40 & Up Yoga Different Folks, Different Strokes
by David Omkar Webster, Better Living Yoga
We are all getting older. Although we all age differently, there are some basic characteristics of aging. The aging body begins to work sub-optimally. We become stiffer less supple. Our muscles tighten from lack of use. Misaligned neuro-muscular patterns, many of which are from old injuries, become increasingly deeper and often times causes pain due to misalignment in the muscular skeletal structure. We become less flexible. The body becomes less juicy. Our bones lose density. The arteries harden, restricting flow. Systems slow down. It takes longer to recover from injuries.
Yoga can help prevent and reverse these effects of aging. Yoga is unique because it combines, or yokes, the mind, body and breath (spirit) into a holistic approach to health. There are evidence-based yoga solutions to help prevent, manage the symptoms, and reverse all of these conditions affecting older Americans. These science-based outcome studies capture the synergistic effects of yoga asana (postures), pranayama (breathing), and dhyana (meditation) for health and wellness.
There are two basic types of yoga students in the 50 & Up age group. There are the active boomers that are physically able to perform advanced postures and sweaty practices and there are the mature seniors that already have debilitating chronic conditions. Although the classes for each group may vary significantly, it is critical to note that how the yoga is taught is as important as what is taught.
Active 40 & Up.
For active boomers, which poses are practiced is less important than the intention of the practice to promote health. Yoga is not a competition. Yoga should be approached as a balanced practice combing strength, grounding and calmness to the mind-body-spirit trinity. It will slow down the aging process, allowing us to learn how to grow older more gracefully. Proper alignment is important to prevent injuries such as fractures in joints and bones as well as reduce further deterioration. Additionally, common issues that affect mature seniors such as hip and knee replacements can be prevented by maintaining proper alignment in postures, stretching strong areas and strengthening weak areas. One key aspect to consider with this active group is that they may already have undedicated silent conditions such as osteoporosis or coronary artery disease (CAD). Coordinating breath with movement, which is critical for mind body awareness, is a key advantage of yoga. It is important to keep the aging joints lubricated and juicy through circular movements and going in and out of poses. Holding poses for a good amount of time builds strength and heat. Focusing on feet, strengthening arches, ankles and knees provides improved balance. The pranayama breathing exercises will increase lung capacity, supporting flow of fresh blood to all the cells in the body helping to optimize organ functions. Long savasana (relaxation pose) at the end of practice allows the mind-body-spirit to integrate and assimilate the benefits of the practice. Feeling better after a yoga practice is absolutely the most important objective.
It is important for this group to listen to their bodies and be conservative in setting limits. It is important to work towards achievable challenges. For some mature seniors all poses should be done seated in a chair or standing with the chair or wall as support. If at all possible getting to the floor for poses should be attempted, even with support from the instructor. This helps reduce the fear of falling and having to get up from the floor on their own. Often simple partner work can provide communal activity often missing in the lives of mature seniors. Simple home assignments, such as practicing tadasana, mountain pose, while brushing teeth or practicing breath-work in the grocery check-out line, helps incorporate yoga into daily life. Varying poses in class keeps the mind sharp and allows seniors to be more comfortable with change. On the other hand, repeating poses helps with memory. Simple, clear alignment instructions provide safety which promotes feelings of security and protection. Using music and free movements is especially soothing for seniors with Dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Although often tired and cranky with fluctuating energy levels, respecting their attitudes provides a supportive environment. An important aspect of yoga is allowing for a state of vulnerability, because it demonstrates strength of will. Having seniors touch their bodies to implement alignment cues let’s them experience their bodies from the outside and inside at the same time. Seniors should always rest when necessary, this allows the body to integrate the effects of the yoga practice. One of the primary principles is teaching mature seniors to help them feel better in their bodies because often times pain has caused them to block their feelings. Inversions, even just elevating the legs is powerful because it allows the heart to rest a bit and the fluids flow out of the feet and legs naturally with gravity. Ultimately there is an increased sense of well being, acceptance and enjoyment in their bodies.
There is no doubt that with practice of yoga there is improvement in overall well-being.