Since many people first encounter yoga at health clubs, many of us associate it solely with fitness and exercise. However, yoga has long been known in India as a healing practice which benefits people of all ages.
Older adults in particular can utilize gentle yoga to counteract many of physical, mental and emotional symptoms associated with aging.
Whether you are just barely hitting the AARP definition of senior citizen or approaching your centenary, you can enhance your well-being on several levels through a regular practice of yoga. Yoga offers myriad health benefits.
All of these, however, derive from the two key ways in which yoga can transform your life:
In the past several decades, as more and more people exercise using machines, there has been a trend toward associating exercise time with mentally “spacing out.” If you glance around a health club during its peak hours when most of the treadmills and stair climbing machines are full, you will notice people watching television, using their smart phones and reading while they move their bodies mechanically.
Moving your body in this way may burn calories, but it also creates an unhealthy disconnection between the body and the mind.
Yoga emphasizes an entirely different philosophy of movement. The word “yoga” actually means yoking together or union. Yoga students focus intently with their minds on moving their bodies in specific ways.
By weaving the body and mind together, yoga offers mental as well as physical exercise. Many yoga students report feeling more alert through yoga practice.
This benefit is not confined to those over 60: many elementary and high schools now offer yoga because they find it helps students achieve better grades because of enhanced powers of concentration.
Connecting the body and mind back together has other benefits as well. By repairing the schism between the two, we can eliminate the restlessness which causes insomnia. Once the body and mind are unified, we find that we relax more easily. Improved relaxation means easier sleep at night.
It also can result in an improved ability to cope with challenging emotions. Many people report that regular practice of yoga helps them regulate mental and emotional health challenges including anxiety and depression.
Good posture is about more than just looking good. Standing and sitting correctly enhance our ability to breathe, and therefore to regulate our mental energy and our moods. Good posture also encourages both strength and limberness in the muscles. Yet most of us consistently slouch when we cannot stand.
If we cannot find something to lean against, we often in effect slouch our muscles against our bones rather than holding ourselves upright through energy and strength. Try this test on yourself before reading the next paragraph of this article: stand upright for five minutes.
Did you lock one or both knees while standing? Did you tilt one hip outward and lean on that side of your body? Did you attempt to stand tall by lifting your shoulders toward your ears?
These are all common postural errors that most of us, even athletes, commonly fall into. Even those who learn through military service to stand “at attention” tend to achieve an upright position by straining the body in a way which constricts breathing and creates tension in the muscles.
One yoga teacher we know who previously served in the military explained to his class the difference between the basic yoga standing position, tadasana (mountain pose) and the military attention pose. He pointed out that the order to come to military attention is often shortened to sound like “tension” which is what that standing position tends to encourage.
Yoga is one of the few disciplines which teaches and encourages good posture. This has a ripple effect of enhancing wellness in many areas.
We tend to feel more relaxed if the way we hold our bodies permits us to access the full scope of our lungs for inhalation and exhalation. Our leg muscles do not become tight once we learn to use our muscles rather than locked knees to support an upright stance.
People who complain of chronic neck and shoulder pain are often surprised to learn they create this discomfort through poor postural habits.
Learning to stand in tadasana can eliminate chronic muscle pain. Whereas poor posture puts stress on our bones and joints, good posture actually enhances bone health.
Join the discussion! Have you ever tried yoga? What was your experience and what where the benefits that it brought to your life? Please add your thoughts in the comments section below and remember to check out our gentle yoga video series that we filmed for you in beautiful Bali.
Tags Yoga for Seniors