Age Well With Yoga

If there’s one simple definition that summarizes the benefits of yoga, it’s in the saying that “what doesn’t bend, breaks.” Sooner or later, most of us face bodies that creak and eek as we get up from the chair—or try to get back into it. Bone loss, years of wear and tear and injuries make even the healthiest of us at risk for suffering the not-so-graceful pains of aging. And while there’s no magic pill that will keep us from the perils of growing old, there are some simple practices we can include in our lives to help us age well. Like yoga.
The practice of yoga is thousands of years old. Beginning in India, it was a regimen designed by ascetics and monks to help them in their spiritual pursuits. In order to sit for long periods of time in the deepest of meditations, the body must be strong and flexible, thus a rigorous series of exercises came to be a key component for those on the spiritual path. Known as “yoga” which literally means “to yoke” (as in the connection of mind, body and spirit), the sequences and postures strengthen, tone and bring other more personal/spiritual elements to the practitioner. But yoga is not defined by any religious definitions and anyone can practice it regardless of their faith.

Am I Too Old for Yoga?

Yoga at any age is a healthy choice for your body, mind and spirit. Though an older body or an injured one may not be able to get into every posture right away—have no doubt about the ability of the human body to respond to the gentle gestures you’re giving it. Like a plant in a crowded pot—once you put it into a bigger container with fresh dirt, it will root further and grow taller. Yoga is much like that new pot for your body, regardless of your age. It may take a while, but once you get in there, you’ll start rooting deeper and growing taller both literally and figuratively.

Yoga for Stamina

Regardless of your age, weight, flexibility or strength, finding a yoga class that is at your level of ability will allow you to reap the benefits.
Because yoga exercises tend to work the entire body, you’ll notice an overall strength rather than just isolated muscle growth. It’s a more organic exercise than anything a machine can offer. While classes, styles and teachers all differ, you can always find yourself working up to your edge in most any posture—of which there are hundreds. While it may seem as if holding your arms out to your sides while bending a knee in “warrior” pose is not that challenging, it does provide you an opportunity to go deeper into the posture (can your knee bend deeper? Can you lengthen out of the spine taller?) and ultimately strengthening more.
Many yoga classes will include a “flow” type series, a sequence of postures linked together and often repeated several times, like a sun salutation which includes standing, forward bending, plank, and push up positions. These flows build strength and flexibility, but also concentration and focus—a helpful benefit to the aging mind. Moving through a sequence—similar to dancing—is an opportunity to express yourself within the posture, to make it more than just an “exercise” but also a spiritual release of sorts, if you find yourself so inclined, that is.

Yoga for Flexibility

Yoga works by helping the body lengthen and strengthen. When combined, these equal flexibility. While in your first class the idea of touching your toes may seem impossible, over time you’ll notice them increasingly closer to your fingers. Flexibility though is not just an impressive physical parlor trick—it has legitimate benefits, especially to the aging body. Flexibility means strong muscles and ligaments, which can support bones in a fall or accident, decreasing the risk of fracture.
And think of the benefits too of a flexible mind. Remember—the practice of yoga came about to help deepen spiritual pursuits. As we age, our minds can become even more rigid than our bodies. Yoga can lighten our perspective and help us be more flexible in our judgments of others and ourselves, making our golden years far more pleasant.

Breath

Yoga is at its core—aerobic. From beginners classes to the most advanced, the most common direction to students is “breathe.” By focusing on the breath in tough or challenging postures, the student increases their oxygen flow to vital organs, bones, muscles and stress receptor in the brain. In other words, it delivers nutrients and calming effects while supplying your body with an energizing necessity in order to keep your body strong and flexible.
As you’ve likely figured out by now, breathing is automatic.