Think you’re too old to start or teach yoga? These three inspirational older Australian yogis describe why they became yoga teachers.
Danielle Mondahl, 50, Queensland
Teacher’s aide and mother of three, Danielle never imagined yoga would bring her a new career specialising in yoga for pregnant women and young mums as well as Thai yoga massage.
“I was ‘tricked’ into teaching yoga!” she says. “It was never my intention to teach yoga myself. I only did my Level 1 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training to develop my own personal practice. With my kids a bit older, I finally had some time to devote to myself.
“I was 45 when I did my teacher training with Tammy Williams of Yoga NRG on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. My course began in March 2011 and by July 2011 I was fully qualified. It took about 10 contact days in total plus many hours of written assignments and study. There were just seven of us on the course and we soon developed a beautiful friendship that endures today and supports each other.
“I didn’t feel out of place on the training because of my age. There was one person older than me and the other students were in their 20s or 30s. I did feel out of place because of my body though. I thought, ‘What on earth am I doing? I can hardly do any of these poses, I’m the largest person here, I don’t wear the right clothes.’
“It all went well though. I totally immersed myself in the practice and attended about six classes a week. I loved it. At the end I was ‘tricked’ into becoming a yoga teacher. My trainer Tammy asked if would like to fill a class for her at the school where I worked as a teacher aide. I instantly said, ‘no!’ I knew that I could do it though so after a minute or two I said, ‘I’ll do it just this once.’
“I was terrified about teaching my work colleagues. I had my laminated sequence sheet with me the whole time. I was nervous for the first 55 minutes. It was only for the last five minutes of savasana that I finally calmed down. The next class I taught, I was nervous for 54 minutes! After that second class I thought, ‘Ok, I can do this.’
“Since then, I’ve specialised in pregnancy yoga and mums and bubs yoga. I’ve always had a passion for all things pregnancy and baby. I dreamt of being a midwife but having three kids of my own got in the way. The pregnancy yoga is my favourite class to teach because I am making a positive difference in the lives of women and their families. I loved my pregnancies and I want to encourage women to have a positive attitude and experience about their pregnancies.
“I’ve also started assisting on Level 1 Yoga Teacher Training courses and I teach Thai yoga massage. I’m now completing my level one Thai yoga massage training. It’s all meant I recently resigned from my teacher's aide job of 10 years to pursue my passion.
“It is never to late to start or to teach yoga. I’m now 50 and I see people in this age group every day trying out their first class. We have trained students in their 50s, 60s and 70s to become yoga teachers.
“In my opinion, older people make better yoga teachers. They bring a huge amount of life experience; they’re reliable and they don’t let their egos get in the way of sharing their gifts.”
Danielle teaches at Yoga NRG in Moffat Beach, Queensland. Head to www.yogaenergy.com.au
Robyn Metcalfe, 62, Middle Park, Melbourne
After spending years as a cancer nurse, Robyn’s yoga practice has led her to teaching yoga to women who’ve had breast cancer.
“I started going to yoga classes in the year 2002. We had a blended family so there were four children living at home and I was working full time. The first classes I went to were in a park near the beach. I liked the fitness aspect of yoga and I always left the classes feeling relaxed and energised. I loved it.
“I am a registered nurse and worked in the cancer field. I was looking for some study that would allow me to keep working into the years ahead. I had been pondering this for a few years and one day during a yoga class in the park, I decided I would look into taking a yoga teaching course.
“I did my advanced diploma of yoga teaching in Melbourne at the Centre for Adult Education, the course is offered part-time over two years and comprises 1200 hours of course work. It’s now called the Academy of Yoga Learning.
“I had wondered if I would feel out of place because of my age but in fact I didn’t at all. There were a couple of other women around my age and everyone in the course was very accepting of everyone so age wasn’t a barrier at all.
From cancer nurse to yoga instructor, Robyn proves that it's never too late to get into it!
“I decided to start teaching towards the end of my course as I thought it would only get harder the longer I left it. For my first class, I was very nervous which I found strange as I was comfortable with public speaking about different cancers and prevention. The class went very well though; I taught a small group of yogis that had been practising for many years and were used to teachers coming and going over time. I ended teaching there for two years and only stopped because we moved to a different area.
