At what age do we become afraid of the floor, believing if we get down, we might never get up?
Many senior citizens, at age 65 and older, have reached that point. They think that yoga—with all its crazy inversions, intimidating balancing poses and tough-looking twists—is unattainable. The fear of falling often outweighs their interest in trying yoga.
But once past the intimidation factor often created by what is seen in media and in their young, fit grandchildren showing off their headstands, older folks will see the myriad of benefits that come with practicing yoga at any age, albeit with a few modifications.
If you’re a senior interested in yoga, try a personalized, one-on-one yoga class with an experienced instructor, a gentle yoga class or a chair yoga class. That will eliminate the intimidation of walking into a full class with all levels of practitioners, and it’ll make yoga seem a lot more doable.
Chair yoga allows people to move into poses they otherwise wouldn’t be able to do with the help of, well, a chair. Whether you’re using the chair to help with balance during tree pose, or you’re moving your arms during sun salutations, you’ll still feel the benefits even if you don’t look like the yogis on the pages of Yoga Journal.
Flexibility is something that should be worked on over time, and at any age. If you’re not working on your flexibility, you’re not going to achieve the results you want, whether that’s being able to tie your shoes or lift your arms over your head during a foreword fold. We increase our flexibility through stretching, which is a huge part of any yoga asana. When stretching, listen to your body. Know the difference between discomfort and pain. Find the modifications that work for you. Know that it could take weeks or months to touch your toes, and that the key to stretching is patience and perseverance.
Strengthens muscles you haven’t used in a while
Despite what many people think, you don’t have to hit the weight room in order to strengthen muscles. A yoga practice is full of exercises that help you build muscle, thereby making daily activities easier. During practice, you’re strengthening your core muscles—your legs, hips, abdominals, pectorals, shoulders, spine and neck—which help keep you active, longer.
Cindy Crace, a certified yoga instructor and yoga therapist, says balance is one of the first things older adults lose. That’s why certain yoga poses, such as tree pose and standing pulling bow, are beneficial and can improve balance, which leads to less falls, an increased focus and better stability.
Meditation and yoga go hand in hand, and when we pause (at any age) and reflect on our practice, our day, the present moment, we become more mindful and are able to take in more. With seniors, it can create a sense of connectedness, a feeling of empowerment; it can improve sleep, reduce signs of depression, improve the way we breathe and many more benefits.
For 65-year-old Kathie Seitz, she noticed improvements in
her mind, body and spirit after finding yoga through her daughter. She said she’s noticed a difference in her flexibility and strength, her patience, focus and her self-esteem, and even her bone density.
“It just feels good, ” she says. “There’s been a lot of positive feedback.”
Her advice to other seniors curious about yoga: “Go for it. Don’t be discouraged. Everybody has to start at the beginning.”
Like Seitz, 76-year-old Alice Callahan was introduced to yoga through her daughter.
“I practice because that mind body spirit connection is good for me, ” Callahan says. “It keeps me centered and focused, and I can tell I become much more peaceful and relaxed and let go of those things that are bothering me.”
Callahan stressed the importance of new students letting go of expectations as they explore yoga. “I think a lot of people see yoga and think you go in and you’re going to turn yourself into a pretzel. But it’s not about that, it’s about doing what you can do. It’s not about how perfectly you do the poses, it’s about how you’re feeling and what you’re getting from it.”
So find a teacher, a class, a workshop for your level, and start reaping the benefits of yoga today.
Some resources for seniors looking to try yoga:
- The Laughing Buddha (Williamsburg)
- Body Balance by Phisioflow (Williamsburg)
- APM Spine & Sports Physicians (Virginia Beach)
- Hot or Not Yoga and Massage (Newport News)
- James City County Recreation Center (Williamsburg)
- Williamsburg Landing ( Williamsburg)
- Yoga Nook (Chesapeake)
- Hampton Yoga (Hampton)