Frequently Asked Questions: Yoga and Aging

by Nina And Baxter

Recently Baxter and I helped Brad prep for an interview with More Magazine (we’ll let you know when it comes out) about yoga and aging. The interviewer sent Brad a few very general questions, the kind that people who know little or nothing about yoga frequently ask. I thought you might be interested to hear our answers. 

Latch on Weathered Door by Nina Zolotow

Q: How is yoga good for aging bodies?

A: The physical postures help improve the following:

  • strength
  • balance
  • flexibility
  • agility
  • circulation

In addition, by reducing stress, yoga helps improve both physical and emotional health. Chronic stress can overtax your body potentially causing:

  • heart disease
  • hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • insomnia and/or fatigue
  • digestive disorders
  • headaches
  • chronic anxiety or depression
  • weakened immune system

Several age-related diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and diabetes are exacerbated by stress, so reducing stress can be helpful for these conditions. And some theories of aging propose stress as a factor in the aging process itself!

The National Institutes of Health has sponsored several studies on the yoga and age-related conditions, including arthritis and osteoporosis as well as on cancer-related issues that point to definite benefits for influencing the aging process.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, yoga’s mindfulness practices and philosophy help you develop equanimity, enabling you to face life’s vicissitudes with grace and composure.

Q: Since we are all aging all the time, how can we define specifically when yoga is beneficial for aging bodies and minds?

A: It is never too early to start reducing stress and improving your physical health, so whatever age you are today is the right age to begin.

It is also never too late to start. At any age, in any condition, there is always something you can do, whether it is poses in some form or another, breath practices, meditation, and/or cultivating equanimity through yoga philosophy.

Q: Are there specific poses or aspects of yoga that are beneficial for aging?

A: Very briefly:

  1. Stress management techniques, including meditation, breath practices, and relaxation poses and methods.
  2. Standing poses for strength, balance, flexibility, and agility—all in one package! But all poses have their benefits.
  3. Meditation and yoga philosophy for cultivating equanimity in the face of life’s vicissitudes.
  4. Since everyone ages differently, yoga’s greatest strength is the wealth of possibilities it offers. Each person can do the practices that are most effective for him or her at a given time. A healthy 65 year old is going to be capable of doing a lot more challenging physical practices than someone of the same age with a chronic disease; however, in many traditions such as Iyengar and viniyoga, there are ways to adapt the practice for any condition by using props and modifications. Even people who cannot stand can get tremendous benefits from doing yoga from a chair.
  5. For age-related conditions, including arthritis and osteoporosis, as well cancer-related issues, different poses and practices are helpful for each of the conditions.

Q: Are there risks to yoga for aging bodies?

A: No more than other activities that have a physical component! But it is important to look for a well-trained teacher, preferably someone who has undergone months if not years of training and who has some knowledge of anatomy, who can help you adapt the practice to your particular body and concerns.

It is also important to listen to your body. If a pose causes pain (rather than just a stretching sensation), you should always back off, regardless of what the rest of your class might be doing.

As Baxter says, “Yoga is a system designed to optimize our lives, regardless of how old we are.”

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