Safely teaching yoga to the rapidly growing and underserved senior population is Cheryl Acheson’s passion.
In early November, the local yoga teacher completed training at Duke University’s Center for Living in Durham, N.C. The medical facility integrates conventional and complementary medicine that includes nutrition and behavioral health consults, mindfulness-based stress reduction, physical therapy, massage and therapeutic massage, acupuncture and yoga. Board-certified physicians offered advice, precautions and recommendations for teaching seniors.
“Learning how to safely teach seniors with cardiovascular disorders, arthritis, hip replacement, osteoporosis, chronic pain and dementia allows me to be a more skillful and inclusive teacher,” Acheson said.
Acheson currently teaches seniors at Yoga of Los Altos, Palo Alto Hills Golf and Country Club and the Rosewood Sand Hill hotel. She also has a number of private students on the Peninsula. With more than 10 years of experience and 600-plus classes under her belt, Acheson said she is confident that she can safely teach yoga to anyone.
“Teaching yoga to seniors is immensely rewarding,” she said. “My eldest student is 92 years young.”
Acheson added that thanks to the training course at Duke, she has many more tools in her “yoga toolbox.”
According to the UNC Institute on Aging, the number of seniors 65 years and older is projected to more than double by 2050, to 80 million. An estimated 10,000 people turn 65 years old every day in the U.S., the institute reports, and by 2050, two out of every five seniors are likely to reach the age of 90.
Therapeutic yoga for seniors includes gentle physical movement (poses) and breath work, visualization, social interaction, meditation and relaxation.
A 2014 study at the University of Illinois revealed that gentle yoga has an “immediate quieting effect” on the sympathetic nervous system and on the body’s response to stress. Because stress and anxiety can affect cognitive performance, an eight-week yoga intervention boosted participants’ performance by reducing their stress.
A balanced approach
Ron and Dell Meserve of Los Altos take yoga classes with Acheson. At ages 71 and 69, respectively, the Meserves practice primarily Hatha yoga, a discipline that emphasizes stretching and balance.
According to Ron, the benefits abound – improved balance, flexibility and mindfulness, including breathing and meditation.
“(Acheson is) very creative and excellent at tailoring the yoga sessions to our age and current needs,” he said.
The Meserves also like the fact that Acheson is willing to conduct sessions in their home at a fair price.
Los Altos resident Shirley Cavigli, 67, takes Beginners Yoga with Acheson at Yoga of Los Altos on First Street.
“I know the benefits have helped me in many ways,” Cavigli said. “I look forward to Cheryl’s class because it helps put me in an inner state of peace and reflection. I focus on myself and set my intentions for each class.”
Cavigli, who has suffered from lower back pain for years, noted that when class is over, her pain is gone – and stays that way.
“If I miss a class, I can feel my back stiffen up,” she added.
Acheson is “very mindful” of the senior body, Cavigli said, leading students through the postures with patience and purpose.
“There is no right or wrong way,” Cavigli said of Acheson’s methods. “She approaches each of us individually. I am spiritually and physically refreshed after each class.”
Cavigli extolled Acheson’s teaching skills.
“Cheryl is a kind and humorous instructor,” she said. “There is no pretense with her. She is real and genuine and I love her approach to yoga – she makes it fun. She is extremely special and I always look forward to her classes. I am always grateful when I spend my time upon my yoga mat with Cheryl as my guide.”
Acheson teaches yoga classes appropriate for seniors 11 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays at Yoga of Los Altos, 377 First St. To register and for more information, call 397-9779 or visit yogaoflosaltos.com.