Yoga After 50 For Dummies
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Unlike other physical activities, such as golf or scuba diving, you don’t need a lot of expensive equipment to practice Yoga. A few items are useful to have, while some other things are completely unnecessary.

The following sections take a look at a few key items:

  • Comfortable clothes
  • Mats
  • Blocks
  • Blankets
  • Bolsters
  • Straps and other accessories

Comfortable clothes

Yoga clothes may seem like a trivial topic to some, but some people feel like they need to spend a fortune on brand-name Yoga clothing to be accepted into the Yoga community. This assumption is decidedly not true.

You can find various name brands of Yoga clothing. (I certainly own enough myself.) For the most part, the workmanship is great, and the clothing lasts a long time. Still, many people at all levels choose other clothing so long as it’s comfortable.

The only thing your clothing needs to do is make you comfortable and allow you to bend and stretch. Anyone who makes judgments based on what people wear on the mat — or, for that matter, even how flexible they may be — is completely missing the point of Yoga in the first place. (That goes for self-judgment as well.)

On this topic, it is considerate to choose Yoga clothing that doesn’t bring a blush to the cheek of the teacher or fellow students. No one wants an impromptu anatomy class!

Sometimes people leave their socks on in a Yoga class because their feet get cold. But socks can be a real disadvantage, particularly in standing poses. If socks are slippery, it can make holding an already challenging posture even more difficult. Bare feet in Yoga is more than just a tradition.

Doing Yoga in bare feet is
  • Less slippery when moving in and out of poses (depending on your socks)
  • More stable for balancing poses (students often say that contacting the floor with their bare feet gives them a greater sense of stability)
  • More accommodating to muscles and ligaments as you move from posture to posture (stretch and strengthen)
There are nonslip Yoga socks on the market. Some socks even have the toes exposed. While these socks are certainly safer, I’d still consider them a compromise.

If you wear orthotics—which can be particularly helpful during the standing portion of the class—you may want to leave your socks on during class and just slip your orthotics inside your socks. You’ll definitely want to use nonslip socks, but this could be a way to wear your orthotics during a Yoga class.

Mats

Technically speaking, you don’t have to use a mat to practice Yoga. However, the investment has become so minimal (depending on the construction of the mat) and the benefits so numerous, I would highly recommend you get one.

Where you practice will determine how much padding you need — particularly because you’ll be required to lie down or kneel down. If you’re doing Yoga on a carpeted, padded floor, the thickness of your mat is probably not as important. If, however, you’re practicing on a hardwood floor — or worse, even some kind of stone tile — a thicker mat is sure to provide more comfort.

A mat can also provide you with a nonslip surface on which to build your Yoga poses. Keep in mind, however, that mats can also be slippery, so take this into account as you consider price and construction. Yoga mats can range from $10 to $50, depending on the thickness and design; some are bundled with props such as a block and strap.

Your process of selecting a mat should take into account the following potential benefits:

  • Personal comfort: A mat can be especially important on a hard floor.
  • Designated space: A mat establishes your own space (which may be particularly important in a group class)
  • More stability: A mat can provide you with a nonslip surface, particularly useful in more precarious poses. Some mats can be better than others; find out whether your mat has what is called a sticky surface, which is designed to help keep you from slipping

Blocks

Blocks can be very useful props, allowing you to go more deeply into a posture than you would be able to do on your own. They’re often used to help you reach the floor, sometimes allowing your body to reap the benefits of a particular pose. (See the following figure.) Years ago, most blocks were made of wood; now they are lighter, often made of Styrofoam. Although they come in all different sizes, the average block measures about 9 x 6 x 4 inches.

The first thing a block can do is bring the floor closer to you so that you can perform the most beneficial aspect of the pose. Let me give you an example using triangle pose.

Notice in the figure that the model is touching the floor with her right hand, which, in turn, causes her left shoulder to rotate inward and downward.

Triangle pose with no block. Triangle pose with no block.

In the following figure, however, she uses a block to bring the floor closer to her and, as a result, is able to fully open her left shoulder, reaping the full benefits of the pose. Even with the block, this execution is definitely more advanced than in the previous photograph.

Triangle pose with a block. Triangle pose with a block.

Of course, you can modify the pose in other ways and still get the benefits. But if a block is available, you may want to consider how it can help you get more out of a particular pose.

You will also want to consider the block construction. The most common types are:

  • Foam
  • Cork
  • Wood
Foam blocks are great for either lifting your hips, such as in a supported shoulder stand, or squeezing between your thighs to activate your inner-thigh muscles.

You can also use blocks for support or stability (again, look at the following figure where the block also provides support as she leans sideways). For support, you may prefer a block made of a firmer material.

Blankets

A good Yoga blanket can be an essential tool. It potentially offers a
  • Cushion for your head when reclining
  • Cushion for your knees when kneeling or on all fours
  • Lift for your spine, with some added comfort, when sitting
  • Cushion for your pelvis (or even face) when lying on your stomach (prone)
Like most accessories discussed, the quality of the material can be a factor. If it is too thin, it will be hard to fold it up enough to find true comfort. And it also needs to stand up to regular washing.

I often recommend a blanket when employing some kind of modification. For example, even in easy pose, a simple seated position, a blanket under the hips helps to make the spine straighter without being forced to engage certain muscles (see the following figure). You sit taller, and it’s easier on your back.

Easy pose with a blanket. Easy pose with a blanket.

I also use blankets a lot when I see someone who is lying down and their chin is tilted way back. A blanket is a great way to cushion the head and get the chin back to a normal position (see the following figure):

Blankets helps a tilted chin. Blankets helps a tilted chin.

Bolsters, cushions, and pillows

Bolsters are designed to provide you with comfort and support in various Yoga poses. You do see bolsters used a lot in Restorative Yoga, in which you mostly stay seated or flat on the floor on your back. This type of Yoga focuses less on movement and more on breath in comfortable positions.

A Yoga bolster is essentially a cushion intended to provide you with additional comfort. Take child’s pose, for example. If you think it’s comfortable without using a bolster (or maybe you don’t), try it with one (see the following):

Child’s pose with a bolster. Child’s pose with a bolster.

While some Yoga studios may have bolsters on hand, you probably don’t have one lying around the house. No worries. You can use a folded-up blanket or even a couch or bed cushion.

In any case, a bolster or pillow may be the perfect solution when you want something soft underneath you.

Straps and other accessories

Straps are quite common in a lot of classes. You can use straps to stretch your hips and hamstring, or to constrain your arms in certain poses that tend to make your elbows want to splay open. I wouldn’t use one, though, unless you’re being instructed by a teacher.

I also want to mention wedges. Because wrist problems seem more common in a 50-and-up population, a wedge can be a nice way to decrease the bending angle on certain poses. They are a relatively inexpensive prop and may be quite useful.

A wedge works especially well when you’re on your hands and knees (see the following):

Using a wedge. Using a wedge.

Of course, if you have wrist issues, you can skip certain poses altogether — or perhaps try making fists with your hands instead of flexing your wrists (see the following).

Making fists. Making fists.

You can check out all the other types of Yoga accessories available to you and see what might be useful. While most of my routines are designed so that you don’t need props of any kind, I would encourage you to acquire anything that will make it more likely for you to get on the mat and move.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Larry Payne, PhD, is the founding president of the International Association of Yoga Therapists and was named one of America’s most respected yoga teachers by the Los Angeles Times. Georg Feuerstein, PhD, was internationally respected for his contribution to Yoga research and the history of consciousness.

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