Yoga After 50 For Dummies
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When practicing Yoga over the age of 50, remember to adjust your routines to fit your body. And it’s equally important to know that such adjustments in no way diminish the fundamental concepts of Yoga practice or philosophy. Yoga, in general, should feel good to you and be good for you. If it doesn’t or it leads to some kind of discomfort, you may not be recognizing what your body is telling you.

Before you listen to me or any other Yoga teacher, talk to your doctor about beginning or continuing a Yoga practice. And, most importantly, pay attention to how you are feeling. Nobody truly knows except you.

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Doing Yoga When You’re Over 50

While many people do Yoga as a way to stay flexible and strong, the practice needs to be modified to accommodate your body as it ages. Failing to make reasonable modifications can often times lead to injury and totally defeat the reason you do Yoga in the first place.

Before you listen to any Yoga teacher, talk to your doctor about beginning or continuing a Yoga practice. (This discussion is especially important as you get older or are dealing with certain health problems.) And, most importantly, listen to your body. Nobody truly knows what you’re feeling except for you.

Keep in mind the following advice if you’re just starting out with Yoga or if you want to keep practicing safely into your senior years:

  • Avoid pain. 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.
  • Modify. Your body is not the same now as it was when you were 20 years old, so don’t treat it that way. As your body changes, so, too, should your Yoga practice change. Don’t worry about doing a picture-perfect version of a pose. Modify it to fit your body. You won’t need to modify everything, but definitely modify when you need to.
  • Breathe. A slow breath rate helps keep your blood pressure low and your heart rate slow. It also helps to reduce stress and anxiety. Pay attention to your breath and let conscious breathing be part of your Yoga routine.

Moving First and Then Holding in 50-Plus Yoga

Before moving or stressing your body in a new way, it only seems logical to warm up first. Yoga classes frequently start with a short warm-up sequence.

As you get older, your body particularly benefits from preparing joints and muscles before each new posture. You should consider this approach as well.

One of the reasons Yoga is such an effective way to nurture your body is that it tries to bring movement — often stretching, sometimes strengthening — to all areas of the body. That means, at some point in your practice, whether you’re in a class or working by yourself at home, most all of your muscles and moveable joints will be worked.

And as far as your joints go, your goal is to warm them up in such a way that focuses on specific movements (or ranges of motion). Moving in and out of a pose before holding it not only helps to distribute the lubrication (called synovial fluid) to all parts of the joint, the movement actually helps to create more synovial fluid.

The dynamic/static approach (moving and then holding) has three primary objectives:

  • Preparing your muscles
  • Lubricating your joints
  • Helping you avoid injury from stretching too much, too soon

Maintain Your Balance in 50-Plus Yoga

Just like when you were learning to walk or learning to ride a bicycle, you needed to practice to stay balanced. The ability for the brain to learn how to keep you from falling never goes away — even when your over 50.  What does change, however, is the way your body responds to falling down. Injuries can occur more easily and can also take longer to heal. That’s why maintaining your ability to balance is more important than ever.

Your ankles and feet provide a lot help in this area. That’s why it is so important to give these areas some attention. Warming up your ankles and feet could include

  • Taking your body weight off of these structures (laying on your mat, for example, with your legs in the air)
  • Pointing and flexing your feet
  • Rotating your ankles, one way and then the other
  • Spreading and crunching your toes

Each of these movements either stretches muscles or helps loosen and lubricate your joints. You can also strengthen the supporting muscles and ligaments around your ankles and feet by adding standing balance poses to your Yoga routine.

Whenever you try to hold a balance, remember three important things:

  • Don’t be afraid to use a wall or column to help you balance (you can always take your hand away when you don’t need it).
  • Keep your eyes on something that is not moving (like a spot on the wall or crack in the floor).
  • Breathe normally (holding your breath or breathing rapidly will only make it harder to hold your balance).

Breath Is Essential in 50-Plus Yoga

What makes Yoga unique is that it sees the breath as a fundamental part of Yoga practice and philosophy. It can be one of your most powerful tools, offering an array of benefits:

  • Reduced pain
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Slower pulse
  • Increased relaxation

While each one of these results is desirable when it comes to general health, these benefits are even more important to the over-50 population because they’re connected to so many common ailments and conditions.

Of course, you’ve been successfully breathing your whole life, without thinking about it much. You obviously know how to breath, so your initial instinct may be that you certainly don’t need to learn how to do so.

But if you’re going to leverage your breath as a tool, you don’t need to learn how to breath; you need to learn how to control your breath.

In Yoga, the objective is very straightforward: Keep breathing slowly, no matter what pose you’re doing. Holding your breath (or breathing rapidly) sends a message to your brain that you’re in trouble. The brain thinks you need to fight or run and produces chemicals like adrenaline to help. Of course, in Yoga, the goal is usually to relax and de-stress.

It’s the link between body, breath, and mind that is so essential. It’s what makes Yoga unique. Without that link, Yoga would just be another form of exercise.

The Importance of Sleep in the 50-Plus Yoga

Yoga is not just a physical exercise; it’s truly a philosophy of life. That means that even off the Yoga mat, a vast array of Yogic insight is waiting to be discovered, offering you lifestyle choices to help you get more joy out of life. One essential aspect is getting the right amount of sleep.

While plenty of pharmaceutical interventions claim to help you sleep, some lifestyle choices you can make for better sleep include

  • Establish and stick to a set routine for going to bed.
  • Make sure that your day contains some physical activity or exercise to help make you more tired at bedtime.
  • Avoid taking naps during the day.
  • Avoid that dreaded blue light (watching TV or getting on your computer or smart phone a few hours before bed).
  • Find something positive to think about that will keep your mind engaged, and steer your mind away from stressful topics.
  • Don’t watch the clock.
  • Don’t bring relationship issues to bed (mend the problems you might have with anyone in your life).
  • Don’t try to force sleep (try to take comfort in knowing that by just lying in bed, your body is getting the rest it needs).

And if stress is the enemy of sleep, then gratitude may be its greatest ally. Gratitude — or Vitamin G, as some people call it — is recognized, even by mainstream Western medicine, as a powerful tool in managing stress, depression, the rate of healing, and even pain.

If you want to set your mind on gentler path before trying to sleep, consider making a conscious effort to identify things for which you’re grateful. You could do this by merely taking time to reflect on your life, or even be more formal and start a gratitude journal.

You may, for example, have some kind of journal or notebook by your bedside; each night before closing your eyes, you write down, say, three things you are grateful for.  Bringing your focus on these things, whether it’s family, or health, or even your comfy bed, can help relieve stress, induce relaxation, and make you more susceptible to falling asleep.

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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