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I.C.Y.M.I. Teaching yoga at 82: Adding life to the years

A teacher as well as a lifelong student, 82-year-old Galbraith promotes internal and external well-being with her yoga classes.

Yoga is known for its capacity to embrace any body size or shape. For students of Sylvia Galbraith, yoga instructor at the Central Lions Recreation Centre in central Edmonton, that’s just a normal part of the hour-and-a-half sessions.

“There’s always something for everybody: We talk about how we can adapt and modify movements to fit our situation," said Galbraith.

At 82, Galbraith proves that being 50 or 60 years-plus is not a barrier to working on balance, flexibility and core strength. Of the ten or so in her gentle yoga class, and around 16 in regular sessions, she is the oldest.

“I demonstrate what they can do on their beds, for instance. I encourage them to think outside the box, and it carries over to daily activities,” she said, adding that for those with knee pain or hip replacement, a practical alternative to getting off the floor can mean scooting across your bottom, or rolling over to push yourself up.

 “And when driving, you need to do shoulder checks and have good peripheral vision. You can learn to do things differently with yoga as you age,” she said, pointing to Edmonton's icy winters as an indication for balance work, and range of neck motion.

One younger woman in Galbraith's class couldn’t move anything except her eyes, so she offered eye exercises. "You could just see the smile on her face," she recalled. 

Practicing yoga on and off for 30 years, Galbraith first checked into a yoga class being taught at St. Peter’s Anglican Church by pioneering Edmonton yoga instructor, Friedel Khattab.

“I was surprised. I saw Friedel was in her fifties, and I thought, well, I could do that if she can at her age.”

Today, Galbraith’s students learn to be aware of their body and breathing, often from a chair.

Susan McDonald, 72, is enroled in the gentle class. She has arthritis and has sustained two whiplashes.

“I had been to see the doctor, wanting to lose weight, and she told me, what about going to the Lions centre? asked McDonald.  Now eight years in, she says the class is definitely a positive in her life, not only for the physical relief but her instructor’s personable approach, too.

“Sylvia is so good about how she handles the people in the group, pushing only as far as you can go, accommodating and adapting to whatever we need.”

“Some of us go for a coffee afterward; it's important to have a feeling of belonging. If I miss a yoga class, somebody always notices, and asks.”

Leslie Ring, now in her late 70s, has always been active as a gymnastics teacher and runner, so keeping fit and staying socially connected is important to her. Galbraith’s accommodating ethic fits the bill.

“Besides having a terrific sympathy for all the different abilities in her class, we laugh a lot. She has an engaging teaching style,” said Ring, who attends Galbraith’s regular class. “Yoga works on our balance, our flexibility, and our core strength, but it’s also a socialization."

Other benefits are internal, such as mental well-being and stress relief, which Galbraith cultivates. And while she's taught at the centre on and off for 20 years, Galbraith says she herself is often a student.

“For the Sun Salutation I’ll use a chair. I have limitations in my wrists, so one lady who is younger than me and fit; I’ll ask her to show an exercise. We’re very comfortable in this class, there’s lots of exchange of information.”

Galbraith's classes are up and running this fall. The Lions Rec Centre also has Iyengar yoga for beginner and intermediate students. See the program guide at