights of Pittsford); I would like to offer gentle and restorative yoga to caregivers, in order to give them a break, and some peace and quiet; and I’m thinking of offering some type of program where the caregiver and the individual with dementia actually practice together.  I would think this would offer a great “team building” experience for them if they participate in something together.  This idea may not be feasible at all, but as I learn more, I’ll be able to either develop or dismiss this possible program.

I start my training with the Alzheimer’s Association next week, and hopefully I’ll be able to add more substantive information to this blog going forward.  But for now, my teaching experience is showing me that these individuals are enjoying the practice and are getting stronger and more confident each week and more willing to try new things.  And I’m loving every minute of it.


Changing directions

The first week of teaching, I had a plan all in mind of what I wanted to do, including some standing poses involving balance.  I had an idea that some wouldn’t be able to do that, but I was prepared.  Or so I thought.

The problem wasn’t in balancing; the problem was standing up and simply moving behind the chair for support.  There were a few people who simply couldn’t understand that I wanted them to walk around behind their chair.  This was something I was not prepared for.  I tried it again the next week, but it was still a struggle for some.

I have since modified the practice to include standing poses in which we simply stand up from our chairs and practice from there.  I obviously don’t want to do any balancing poses right now (without that extra support of the chair), but perhaps down the road, as leg strength and confidence builds, we can try moving behind the chairs again.

My take away from this was to simplify the yoga practice even further, explaining poses slowly in very small, simple steps, with lots of demonstration. 

I didn’t teach last week (I was out of town), so I’m really looking forward to my class tomorrow and the new lessons I will learn from my students.  They are great teachers.  


Introduction to my class

My first instance of teaching individuals with dementia and Alzheimer’s came when I started working at a local retirement center which specializes in this type of care.  About 20 individuals showed up, and I loved them immediately. 

We are taught in yoga teacher school to not practice along with the students; stick, if possible, with verbal instruction.  This is the opposite of what needs to happen when teaching my students.  Mimicking actions is much more effective than trying to explain positions to them.  We had a wonderful time in our first class, but I was so nervous, I went through all of the asanas I wanted to cover in about 20 minutes!!  We went through them again, only more slowly this time.  I find that with each class, I am slowing down more (because both the students and I are more comfortable with each other), filling the time allotted.  And it is such a joy, at the end of class, so see everyone smiling and relaxed.  They all agree that in such a busy environment, a few minutes of peace and quiet are cherished.

The takeaway from this experience was to show them what the asana looks like; don’t explain it in detail. 

Hello world!

Well, look at me!  I actually have a blog!

This will be a short one.  I am starting this blog because I was encouraged to do so.  I am in the process of putting together a yoga practice that will be beneficial specifically for individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia.  I have done quite a bit of research and there doesn’t seem to be anything like this.  As I learn more about the progression of the disease, and figure ways to better communicate yoga to these individuals, I’ll post my findings here.  This information will be beneficial not only to yoga teachers, but anyone who has contact with individuals with this condition.  Just because a person has dementia or Alzheimer’s doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have a good quality of life for as long as possible.

By being able to better communicate, these students will be introduced to all the benefits of a yoga practice, including increased mobility, better balance, and a sense of peace and well-being – if even only for a while.

I’m looking forward to this journey.  Wish me luck!

Be well.  Namaste.