At age 99, Tao Porchon-Lynch is a poster child for the benefits of yoga. She began practicing in India at the age of eight. In 2012, she was proclaimed the Oldest Living Yoga Teacher by Guinness World Records. Her tiny frame remains lithe and fit to this day and she continues to teach weekly yoga classes at two separate studios in Westchester County, New York.
Yoga has many benefits for every body and at every age and, contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be able twist yourself into a pretzel to do it. Just start where you are and work within your abilities. Yoga will gently yield its many benefits, from building flexibility and strength to calming your mind and even helping to slow the aging process.
Here’s more on the rewards of yoga, especially as we age, and how to bring the practice of yoga into your life, no matter what your current age or physical condition.
Results from a study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) show that yoga has these therapeutic effects when adopted as a regular practice:
- Builds strength and flexibility
- Improves balance and stability, which can help prevent future falls
- Reduces high blood pressure and the risk of heart attack and stroke
- Improves lung capacity and respiration
- Relieves stress, anxiety and depression
- Reduces aches and pains
- Prevents arthritis and chronic pain
- Improves sleep quality and relieves insomnia
The practice also encourages mindfulness, which expands your awareness of your body, thoughts, and emotions, as well as the world around you.
Any class may be appropriate for you if you’re in good physical shape. But if you have mobility or balance issues, are disabled, or haven’t exercised in a while, look for a gentle class led by a teacher who can tailor their instructions to your age group and physical condition. Here are some options to check out.
Hatha yoga is a broad term that refers to the physical practice of yoga. Many forms of yoga fall within the hatha category, including Ashtanga, Bikram, vinyasa, yin, and others. As a beginner, the best place to start is with a gentle class that includes stretching and easy postures that are done while sitting, standing, or lying down on a mat. Most hatha classes also include mindful breathing exercises known as pranayama, which help purify the blood and respiratory systems while calming your body and mind.
Restorative yoga is a less dynamic form of hatha yoga that involves holding a series of basic postures for several minutes supported by props, such as bolsters or blocks, to help minimize strain on muscles and joints, and to promote relaxation. For more active people, restorative yoga is an opportunity to release tension, soothe the nervous system, and rest. For those new to yoga or with physical impairments, it is a gentle way to begin to allow your muscles to stretch and become more flexible.
Chair yoga adapts hatha postures so you can do them while seated in a chair or while standing using a chair for support. This makes yoga accessible to people who can’t stand or move easily due to a physical impairment. It’s also a great way for those who work in an office all day to take a break and ease pent-up tension in the body. Sequences include stretching, twisting, bending while seated, and standing postures that build flexibility and help ease stiffness in your lower back, neck, hips, and shoulders. Chair yoga is increasingly offered in health clubs, senior centers, and adult communities.
Water (or Aqua) Yoga
Practicing yoga in the water is a very different experience than practicing it on land. Your body feels weightless and moves more easily under water, but against greater resistance than air. All your weight is taken off your joints. The postures are gentle and low impact, and, because you’re not fighting gravity, you may be able to stretch further and hold the poses for longer. Many people find that practicing water yoga allows them to feel more relaxed, peaceful, and refreshed than other types of yoga.
To add a little levity to this discussion, how about trying laughter yoga?
According to Laughter Online University, laughter yoga promotes laughter as a form of physical exercise. It was created in India in the mid-1990s. It is based on the premise that voluntary laughter gives the same benefits as spontaneous laughter:
- strengthen your immune system
- bring more oxygen to body and brain
- foster positive feelings
The practice begins with yogic breathing exercises to calm the body and mind, followed by playful group exercises that get people laughing. Laughter groups have formed throughout the U.S. Do an online search to find a group near you.
How to Reap the Benefits
To reap the benefits of yoga, begin gradually. The beauty of yoga is that it meets you where you are—both physically and psychologically. Find a suitable class with a certified teacher and follow these general guidelines:
Hold the poses for just a few seconds at first. The best way to gain strength and flexibility is to hold the pose for only a few seconds at first. Gradually increase your holding time as your body loosens up and becomes more flexible.
If you experience pain or discomfort, back off from the pose. Pushing yourself too hard can lead to injury.
Beware of the desire to “look good.” Instead, focus internally on what your body is able to realistically do today and accept any limitations in your practice.
Adapt your practice, as needed. If you have spinal disc problems, avoid twisting postures. If you have glaucoma, avoid inversions which can cause an increase of pressure in the eye. Let your teacher know if you have either condition.
Take your time learning the language. When you first begin yoga, you may find the language to be a bit challenging: the sequences of poses, the uses of both English and Sanskrit names. Relax and focus on your teacher’s guidance.
When you practice yoga poses gently and within your ability, your body will gradually loosen up and become stronger; your mind will become more clear and calm. But it won’t happen overnight. Maintain a regular practice, work within your ability, and be persistent yet patient. Over time, yoga will deliver the health benefits you’re looking for.