Getting into Yoga

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As we get older it’s important to keep our bodies and minds healthy. Yoga is a great way to exercise and get stronger, and it can be done almost anywhere without the need to invest in expensive, specialized equipment.

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Age is also not a barrier, and yoga can be picked up by almost anyone regardless of age or any condition. “We lose about a half-pound of muscle per year for each year we’re not regularly engaged in resistance training,” says Jessica Matthews, assistant professor of exercise science at Miramar College in San Diego. “Yoga is one way to use the body’s resistance to slow down the loss of muscle and strength. One of the most important things is taking great care to understand what your body needs. If you have arthritis, limited mobility or other health issues,” she says, “there is a modification for almost every yoga pose to accommodate your physical needs.

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Yoga can provide benefits for women in terms for the body, mind and spirit and can offer joy, ease and relaxation. “Yoga can also help women find physical and emotional balance, as well as self-acceptance,” says Colleen Saidman, an international yoga expert and she emphasizes how yoga works every part of the body, offering movement in every direction along with the stimulation of the organs, muscles and bones. “It really offers me solace, a place to go in and just to be,” she says. “And it physically balances the body. It gives you literal balance, but it also brings balance into life and gives you perspective.” Yoga can also provide a strong sense of community, if it’s practiced in an environment where a group of people share the same goals and aspirations. With the stress of daily living, yoga can provide the support of working together to achieve a goal, rather than competing with each other.

SOME OF THE BENEFITS OF YOGA ARE:

1. A healthy lifestyle: Exercise is crucial to healthy aging, but not everyone is ready for high intensity workouts. Yoga is a great low impact exercise option that does not cause undue stress on the body, and offers strength training through the use of the participant’s bodyweight.

2. Increased flexibility: The gentle stretching found in yoga can help to develop better flexibility and increase the range of motion. “Yoga exercises parts of the body that may not be exercised in any other programs,” says Norlyk Smith, Managing Editor at YogaUOnline, a leading resource site for continuing yoga education and research on the health benefits of yoga. “One is spinal flexibility… There’s a yogic saying that ‘the body is as young as the spine is flexible.I think that’s a reflection of the importance of keeping the spine pliable and keeping the circulation up in the spinal chord.”

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3. Relieving menstrual discomfort: Certain postures in yoga can help to regulate hormones as women experience emotional and physical fluctuations of menopause.  The hormonal changes women experience in menopause are the same hormones that affect them during menstruation, which can also cause PMS symptoms.

4. Promotion of good bone health: Yoga can be effective in slowing down the loss of bone density, which happens as we get older. “I know yoga can help because I’ve done the studies,” says Medical Director of Manhattan Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Dr. Loren Fishman, who has done extensive research on yoga and osteoporosis. Referring to a study involving adults with an average age of 68, he said, “We did a bone mineral density (DEXA) scan, then we taught half of them the yoga, waited two years, and did another scan. And not only did these people not lose bone, they gained bone. The ones who didn’t do the yoga lost a little bone, as you would expect.”

5. Keeping the mind sharp: Separating yourself from the stresses of daily life by practicing yoga can be extremely beneficial. When your body performs well, your mind functions better. Doing yoga on a regular basis can keep you centered and energized.

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Starting yoga as an older adult can be a little intimidating, especially if you’re out of shape or have a health condition. Beginning a yoga routine that’s simple to follow and is not too long is the best way to get started. You can either find an individual teacher to work with, or find a studio that offers classes to beginners, or even do it in the comfort of your own home. Whatever way works for you, make a commitment to start and try it for at least a month. It could be the beginning of a new you!