To Teach or Not To Teach Yoga at a Nursing Home

I quickly realized that in order to survive, let alone be successful, as a yoga teacher, I needed to expand my horizons. This meant that only teaching at a studio was not going to cut it. So, I got creative.

I looked into what it would be like to teach Chair Yoga at a Nursing Home. After calling and emailing a number of different places in my local area and offering some free demos, I landed a few gigs.

I had never taught Chair Yoga before. So, I looked up Youtube videos and read articles about what to do. I discovered that it would be easy enough.

Here are 5 things that I noticed about what makes teaching yoga at a nursing home different than any other setting and what I learned:

Not everyone will participate.

Most of the time, I felt like I was an entertainer instead of a yoga teacher because no one really participated. I had one or two people out of twenty who would try and follow along with me, but most of the people in the room were sleeping, telling me to stop, trying to leave the room, or too confused and/or sedated to do anything.

I also volunteer at a non-profit Adult Day Care facility as well and it is a small group of participants (about 8 people) and they all participate. This facility is much more organized and chooses to bring people in the room who actually want to do yoga. Sometimes, it depends where you are teaching at.

Find ways to get them engaged.

Since I was having difficulty getting everyone to participate, I tried adding in fun little extras to get them engaged. I started bringing in my speakers to play music. I tried so many types of music, from relaxing to rock music, and found that if the music was calming yet upbeat, it created a nice energy in the room.

I also utilized my essential oils. This worked the best! I would put a drop of oil in my palms and go to each person and have them take a breath. One time at the beginning and another at the end. They all really seemed to enjoy this.

I also experimented with the lights and closing the door to the rec room, so that it felt more like an experience. Nevertheless, people were always in and out whether it was nurses or visiting family members, it was difficult to avoid a disruption.

You will be disrupted a lot.

Through my experience, I was able to practice my composure and keep the class going when there was a disruption.

I am not going to lie, I was heckled a lot by the nursing home residents. It was a memory care facility, so a lot of them would be confused as to what I was doing, who I was, and why I was sitting with my eyes closed (trying to practice meditation with them). “What is she even doing up there?!” I found it to be comical and did not take offense to it.

There were constantly people coming in and out. There were interruptions from the loud speaker. Nurses giving medication. Family members trying to visit with their loved one. Many of the residents would scream out, talk with one another, ask for something, or loudly use their cellphone.

Expect to see, hear, and smell some unsettling things.

I think all nursing homes are different in their level of attention and care to their residents, but the one that I worked at always smelled like a heavy mixture of urine, feces, and bleach. So much so that I actually had trouble taking deep breaths.

One day, the sink in the rec room I was teaching in exploded and all the gunk that had been trapped in the pipes went everywhere. It smelled like a mixture of blood and rotten road kill. I tried to open the windows to let the smell out, but it was winter and I didn’t want the residents to feel cold.

Since I worked in a memory care facility, a number of the residents would have rapid mood swings, personality changes, and ask the same question over and over again. I have heard screams down the hallway and have seen the more disabled patients uncontrollably twitch and make loud noises.

It can be unsettling if you are not prepared for that. Everyone seems kind of crazy, but I treated them with love and patience like everything was normal.

Do not work without a contract!

Unfortunately, I made a big mistake and worked for a nursing home without a contract. They had me fill out a document for tax purposes and told me to bring in my invoices and I would get paid. After a few weeks had gone by without any payment, they told me I would receive my first check after 90 days.

The head of recreation, who initially hired me, ended up quitting. I continued to work until, eventually, I was worried that I actually wasn’t going to get paid at all.

Eventually, all my calls and emails went unanswered, regardless of my threats, and I was not paid a dime.

In Conclusion . . .

From these experiences, I learned a lot. I became a better yoga teacher and was able to connect with a group of people who, clearly, were not receiving the attention that they deserved. Yes, I got tricked into offering my services for free by one company, but there are other positive experiences to be had with legitimate nursing homes that provide proper care.

Observe the setting that you are in, the people who work there, how organized they are, and how you feel being there. Protect yourself first and get everything in writing! Be patient and bring your beautiful energy to the residents!

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