“For me, yoga always makes me feel better. Whether I am teaching or doing my practice or in a class, I continue because of the benefits the practice gives to people, the difference in their day-to-day lives in terms of stress. Also being able to observe changes in people’s bodies, posture and wellbeing over a term.
“As a nurse, I am lucky to have a background in different diseases and chronic conditions. I guess this is shaping my practice. I started out doing general classes and corporate classes once or twice a week because I was still working. Now I teach yoga to women who have had breast cancer and the different treatments this involves, as well as to a class of women over 50 (with some of them in their 70s), and a general class of mixed ages. I am also about to start classes at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre.
“I guess it will keep evolving and changing, I hope to continue teaching for many years. In part I became a teacher to encourage older people to keep moving and practise yoga so I guess I am heading this way.
“I’m not sure why anyone would think they would be too old to teach yoga. If people are keen to learn and are already practising yoga, it is a fantastic course to undertake. It is very rewarding and as a teacher, you get immediate feedback from students and also give people a wonderful practice to take with them into their lives.”
Robyn is a member of Yoga Australia. Check out www.yogaaustralia.org.au.
Gitam Garden, 70, Gurringbar, Byron Bay
After retiring from a career in law at age 60, Gitam, now 70, found herself with a new career in yoga and wellness.
“I was age 63 when I took my first yoga teacher training course. I’d officially retired three years earlier from my job as a conveyancer in a small legal practice. It had been extremely stressful. Back then a weekly yoga class had been the highlight of my working week.
“Not long after retiring though, I fell into an administrative position with the Byron Yoga Centre. My boss there, John Ogilvie, taught yoga each Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 8am. I would attend the class and then go into the next room to work. It was dealing with all the telephone and email enquiries about the teacher training course that led me to actually doing the training after a year of being in the job.
“I did an intensive Level 1 training at Byron Yoga Centre, in a class of 15 women. It was hard work and long hours, but having experienced John's teaching three times a week for a year or so, I realised I had absorbed a lot of the learning already in his classes.
“The other trainees were all at least 30 years younger than me. The age difference wasn't a problem, but I sometimes envied the flexibility of those younger bodies!
At age 63, Gitam took herself from the high-pressure law office to the relaxing yoga classroom
“During the training we began to teach a portion of a class to the public and for a while after the training I would share a class with another recent graduate, under supervision by the trainers. Then one of the regular teachers at Byron Yoga's studio went on maternity leave and John assigned me to teach her class. I was terrified, I felt incompetent and shaky. After the class I discovered that the students had thought I had sounded confident and experienced! What a surprise. A year later, at age 64, I did the Level 2 training.
“In the beginning, I felt that my classes were a bit stuck in 'textbook' mode, but gradually over the years my practice and teaching methods have matured. As soon as I step on the teaching mat I connect to some deep place within myself and I believe that connection is transmitted to my students. I love the moment after the final Om, when the students open their eyes and look so peaceful, I'm so grateful for the teaching.
During the same period that I did my training, I also started a cafe at Byron Yoga Centre to feed both the trainees and the teachers. This resulted in the publication of our cookbook Gitam’s Garden.
“Lately I have been more involved in the yoga retreats we hold at Byron Yoga Retreat Centre and have begun to talk to participants about Ayurveda, and to give a healthy cooking talk/demonstration, as well as teaching yoga classes.
“There is definitely a place in the yoga world for older teachers. No matter how well you are taught when young, there's nothing like personal experience of the effects of ageing to help you understand what your students are going through.
“I teach classes in my local community, where most of my students are in their 50s and 60s, doing yoga for the first time ever, or after many years. It’s amazing how well the body responds to the attention given to it in a yoga practice.
“To older people considering a teacher training course, I say, ‘It’s never too late to re-invent yourself!’ We all have so much life experience to draw on and the practice of yoga draws you in to yourself.”
Gitam works at Byron Yoga Centre. Go to www.byronyoga.com
Do you love doing yoga? Let us know about your experiences in the comments section below.