At 82, This Edmonton Yoga Teacher isn’t Ready to Fold up Her Mat

Seniors Helping Seniors® 26 Jun 2023

Sylvia Galbraith confidently guiding her students through a yoga pose at the Central Lions Recreation Centre in north Edmonton on May 29, 2023. (Reham Al Azem – image credit)

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“Sylvia Galbraith stretches into a lunge, hands flat on the chair in front of her, confidently guiding her yoga students through a sun salutation.

Following their teacher’s instructions, Galbraith’s students copy the traditional sequence she is modelling. As they move, they work to control their breathing and maintain their balance.

Galbraith has been teaching at the Central Lions Recreation Centre in north Edmonton for over 20 years. Now 82, it’s important to her to continue inspiring her students to stay healthy and flexible. She takes joy in her teaching and hopes it’s infectious.

“I think when they see a person of my age, and my shape, they figure, well, they can do it too,” Galbraith said.

A typical Monday for Galbraith finds her at the seniors’ centre with a room of about 10 students. She strikes various yoga poses, often using a chair to demonstrate them.

“I have wrist issues, I’m not able to put a lot of pressure on my wrist,” she said, adding that her balance is also not what it used to be.

The chair and other props are just another way Galbraith accommodates the exercises for her students. Many of her students come to her yoga classes with a variety of issues, including arthritis, back issues and artificial hips, she said.

“I had a lady come in probably 10 years ago. Her helper would move her arms,” she said. “The one thing that she could do herself was eye exercises.

“You could see how happy she was that there was something she could do by herself.”

Following their teacher’s instructions, Sylvia Galbraith’s students copy her pose at a yoga class at the Central Lions Recreation Centre in north Edmonton. (Reham Al Azem)

Pat Brandon has been coming to Galbraith’s classes for nearly 10 years.

“She’s a fantastic teacher and we all kind of know each other,” Brandon said.

“We joke around a little bit … and I never go away wishing I hadn’t come. I am always so glad I’ve been here.”

She said she feels her body get more limber during the 90-minute sessions with Galbraith.

“Like even today,” Brandon said. “The first bend to the floor, I couldn’t touch my toes. By the third one, I’m touching my toes. By the fourth one, I’m touching my knuckles.”

Another student, Deborah Watson, says the breathing is great for her lungs and the stretching helps overcome stiffness.

“Yoga is life-changing,” she said. “I love it, I’ll do it until I can no longer do it.”

Hooked in her 30s

Galbraith first got interested in yoga when she was in her 30s.

“I was just amazed when I went to my first class,” she said. “It would have been 1973. I went to Saint Peter’s Anglican Church and there was this lady, Friedel Khattab.

“Just seeing her, in her 50s, doing a forward bend and looking behind herself. And I thought, ‘Gee, if she can do that, I can,” Galbraith said.

Khattab, who died in 2015 at the age of 91, was one of the first to popularize yoga in Edmonton, and one of the founders of the Alberta Yoga Association.

In her own teaching, Galbraith emphasizes mindfulness and the importance of listening to one’s own capabilities. Some students need a chair or another piece of equipment to help them do the movements. Galbraith understands and encourages them.

“I’m not an athletic person and I’m sharing some of my yoga practice with people and I see that benefit and it’s just a wonderful thing to see and they keep coming back,” she said.

“So I must be doing something right.”

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