If you can breathe, you can practice yoga. Yoga is not just for the young and bendy. In fact, according to a 2016 study conducted by Yoga in America, 17 percent of current yoga practitioners are in their 50s, and 21 percent are age 60 and older.
Unfortunately, many of the older people practicing yoga are also getting injured. “Participants aged 65 years and older have a greater rate of injury from practicing yoga when compared with other age groups,” states a study published last year in the Orthapaedic Journal of Sports Medicine. Injuries may arise from trying to fit into yoga classes or styles of yoga that do not take into account the possible health challenges that middle aged or older bodies are faced with, such as arthritis, heart conditions, and high or low blood pressure.
At Team Sun Wellness, we teach many beginning adults over the age of fifty, whether on a mat or in a chair. The principles of posture, breath, and balance can be applied to any yoga practice no matter what level of fitness or mobility. In fact, we started out teaching seniors at Ann’s grandmother’s assisted living facility. Ann wanted to bring more activity into Ellie’s life, and so she and Brian started a yoga program there for all the residents, in both assisted living and skilled nursing. Ellie, who passed away a few months shy of her 99th birthday, was an active participant in their yoga classes, truly “started it all.” Even on her deathbed, Ellie was taking “one breath at a time” as we had practiced in our classes.
What are the things to look out for if you’re an older adult either starting or continuing your yoga practice?
1-Listen to your body. You’ll hear this a lot from us, and it’s not always the easiest idea to understand. While we don’t want you to push past any pain, we do want you to challenge yourself and test your limits. By connecting your breath with movement, you’ll start to gain clarity of what your body is asking for, what you really do need in any given moment. Silencing the mind that can compare and judge too harshly is sometimes the hardest part of our yoga practice. Be wherever you are, not where you think you should be!
2-Use props like blocks, straps, and even chairs. Props can help use achieve and deepen poses we could never otherwise perform in their full expressions – aligning the joints and muscles safely to avoid injury. We modify poses and adapt poses and sequences for your particular range of motion. Trying to attain a pose that we are not ready for can cause injury, particularly to areas like the lower back, shoulders, hamstrings, and hips. There’s no reason to be embarrassed by using props in a yoga session!
3-Stop making excuses and focus on the positive. 95% of the effort of your yoga practice is actually just getting to the mat or chair! When you make a consistent effort, you begin to tap into the well of yoga’s benefits, such as increased vitality and better quality of life. Available scientific literature suggests that the regular practice of yoga can improve physical, mental, emotional, social, and vital planes of elderly individuals, offering a better quality of sleep and quality of life.
Aging gracefully: Our health and the rate at which we age entirely depends on our choices. We can actually reverse or slow down the pace at which we age by practicing yoga and meditation! This is not just a self-aggrandizing claim from some yoga teacher, this is from an evidence-based study, the first study to demonstrate improvement in both cardinal and metabotrophic biomarkers of cellular aging and longevity in apparently healthy population after Yoga and Meditation based lifestyle intervention.
- Physical benefits: reduces heart rate, blood pressure, blood glucose, oxidative damage, fatigue, weakness, fear of fall. Improves heart rate variability, baroreflex sensitivity, insulin sensitivity, physical functions, mobility, flexibility, and urinary incontinence.
- Mental benefits: reduces depression, anxiety.
- Emotional benefits: reduces anger, stress, tension and improve self-efficacy
- Social: improves life satisfaction
Are you ready to practice with us? We offer a few different kinds of sessions for older adults.
You’re never too old, it’s never too late, you’re never too inflexible to start a yoga practice! We provide chairs, mats, blocks and straps to help you find the yoga practice that’s right for you – so you can start reaping the benefits of yoga. Avoid injury, manage stress, and get more joy out of life!
About the Instructors: We are Ann and Brian Jeans, certified yoga instructors (RYT 200) who have also trained in mindfulness practice (Penn Medicine). We teach people of all shapes, sizes, ages and ability levels, both in group and private settings. We are familiar with a wide range of the traditional Hatha yoga styles including Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Bikram (Hot Yoga), Iyengar and Restorative.We love helping people of all ages and walks of life take care of themselves through mindful movement and focused breathing. It’s truly a blessing to be able to share the tools we have discovered on our own paths to health and well-being with others. And we have fun doing it!