Yoga After 50 For Dummies book cover

Yoga After 50 For Dummies

By: Larry Payne Published: 08-04-2020

Improve balance, flexibility, and overall well-being

Yoga is a terrific way to stay fit and improve mental clarity, balance, agility, and flexibility. Written by the founding president of the International Association of Yoga Therapists, this book takes the guesswork out of starting or continuing yoga at 50 and beyond. You’ll learn how to adapt stances and breathing to your changing body to reap the benefits of this ancient practice and use it to calm your mind and body—one pose at a time.

  • Discover step-by-step instructions for more than 45 poses
  • Relieve stress
  • Leverage your breathing
  • Target weak spots, avoid injury, and deal with pain and chronic conditions
  • Discover yoga apps and videos

Articles From Yoga After 50 For Dummies

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Equipment to Practice Yoga After 50

Article / Updated 04-19-2021

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. 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. 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. 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): 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): 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): 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). 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.

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Yoga After 50 For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 03-14-2021

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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10 Tips for Your Yoga Practice: Off the Mat

Article / Updated 05-29-2020

Anyone who thinks that Yoga is just about poses, about being especially mobile or flexible, is really ignoring what some people would argue is the most important part of the practice. Yoga is a philosophy of life — and, as such, offers a lot of important insights on ways to find more joy in life and reduce suffering. Of course, you can get a multitude of health benefits (especially if you're over the age of 50) from a regular practice, but just as many off-the-mat practices can enrich your life and relationships in many important ways. Take Your Vitamin G Because there is a direct link between the mind and the body — between what you think and how you physically feel — finding a place of gratitude will bring that positive energy right from your thoughts into your cells. Create a gratitude journal where you can record, on a daily basis, the things for which you’re most grateful. I believe gratitude is a powerful practice and so I put it at the top of my off-the-mat tips. Eat Well Your Yoga teacher, and often times even your doctor, may not have the specialized training to adequately assess your diet. Yet what and how much you eat is certainly related to your overall health. While Yoga traditionally suggests you probably need to eat less as you get older, exactly what your diet should look like must be determined by a true expert. If there’s one thing that Yoga teaches, it’s that we are all individuals, with individual needs. Instead of a Yoga teacher telling you to not eat this or eat more of that, considering letting a health professional be your guide. Find a Cardio Workout You Like Clearly, certain types of Yoga are more physically demanding than others and probably get your heart rate up more, such as a physical flow practice or a typical power Yoga class. But if you’re not in those sessions, it’s important to get your heartrate up, to exercise your heart muscles, so consider another type of cardio exercise, like walking, swimming, or biking. In most cases, Yoga is going to have the opposite effect by bringing your heartrate down. Get a Good Night’s Sleep Getting the proper amount of sleep is critical. You should address any sleeping issues you have and explore the tools that Yoga has to offer that may help. Sometimes a Yoga routine itself will help make you tired. Or, you may also choose to try a routine that employs the concept of Yoga sleep or Yoga Nidra. If you don’t get enough sleep, it may be hard to meditate because you might keep nodding off during your practice. Avoid the Blue Light before Bedtime The original Yoga masters did not, of course, talk about blue light. But if they were living today, I’m sure they would. Blue light is a problem stemming from modern technology — from all electronic devices with screens — and it needs to be mentioned in a Yoga context because it works directly against the Yoga tools that fight insomnia or stress. You should cut down on the amount of time you’re exposing yourself to blue light or block it with special glasses or an app. And especially avoid using your electronic devices (even TV) before trying to sleep. Communicate to Enhance Intimacy Some Yoga masters would argue that goal of Yoga philosophy, in general, is to help improve personal relationships. As you come to know yourself better through Yoga, you can in turn be more empathetic and understanding of the people around you. That can be especially true with a life partner. Sharing your thoughts, desires, and fears can be extremely challenging. But such candor can break down walls and make what’s good even better. Find Time to Meditate Off the Mat Developing some kind of meditation is so important that I want to encourage you to develop a routine separate from your physical Yoga practice — off the mat, if you will. Maybe you’re going to find the time while sitting at your desk, walking the beach, sitting on the couch, or lying in bed. Try some different techniques and different locations. See what works. Say Goodbye to Your Ego Your ego can create a competition in your mind with the person on a nearby mat. Or even if you do Yoga alone, sometimes you try to prove something to yourself. In both of these cases, when you want to show how flexible you are, Yoga can ultimately lead to injury — and this is the danger of listening to your ego instead of your body. One of the benefits of being older is that we sometimes find it easier to let go of ego-driven concepts and expectations. Invite Others to Join In I try to avoid using a lot of Sanskrit or Yoga jargon, but I can’t help mentioning the term Sangha. Basically, it’s a term that means community, and I want to encourage you to bring people into your Yoga world or join people who are already there. There’s a lot of power to be found in connecting with others, and Yoga can be a means of achieving that. Even if it’s just doing Yoga together. Start Today You may have heard the saying, “If I knew I was going to live this long, I'd have taken better care of myself.” Well, it’s never too late, so start now. And if it’s true that your body often reflects what’s going on in your mind, make sure there’s something good to draw upon — something celebratory.

