The challenge, of course, is that everyone is different—bodies are different and need different things. Without a doubt, the best way to shape your Yoga practice is to listen to what your body needs. Of course, a skilled Yoga teacher may intuitively know what Yoga practices will best serve you and help you discover them. Yet a teacher can only make an educated guess; only you can truly know.
The following list represents some critical tips for practicing Yoga after 50, relating specifically to your physical Yoga practice.
Avoid Pain at All CostYoga shouldn’t hurt. Not ever! Yet sometimes even teachers that try to keep you safe may not make the right call. That’s because they’re not actually in your body — but you are.
Don’t let your ego draw you into doing anything that causes you pain or even serious discomfort. The “No pain, no gain” adage has no place in Yoga.
It’s Okay to Change Your MindSometimes, you don’t know if something is bad or good for you until you try it. In Yoga, you may think that a certain posture or movement may be beneficial — maybe it will stretch you out or make you stronger. Sometimes, however, you don’t know what hurts until you give it a try. And that’s perfectly okay — as long as you’ve given yourself permission to change your mind. Always feel free to back off if that’s what your body’s telling you to do.
Modify When NecessaryThe concept of modification may be the most important lesson I can teach you. You can easily see that your body is not the same now as it was when you were 20 years old. I also want it to be easy for you to accept that fact. As your body changes, so, too, should your Yoga practice. You won’t need to modify everything, but definitely modify when you need to.
Choose Forgiving LimbsThis tip is actually part of my “Modify When Necessary” advice. Yet it is such an important concept — particularly for the 50-plus yogi — that I’m identifying it as a separate tip, all on its own.
Clearly, one of the best ways you can modify a posture is by allowing your arms or legs to bend (or, more precisely, your elbows and knees). While this modification may take you further away from the traditional form of the pose, it may ultimately bring you closer to what’s beneficial about the pose in the first place.
Function takes precedent over form (at least, for my students and me).
Prepare the Muscles and JointsMoving in and out of poses before holding them is a great way to warm up the joints and muscles — a process used by many athletes, and even more important to do as you get older. Remember that in PNF a principle says that tensing a muscle before you relax it will make it lengthen further. Moving in and out of poses before you hold them may have a similar effect.
Use the Power of Your BreathIf maintaining a slow breath rate helps to keep your blood pressure and heartrate low and reduces stress and anxiety, then it is critically important for you to believe that the process of breathing is just as important as the pose itself. Pay attention to your breath; let it be part of your practice.
Selecting a StudioYoga studios are everywhere today. And, while it is great to have a lot of convenient options, it’s also challenging to find just the right class at just the right studio. This challenge is particularly true when so many public classes are clearly targeted for the younger people who want to build cardio into their Yoga sessions or focus on traditional poses. If you decide a public class is the way to go, take the time to investigate. Make sure the teacher of a particular class is eager to focus on your particular needs.
Assessing Yoga OnlineYoga videos (like the ones found on YouTube) are just as pervasive as the studios themselves. And, once again, so many of them are geared to the younger Yogi, where a very traditional expression of a pose is the ultimate target.
Take the time to preview a particular video and make sure it is appropriate for you. If you take the time to dig deep, you can find videos that will keep you safe.
Be Realistic about Your TimeThe problem with overestimating how much time you’re going to give to a Yoga practice is that if you fall short, it’s easy to convince yourself that you have somehow failed. Of course, that’s just not true. Most people have busy lives, and some days can be busier than others.
Even if your day is so full you only have time for five minutes, see that as a victory. A little bit is better than nothing at all.