Aging and yoga should go hand in hand. Yoga can help seniors, older adults, and those of us recovering from injury or with limited mobility regain a sense of balance, strength, stability and flexibility.
Balance, strength, stability and flexibility are key in preventing falls, injuries and illness. Let’s discuss some best yoga asana practices for aging, as well as some societal myths that can prevent us from making good decisions for ourselves.
Reminder: Yoga Is Inherently Non-Competitive
Pain and injuries are likely to happen when we are feeling competitive and thinking that our pose isn’t good enough. We want to look a certain way in the pose, maybe like the teacher or a younger student in the class. One of the great myths in yoga that ends up hurting people both physically and mentally is the idea that going deeper or doing a more “advanced” posture is ideal. And, it gets constantly perpetuated in the yoga culture. Yoga teachers and the larger yoga community talk in terms of more “advanced” poses. With a name like “advanced” no wonder our ego kicks in! Who doesn’t want to be “advanced”? This myth pushes us to go beyond what our safe range of movement naturally is, so we can get to what we are told is the next level. However, the level we are practicing at right now is where we are supposed to be in this moment – this is important for everyone to remember, and the wisdom that comes with aging should hopefully make it easier.
Think about how different places in your body feel when you do yoga asana. If you want you could even do a few poses now to remind yourself how they feel. Do you ever let yourself go into intense discomfort a.k.a pain? It could be in a place that is especially tight or where you have an existing injury. Don’t get mad at yourself if you do! You have been programmed that way!
Aging comes from the body. Maturing comes from the spirit. – Richard LeiderTweet
Important Concepts for Aging into Your Yoga Asana Practice
Use Props: Even if you have never used props like chairs, blocks, straps and bolsters, try them out. See if they help you feel safer, more stable and happier in the postures. Sometimes our out-of-date sense of self (the ego) can get in the way of us adding extra support, so try to witness your mind if you are having judgments or emotions about using props that are stopping you from utilizing the tools at hand.
Try chair yoga!
Warm Up: Start with gentle range of motion exercises for your joints before moving into more complicated postures. This helps lubricate the joints, which can get stiffer and drier as we are aging, especially if you have any arthritis. If you have an area with pain or stiffness pay extra attention to warming that area up before asking it to do stronger work.
Move Dynamically: Instead of diving into a long, static hold of a pose, ease in and out of it a few times with slow, dynamic movement linked to the length of your breaths. When you do hold the pose you will have a better sense of where you can place your body for a more sustainable practice.
Slow Down: Just like how the rest of life slows down as you are aging, your yoga practice needs to slow down, too. This can help prevent injuries and be more gentle on the body. Give yourself ample time to get on and off the ground.
Practice Balancing: Incorporate more balancing postures into your routine. Balancing poses should be a huge part of any program for aging gracefully, since balance tends to decline.
Strength Train: Since muscle loss and bone loss are natural parts of aging, building physical strength is vital. Focus on yoga postures, like standing poses and poses with weight bearing in the upper body, to build muscle.
Reminder: Yoga is About the Journey, Not the Destination
With all the flashy images of yogis in headstands and pretzel-like contortions, it can be easy to forget that yoga isn’t about what we look like. It is about how we feel. To honor ourselves as we are aging, some key yogic concepts need to be cultivated with greater intention.
Spiritual contentment, at any age, is often found in people who possess equanimity – mental or emotional stability or composure, especially under tension or strain. It is a practice of integrating and accepting whatever life brings you even if it is challenging. Developing the emotional intelligence to be able to honor and include all of our emotions, not just happiness, is a movement towards equanimity.