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10 Tips for Your Yoga Practice: On the Mat

Article / Updated 05-29-2020

There’s a dangerous way of looking at Yoga that says every posture must conform to a traditional view of the pose. If Yoga is going to serve you, it must fit you. 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 Cost Yoga 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 Mind Sometimes, 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 Necessary The 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 Limbs This 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 Joints Moving 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 Breath If 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 Studio Yoga 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 Online Yoga 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 Time The 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. Include Meditation While Western medicine is slow to confirm many of the Yoga principles that many in the field take for granted, an abundance of studies highlight the various benefits of a regular meditation practice. The conclusions of those studies often have very positive implications for the 50-plus population — specifically as it relates to brain structure and cognitive performance. Each day, when you go to your mat, make meditation part of your routine.

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Alignment and Balancing Yoga Poses

Article / Updated 05-29-2020

The good news is that, with practice and determination, the brain and body discover how to find balance. And that fact doesn’t change as we get older. What does change with age is your resiliency. And what that means to you during physical activity is pretty straightforward: You are more prone to injury. Injuries may be more serious and probably will have a greater impact. Injuries will take longer to heal. In fact, falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries to older Americans. Knowing this should be a huge incentive for you to make sure that you’re giving adequate attention to your ability to maintain balance. In the following discussion, I cover postures that will challenge your sense of balance: Balancing cat Karate Kid Tree Warrior III at the wall Balancing cat Balancing cat, shown in the following figure, is great for working on your balance because you are near to the ground. Also, you will feel your core muscles engage as you try to maintain your balance, which makes this pose is one of the best for abdominal strengthening. To get into this pose: Beginning on your hands and knees, position your hands directly under your shoulders with your palms down, your fingers spread on the floor, and your knees directly under your hips. Straighten your arms, but don't lock your elbows. As you exhale, slide your left hand forward and your right leg back, keeping your left hand and right toes on the floor. As you inhale, raise your left arm and right leg to a comfortable height, as Figure 9-2 illustrates. Stay in Step 3 for six to eight breaths and then repeat Steps 1 through 3 with opposite pairs (right arm and left leg). To modify the pose to make it more accessible: As you start to extend your arm and opposite leg, keep your hand and foot on the ground first; then lift off the ground, one at a time. Just extend your arm and keep both knees on the ground. Karate Kid This standing pose, known as Karate Kid, develops your overall balance while it strengthens the legs, arms, and hips — all parts of the rest of the body that help support your ankles. To get into this pose, stand upright on your mat: As you inhale, raise your arms out to the sides parallel to the line of your shoulders (and the floor) so that they form a T with your torso. To steady yourself, focus on a spot on the floor 10 to 12 feet in front of you. As you exhale, bend your left knee, raising it toward your chest, while keeping your right leg straight Remain in this posture for six to eight breaths. Repeat this sequence using the right knee. To modify the pose to make it more accessible: Stand near a wall so that you can use it for support. You can touch the wall with one hand. Remember, you can always take your hand off the wall as your balance improves. Keep your knee directly in front of you and don’t worry about how high you can lift it. The primary purpose of this pose is just to work on your balance. Tree When you see Yogis on magazine covers or perhaps on social media posts, it seems like the pose most often chosen is the tree pose. It’s a classic balance posture that works your muscles and joints from your ankle and foot all the way up to your arms and shoulders. To get into this pose, stand upright on your mat: With your feet at hip width (down from the sits bones, not the outer curves), hang your arms at your sides, palms turned toward your legs. The sits or sit bones is the term for the bony parts your feel underneath you when you sit up straight on a firm surface. Visualize a vertical line connecting the opening in your ear, your shoulder joint, and the sides of your hip, knee, and ankle. Look straight ahead, with your eyes open or closed. Remain in this posture for six to eight breaths. To modify the pose to make it more accessible: Don’t hesitate to practice this pose near a wall — even if you choose not to use it. Lower the foot on your upper thigh to the inside of your calf, just below your knee. It’s best to rest your foot either above or below your knee joint, but not right on it. Hands can even be on your hips if that helps you balance. If having your foot anywhere on your inner leg seems too challenging, you can use the kickstand technique where the big toe of the lifted leg can actually be on the ground. Warrior III at the wall This variation of the classic warrior III pose challenges your body to stretch and hold while demanding a lot of focus to retain your balance. To get into this pose: Stand on your mat, facing a blank wall (about three feet away). As you exhale, bend forward from the hips and extend your arms forward until your fingertips are touching the wall. Adjust yourself so that your legs are perpendicular and your torso and arms are parallel with the floor. As you inhale, raise your left leg back and up until it's parallel to the floor. Stay in Step 3 for six to eight breaths. Repeat this sequence with the right leg. To modify the pose to make it more accessible: Warrior III is traditionally done without the wall, so the preceding steps are already making the pose more accessible. Remember the concept of forgiving limbs. Feel free to bend your supporting leg and extended arms, softening them just enough to make the pose more comfortable.

