Yoga for Seniors

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If you’re over 50 and considering adding a new fitness regimen, yoga may be the answer. I know what you’re thinking. What, yoga? Me? At MY age? Impossible! On some days, I can
barely bend over and tie my shoes, and when I do, getting back up is half the battle!

There’s some good news here. Yoga is a discipline that’s adaptable to different populations with diverse physical abilities and needs. You don’t have to twist yourself into a pretzel to do yoga. Even if you’re a bit older and less flexible, yoga is something from which you can definitely benefit.

If you’re older and new to this discipline, or if you have been away from the practice for a while, you may be somewhat out of touch with your body and energy level. As such, finding the perfect yoga class can be a challenge. To begin, take stock of your body at home. Circle your ankles and stretch the joints of your feet. Next, move up to your knees with gentle squatting and then move up from there. Make a mental note of where you feel stiff and stuck as opposed to relaxed and open. This should give you a better idea of what classes to consider when adding yoga into your health and wellness routine.

Before you get started however, please inquire of your doctor. More than likely, she will agree to this form of exercise, as yoga can improve sleep habits, allow more flexibility and increase energy. It can also decrease chronic pain and offer more movement. However, your doctor may not be familiar with the types of yoga available and which one is for you. Consider your health diagnosis and work from there. If you have issues with your back, knees, hips or low bone density, opt for a slower-paced class with an experienced teacher who can provide many options. Start slowly and keep it gentle. If you push yourself too hard at the beginning, you may end up so sore that you will never return to the class. Consistency is key in the practice of yoga.

While practicing yoga at home is fine, especially for the privacy it affords, be sure to incorporate in-person classes. Books and videos can only help you so far. What those sources lack is the feedback you need in terms of what poses are good for your body. In a live class, the teacher can observe for unhealthy knee placement, for example, or might notice if you are holding your breath in a pose. Yoga requires intentional breathing practices.

If you have friends who do yoga, ask them where they take classes. While some classes might refer to themselves as “senior yoga” or “yoga for those over 50,” others might not be as obvious, instead referring to the classes as “gentle yoga” or “yoga basics.”

Before each class, don’t forget the importance of warming up, which is crucial for the older body. As many older folks know, those stiffer joints take a bit of time to loosen up! Further, if regular physical exercise has not been a part of your life for quite some time, you may want to consider beginning with a chair yoga class.

To gain the full benefits from yoga, find a class that focuses on movement, breathwork and meditation. The meditation and breathing aspects are an integral part of the practice of yoga. Whether we realize it or not, many of us have developed the habit of taking shorter, tighter breaths. Yoga reminds us to breathe low and slow. The meditation element helps to improve mental acuity, memory, focus and can even help with pain management. Yoga is also the perfect exercise for seniors who desire increased muscle tone, balance and strength and improved mood. Through the breathing exercises, yoga can increase your overall lung capacity. You may even notice your posture is improved and you sleep like a baby. And if stress is a key player in your life, yoga can help minimize that. Just remember that these benefits will not show up overnight. As with anything, it takes time to appreciate and realize all the amazing things yoga will add to your life.
In addition to the physical health benefits of yoga, attending a class on a regular basis allows you to establish a sense of community and friendships with teachers and students alike. It is well known that such social connections are vital to maintaining positive health and well-being in one’s later years.

More than anything, find a yoga class that truly speaks to you. When you find something that suits you, you are more likely to continue the practice and therefore continually reap the healthy benefits that come with the regular practice of yoga. ■

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