Here’s the scene. I am at a gathering and enjoying get-to-know-you conversation with a new acquaintance. Being over 50 myself, I often meet others of my same age bracket. Upon telling them that I teach yoga, they often respond saying, “I really should try yoga, but I think I’m too old and out of shape.” I tell them one of my favorite quotes: “If you can breathe, you can do yoga!” I offer up a few suggestions on getting started, but I never know if I have been persuasive enough for them to give it a try. By adopting the “too old” mindset, however, they potentially miss out on one of the best life phases in which to do yoga! Let’s see if I now can convince you.
When I ventured into my first yoga class in my twenties, I struggled to maintain the mental focus to last through even two minutes of savasana. While I could bend and twist with ease, I also became agitated easily, and I suffered from a severe case of “monkey mind”, where your mind jumps easily from one thought to the next. Even after significantly increasing my chill factor during class, I would lose that state of ease within two blocks of the doors.
While yoga in your twenties can be fun and intense, yoga past 50 brings its own advantages. Yes, we have a few more years of use (and abuse!) on our bodies, but it is precisely that experience that can spur a more “nurturing” intention, making us more sensitive to our unique needs. As we enter an age of post-children and, for women, post-menopause, we tend to value different things than we did in our youth. Goals of performance are often replaced by a desire for longevity. We want to live pain-free and with a calm and sound mind. We want to keep doing the things we love but don’t feel the need to secure a fresh Instagram pose every day. A bit more imperfection is tolerable, and even desirable, as it adds more humor to our lives. So as our bodies and priorities change, so might the choices we make for maintaining wellness.
Enter yoga. Over 50, 60 or 70 can be the perfect time to begin or renew an interest in yoga. I know for me, savasana gets higher marks on my favorite pose list these days! And I can sit for an hour or more in meditation without looking at my watch.
Does this mean, however, that once we hit the big 5-0 or more, we are bound only for gentle or restorative yoga, with an emphasis on reclining poses and little movement? Let’s jump up and stomp our feet with an emphatic “Heck no!” While the benefits of these classes are immense, they alone are not sufficient for maintaining health and wellness as we age. If we want to stay active, then our yoga must also include a variety of movements designed to keep us mobile and strong.
Whether you choose to venture into a studio or to study at-home, there are a few components essential to a well-rounded practice.
- Breath awareness – a class should always include a mindful focus on the breath, with guidance for how to expand lung capacity.
- Mindfulness – paying attention to what you are feeling in each pose can increase your attunement to your body’s changing needs. How is it different today than yesterday? Building this awareness can help you detect subtle changes that could indicate stress and address it before it becomes a bigger problem.
- Core strength and balance – I mention these together because core strength is needed for balance. This is not “rock-hard abs” but rather the deep stabilizing muscles that protect your low back. This is built with slow, mindful (there it is again!) movement.
- Joint mobility – it is essential to include gentle movements of all joints through their maximum range of motion. Gentle, small movement is again the key to prevent stressing the joint. A class should include a variety of movements in all directions and not stress the same joints too much.
- Relaxation – learning to relax all your muscles benefits healthy sleep while balancing hormonal function and boosting immunity. Restorative classes are wonderful for this, but a good guided visualization is ideal for every class. Practicing at home? There are a variety of apps out there to help. Here are just a few free apps:
While each class might have more of one than the other, your regular practice should incorporate all of these components to give you the body, mind and soul balance you are seeking. Done with the guidance of an experienced yoga teacher, you can feel confident that, “if you can breathe, you can do yoga.” I look forward to seeing you on the mat!