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15-Minute Yoga After 50 Routine for Home

Step by Step / Updated 05-29-2020

If you have only 15 minutes to practice Yoga, this routine is for you. I have given this sequence a lot of consideration, often times using postures to both compensate for a pose that occurred before and/or prepare your body for a posture that’s coming up. It may take you additional time to complete the sequence as you read the instructions next to each pose. The sequence will go much quicker once you learn how to get into each pose. Finally, if a particular pose seems too challenging or causes pain, modify it in a way that works for you or skip it entirely. Knowing what’s good for your body and what isn’t is truly a sign of being an advanced Yoga practitioner.

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Yoga Sleep

Article / Updated 05-29-2020

Sometimes referred to as Yoga Nidra, Yoga sleep describes a state in which the body completely relaxes, while the mind remains at least somewhat focused. The practice is as old as Yoga itself and is sometimes viewed as a form of meditation. It is actually quite different, however. During meditation, your mind stays on a conscious level. You certainly attempt to change that conscious state, to allow for more steadiness or focus, but that all happens on a relatively conscious level. Yoga sleep attempts to bring you gradually to your subconscious mind — the place where all your old torments reside, all the thoughts and feelings that prevent you from sleeping. In simple terms, using Yoga sleep, you try to replace those old torments with newer, more positive resolutions. You may want to think of Yoga Nidra more as an alternative to sleep, rather than a pathway to it. Using this technique, practitioners often find they derive the same benefits as they do from a good night’s sleep. Other people find that the practice itself actually helps them fall asleep. Either way, Yoga Nidra can be a powerful tool for dealing with both sleep disorders and stress. Many books have been written on the subject, and Dr. Richard Miller, a dear friend and colleague, has done some pioneering work using Yoga Nidra techniques to address post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) issues with returning veterans. (His version is called Integrative Rest, or iRest.) Note: Richard Miller is a world-renowned yogic teacher, author, scholar, and researcher, as well as a clinical psychologist. In addition to creating iRest, which has offered profound benefits to many, including soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffering from PTSD, Richard is also cofounder, with me, of the International Association of Yoga Therapists. Yoga sleep scripts One of the essential components of a Yoga Nidra session is the guide — the voice of the person leading you into a conscious state of deep relaxation. Practicing at home can be problematic if you expect to have a live person sitting at the foot of your bed, leading your session. But lying back and listening to a recording (to someone whose voice you like and who’s words are soothing) is easy enough. You can find recordings to purchase that may help you experience a Yoga sleep session at home. These recordings are also available (some at no charge) on some of the meditation apps, including Calm Headspace Insight Timer Develop an intention or resolve Yoga sleep will attempt to bring you into your subconscious mind — to help you get beneath the surface. When you get there, you want to bring with it an intention, or resolve, regarding yourself and your life. Typically, you should select something that doesn’t involve economic gain, though common examples often include finding personal or professional success. Other intentions might focus on personal health or the health of those around you. You may also create a resolve to be a positive presence in someone’s life. This intention will then be used to supplant certain detrimental thought patterns that have no basis in your present reality, that may in fact be the residue of another time (like childhood), that may be a leading cause of the stress in our life (especially bedtime stress), and that is actually helping to shape the general flow of your life — for the worse. The new resolve, then, is an essential part of Yoga sleep. That’s why I hope you will give it some thought; the more powerful your resolve or intention, the more effective the Yoga Nidra practice will be. The following tips may come in handy when creating your own intention Make it succinct and easy to state. Choose wording you can remember and reuse. Identify an intention or resolve that will bring about a positive change in you or in your life. Remember that you are bringing this thought into your subconscious. So, if coming up with your own resolve actually creates more stress for you, let it go. You don’t have to come up with the perfect intention right from the start. In fact, maybe the process itself — the trips back and forth into your subconscious mind — will reveal some of the sources of your stress and bring to mind a new declaration that will ultimately serve you better. In this case, patience could indeed be a virtue. Yoga Sleep at Home I’ve created a home practice for you that can be a good place to start if you’re considering further exploration of Yoga Nidra. In this exercise, you will achieve focus, not by listening to someone else, but rather by directing your mind to perform what is sometimes called a body scan. Lie flat on your back, with your arms in a comfortable position. If needed, place a pillow or folded blanket behind your neck for support and another pillow or folded blanket under your knees for added comfort. Let your eyes gently close. Take some deep breaths, breathing only through the nose (if possible). Visualize your entire body lying comfortably on the floor(this is called Whole Body Awareness). Bring to mind a resolve, intention, or course of action. Starting with the right side of your body, let your mental awareness scan that side of your body (in the following sequence): Right thumb, index, middle, ring, and little fingers Palm of the hand Back of the hand Wrist The right hand as a whole Forearm Elbow Upper arm Shoulder joint Shoulder Neck The face (forehead, eyes, nose, mouth, chin) Right ear Scalp Throat Chest Side of the rib cage Right shoulder blade Waist Stomach Lower abdomen Genitals Thigh The right knee Shin Calf Ankle Top of the right foot Heel Sole Big toe and remaining toes Be aware of your body as a whole. Repeat the scan in Step 6 on the left side of your body, again ending with the whole-body awareness. Next, visualize the back side of your body How the back of your head touches the floor or neck support Right and left shoulders Upper back Hips Back of your thighs Calves Heels Again, focus on your intention and finish with overall body awareness again (like in Step 4). You can drift off to sleep now. If you’re getting up, roll to one side and push up; don’t start by lifting your head forward. You’re not constrained by time in this exercise, so take as much or as little time as you need. The tempo is up to you. This particular routine does not require you to follow a recording, but instead requires you to focus on the body scan process. And please don’t think you have to memorize or keep coming back to the preceding list. My only intention is to give you a sense of where to start and end and some points you may want to hit along the way. Don’t worry if you leave out body parts or even add parts I don’t have on the list.

