Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Age Well with Yoga

In virtually every article which discusses reducing stress, recovering from a serious illness, increasing your flexibility or improving your overall health, yoga is mentioned.  Approximately 36 million Americans practice yoga and more than one-third of them are over the age of 50.  However, many more senior citizens are intimidated or uncomfortable with the idea of yoga.  Since virtually everyone would benefit from this relaxing form of exercise, it is important to understand it better.

Benefits of Yoga

There are a number of benefits of yoga, even for those who will never be able to get into the lotus position or gracefully flow into any of the better known positions.  Simply doing your best and carefully stretching as much as you can has tremendous benefits for nearly everyone.  Below are some of the positive benefits to your body if you practice yoga regularly:

* Increased flexibility
* Better balance
* Less Stress
* Fewer symptoms of depression
* Lower blood pressure and LDL cholesterol
* Better sleep, especially when yoga is done before bed
* Less back and neck pain
* Fewer headaches
* Reduced inflammation
* Better breathing
* Clearer thinking and focus
* Less weight gain as you age
* Greater aerobic capacity
* Easier cancer recovery
* Less urine leakage for women
* Better blood glucose levels

Personally, I began taking yoga 31 years ago with a friend who was being treated for breast cancer.  Her doctor had recommended it as a gentle way to for her to regain some of her strength after her surgery and other treatments.  She recovered and is alive today.  Although I started out merely to lend support to a friend, I have continued to faithfully take yoga classes over the years and it has helped me with many of the items on the list above, including greater flexibility and reduced stress and back pain.

You are Never Too Old to Start Yoga 

My current yoga instructor is 84 years old and many of the students in my class are in their 70s, 80s and 90s.  Many of them are unable to get into all the positions, especially if they have had surgery, a hip replacement, knee replacement or other medical concern.  Some of them have been told by their doctors not to do a position in which their head is below their heart.  All of this is perfectly okay.  Most yoga instructors are accustomed to making modifications to the positions so their students can stretch safely.

How to Get Started with Yoga

The best way to get started with yoga is to take a class.  Try a variety of classes until you find one which feels comfortable.  If you have trouble getting up and down from the floor, look for a chair yoga class or ask the instructor of a beginner yoga class if you can start out by sitting in a chair and doing as many stretches as possible while seated or standing.

While checking out the classes, observe whether or not the instructor is calm and relaxed, because this will help you relax, as well.  In addition, you want to make sure the instructor pays personal attention to the students and modifies the positions to meet their specific needs.  Pay attention to the atmosphere of the class, noticing things such as the music and temperature, and decide whether you think you would enjoy the class.  Keep looking until you find one which feels right to you.

You can find yoga classes at senior centers, YMCAs, and the recreation department of many cities.  Frequently they offer special classes for senior citizens or people with limited mobility.  In some communities, you may be able to find free or very low-cost classes.  There are also private studios, although their classes may be more expensive than ones from the facilities mentioned above.  However, once you are on Medicare, many Medicare policies have a Silver Sneakers benefit, which means they cover most or all of the cost of a gym membership in your area, and many gyms offer yoga classes.

Equipment costs are minimal, although you may want to buy a mat, a yoga strap and a couple of blocks.  The strap and blocks will make it possible for you to modify the positions so they are easier. You can find whatever you need in stores such as Target and WalMart. You may also want to take a towel or small blanket to class to make it easier to sit comfortably in certain positions.  You can choose to wear yoga pants or any loose fitting, comfortable clothing.

Finally, do not get discouraged if other students seem to be more flexible and capable of maintaining the positions than you.  They may have been practicing yoga for years.  In addition, you are not competing with them.  You are only trying to improve your own skills ... something which is sure to happen if you are consistent in your practice.  Yoga is truly an activity where you can be non-judgemental and proceed at your own speed.  If you have an injury, don't push through it.  Avoid any moves which could worsen your injury until a doctor tells you it is OK to put pressure on that part of your body.

Once you have learned the basic yoga moves, practice a stretch or two whenever you get a chance .... before you go to sleep at night, when you wake up in the morning, and even while you watch TV.  You may even want to enhance your home yoga practice by purchasing a Himalayan salt lamp or a healthy fresh sugar scented candle.  These types of mood enhancing items can help you create the perfect yoga atmosphere in your home. You'll love the way your body feels when it is flexible and moving smoothly! 

If you are interested in more information about common medical issues as you age, where to retire, financial planning, Social Security, Medicare, travel and more, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional articles.

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  1. Terrific incentive and benefits here for anyone thinking of giving yoga a try!

  2. I took some yoga classes when I was much younger and I enjoyed it. I need to try it again because the older I get; the more stiff and inflexible I get. I think I'll start with a parks & rec class.


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