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How to Practice Yoga while Seated

Article / Updated 05-29-2020

Although you may be very capable of benefiting from other Yoga routines, this article has a 15-minute seated sequence for those hindered by excessive weight or those stuck behind a desk all day. I call it Desk Yoga or Executive Yoga. This specific routine is designed to get you moving without doing any excessive folding (which may be uncomfortable for some people). Sometimes, when you see Yoga being done from a chair, the practice itself may seem watered down. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Any type of movement can be a powerful tool, and you move plenty in this sequence. Nothing in this routine should cause you pain. If something does or even if your intuition tells you it’s not a good idea to comply, then please don’t. Again, nobody knows better how you’re feeling than you. Prepare for either of these routines by sitting in a chair with your back straight and your hands on your thighs. If it feels okay, close your eyes (or maybe just look at the floor). Begin to shift your focus from events that have already happened or from items on your schedule for later to a quiet place inside. Try to link your body, breath, and mind. Again, that’s what makes this Yoga and not just another exercise routine. Breathe through your nose, inhaling and exhaling, with your mouth closed (if possible). Every time you exhale, gently draw your belly in. I call this focus breathing. Now, picture your alignment, with your ear, shoulder, and hip in one straight line. Form a clear intention to relax and try to maintain this focus breathing throughout the sequence. Fifteen-minute routine I designed this routine specifically for my clients who found traditional Yoga routines to be inconsistent with their particular body type (and I’m talking about both men and women) as well as those sitting in an office too many hours a day. My hope is that you’ll find the time to do the full routine (it should take you only about 15 minutes). Again, it’s structured for you to do most of the work while in your chair. After you go down to the mat, you need to do only a couple of poses on your back before you move into some constructive rest. If, however, you’re constrained by time, I recommend the truncated version of the routine in the following section. It should take only about five minutes, and something is always better than nothing. Arm raises: As you inhale, bring your right arm overhead (see the following figure). A soft bend in the elbow may make it more comfortable. As you exhale, bring your right arm back down. As you inhale, bring your left arm up. As you exhale, bring it down. Continue the same sequence, moving with your breath two more times. Arm raises with head turn: As you inhale, bring your right arm overhead and rotate your head to the left (see the following figure) As you exhale, bring your right arm back down and your head back to center. As you inhale, bring your left arm up and let your head rotate to the right. As you exhale, bring your arm down and head back to center. Repeat two more times on each side, timing your movement with your natural inhalations and exhalations. Wing and prayer: Bring your hands into prayer position in front of your chest (see figure A). As you inhale, take your arms out wide (see figure B). As you exhale, bring them back to where you started. As you inhale, raise your joined hands over your head, keeping your eyes on your fingertips (see figure C). As you exhale, bring your arms back down. Repeat four more times, moving with your breath. Shoulder rolls: Let your arms hang at your sides. As you inhale, bring your shoulders up toward your ears and let them draw back (see the following figure). As you exhale, bring them back down. Repeat three to four more times, moving with your breath. Reverse the direction. As you inhale, bring your shoulders up toward your ears. As you exhale, let them fall forward and all the way back down. Repeat three to four more times in this direction, moving with your breath. Chair twist: Sit sideways in your chair. Bring your back up tall as you hold on to the back of your chair (see the following figure). Use your inhale to help you sit more upright. As you exhale, twist toward the back, mainly with your shoulders. Don’t try to use your neck because this step is not intended to stretch your neck muscles. Let each inhalation take you upright, and every exhalation takes you deeper into the twist. This twist is intended to relax your muscles and not strain them. Your movements may be slight, even imperceptible. If it hurts at all, don’t do it. Repeat for several smooth breaths and then slowly unwind. Turn completely to the other side of the chair and repeat. Forward fold using the chair: Slowly come to a standing position and then turn and face the chair. Bring your arms straight out and adjust your distance from the chair so that your extended fingertips hover above the edge of the chair. Bring your arms to your sides. As you inhale, bring your arms straight up over your head. As you exhale, gently bend from your hips, bringing your hands to the chair, allowing your knees to comfortably bend and your head to relax (see the following figure). As you inhale, bring your arms back up, over your head, standing tall. Exhale back down. Keep moving up and down, with your breath, for four more rounds. Cat/cow is a great routine that continues to lengthen out your spine and warm up your hip and shoulder joints. This pose requires you to come to your hands and knees, so feel free to cushion any place that makes the pose more comfortable — especially your knees. Come to your hands and knees, with the heels of your hands just down from your shoulders and your knees hip-width apart, just under your hips. Bring your arms to your sides. As you inhale, arch your back as you look up. As you exhale, round your back, draw your belly in, and look down. Repeat three more times and then hold in the rounded position with your belly in. You decide how long to hold this one. Hip circles: From your hands and knees, circle your hips about four times, moving forward and back as you do (see the following figure). Reverse the direction of the circle for four times. As you circle, explore your range of motion. Again, nothing should hurt. If it does, you’re pushing too hard. Balancing cat: Slide your right hand forward and your left hand back. Lift both of the extended limbs up and out (thumb up on your arm). Ideally, your right hand and left foot are at about the same height (see the following figure). Remember to keep breathing. Hold this position until you decide when to come down. Repeat on the other side. For the remainder of this 15-minute routine, lie on your mat with your back to the floor. Supine arms and legs raise: Bend your knees and place your feet on the ground and your palms face down at your sides. Take a deep breath and as you exhale, draw your knees into your chest. As you inhale, slowly straighten your legs and bring your arms overhead, ideally touching the ground behind you with your fingertips (see Figure 6-11). As you exhale, bend your knees into the chest and bring your arms back down to your sides. Repeat four more times. Try to put a definite pause at the top of the movement and at the bottom. Corpse pose: Still lying on your back, comfortably extend your arms and legs. Turn the palms of your hands up; let your feet fall to the sides. Relax. Often, closing your eyes will help you be more relaxed. Also, if it’s more comfortable on your spine, feel free to bend your knees. Five-minute routine Sometimes your busy life leaves you little time for working out. If you fall into that category, this quick routine is perfect for you. While my hope remains that you find the time to do the 15-minute routine, the shortened version should take you only about five minutes. To complete this routine, simply do the first five poses of the longer routine. These poses are Arm raises Arm raises with head turn Wing and a prayer Shoulder rolls Chair twist Forward fold using a chair

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20 Great Postures for the 50-Plus Yogi

Step by Step / Updated 05-29-2020

The obvious advantage of having a regular Yoga program is that it requires you to move in ways that you otherwise would not move during the course of a normal day. And by movement, I’m referring specifically to the stretching and strengthening that keeps your body flexible, straight, and strong, no matter your age. But if Yoga is to be a benefit and help you become healthier, you have to practice in a way that keeps you free from injury. If you start practicing Yoga to become more fit and end up hurting yourself, you’ve already defeated the purpose. Yoga needs to adapt to you and not the other way around. To that end, taking the time to learn the types of modifications you can choose as you bring your hard work to the mat will truly make all the difference.

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Yoga After 50: Function over Form

Article / Updated 05-29-2020

Function over form basically means that you should give top priority to how a particular Yoga pose serves you and your body and not be so worried about how it looks. Some of the most common postures in a Yoga practice also are some of the safest, providing you modify them whenever needed. While you may receive numerous benefits from any given pose, including strengthening and stretching, your first objective is to enhance the health of your mind, as well as your spine. But sometimes, for a pose to have the maximum positive impact, you need to choose a modification. It’s always more important what a pose does for your body than what it looks like. Listen to your body Whether you’re taking a class or practicing alone on your mat, keep in mind that you and you alone are in charge. Any good Yoga teacher will try to keep you safe. But, in the end, only you know what’s going on inside your body at any given moment, so pay attention to how you’re feeling. Modifications may actually make the pose more accessible and pain-free. Please don’t see modifications as doing less. You should also take note that one side of your body may feel differently than the other. This is understandable, since no human is symmetrical and you’re probably either right- or left-handed, which indicates your dominant side. Moreover, the things your body needs to stay healthy and safe may vary from one day to the next. To modify or not to modify I know that some movements or postures may be very easy for you, and you may choose to take a more traditional approach. Not everyone needs to modify every pose. Just don’t be reluctant to modify any pose where needed. You may need to experiment a bit, just to see what feels best for your body. But please remember: “No pain, no gain” doesn’t apply in Yoga. If something hurts, try a modification. If it still hurts, stop. Even some of the seemingly easiest poses still may not be good for your body structure. For example, even the simplest inversion may not benefit you if you have high blood pressure or retinopathy, are pregnant, or suffer from GERD. As with any new physical activity, you should always consult your doctor before attempting any Yoga pose. Focus on the spine You may have lost some ease of movement and grown a bit stiffer over time. One sign of this can be seen in your posture. In the extreme, as muscles change, your spine may become less vertical, less straight (see the figure). While you will certainly be strengthening some muscles in some poses and stretching and relaxing muscles in other poses, you will ultimately be standing straighter and walking taller as a result of adding Yoga to your routine. Forgiving limbs The traditional form of a pose or traditional alignment should not be your most important consideration. If you try to force your body into a posture that you see in a book or on a nearby Yoga mat, you may be setting yourself up for injury. You need to be in a class, with a teacher, that allows you to let Yoga fit your body, to address exactly what you need at the moment. It makes no sense to force your body to fit a particular Yoga class. Remember that the old adage “No pain, no gain” has no place in Yoga. The key, then, is to adapt Yoga to fit your body. One of the primary ways you are going to accomplish this goal is by employing what I like to call forgiving limbs. Simply stated, the philosophy of forgiving limbs says that you’re always, no matter what the pose, allowed and even encouraged to bend your arms and legs as needed. Bending prevents you from overstretching certain muscles (you can stretch a muscle or strain a muscle doing the same pose, if you’re not thoughtful) and may allow you to keep your spine a bit erect — always a goal. Yet, when you look at pictures in some Yoga books or magazine covers, everyone seems to have the straightest arms and legs — often imitating the very traditional form of the pose. But you need to be smarter than that. You need to allow the function of the pose to take priority over the form. You need to let Yoga serve you. In some cases, it may not be quite as pretty, but it will always be more effective, safer, even smarter. (And, for the record, I think just as pretty!) Take, for example, a simple standing forward fold (see the following figure). If you work to get your head toward your knees, giving gravity an opportunity to lengthen your spine and ease your vertebrae apart, it is very likely that your hamstrings (the back of your thighs) will object. However, if you put a nice bend in your knees, you will be able to get your head closer. As a result, you still get the benefit of letting the gravity decompress you — regardless of how much your knees are bent. This is function over form. Fascia (or as I like to call it, your leotard) Science describes fascia as a layer of connective tissue that runs throughout the body, supporting muscles, tendons, and organs. But I actually heard a colleague once refer to it as an internal “leotard.” I like that description. Think of it as a one-piece suit that extends from somewhere in your feet, all the way up to somewhere in your head. It’s important to be aware of this because things that happen in the bottom of your body can actually impact what’s going on at the top. As just one example, a pain you feel in your neck may be caused by something happening in, say, your ankle. Again, that’s because of your leotard. Keep in mind that your fascia likes to move and that it may be able to move more freely if you employ the forgiving limbs approach. Yoga is not a competition The first time some people began running around the school playground or participating in a spelling bee in the classroom, they experienced an innate desire to stand out, to be better than the next kid. The sense of competition seemed almost instinctive. While you may or may not relate to these experiences, if you did, it’s important to abandon any trace of a competitive nature it comes to Yoga. Standing on your Yoga mat, something still inside you — inside us all —may want to be better than the next person on the mat. More flexible. More graceful. Stronger. Perhaps this instinct has been good for you. Maybe the need to excel has served you well throughout your life, in school, in sports, at work. But when it comes to Yoga, it is essential that you learn to let go of that need to be the best. Yoga is not competitive — not even with yourself! The good news about being 50 and over is that, perhaps, it’s just a bit easier to not let your ego drive your Yoga practice. Comparing yourself to anyone else is a fruitless exercise. In fact, a successful Yoga practice has only two measures, illustrated in the following two questions: Are you moving in a way that nurtures your body and spirit? Are you avoiding all injury and pain?

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