- A Brief History of Yoga
- Why Do Yoga?
- What Is a Senior When it Comes to Yoga?
- Yoga for Seniors: Adapt Your Objectives
- Adapting Yoga to Seniors
- Chair Yoga
- Yoga Poses that Older Yogis Should Avoid
- Choosing a Yoga Instructor for Seniors
- Helpful Things You Might Need for Yoga.
- Some Tips that Elder Yogis Should Remember.
- A Yoga Glossary
“Age is something that doesn't matter, unless you are a cheese.” - Luis Bunuel
Yoga is an activity that many people are familiar with and that many people practise, regardless of their age. In fact, whether you’re doing a sun salutation, mindfulness meditation, or twisting, we can work on our body, mind, and spirit whether we’re 7 or 77.
However, age does play a role in your ability to let go and in the effectiveness of certain yoga poses. Annoyingly enough, there is more to it than just thinking positively! Yoga requires balance, strength, and flexibility - all things that diminish as we get older - and, although it may look like people making poses on the floor, it's an activity that can cause injury if you throw yourself into it with too much enthusiasm.
Luckily, though, yoga improves all these things too - and it can be both a great work out and a de-stressing activity. Yet, it's worth knowing some different things if you are approaching the activity as an older person - and that's what we are going to talk about here.
So at what age are you considered a senior?
In the world of sport, you can very quickly be considered a senior. In athletics, a senior can be in their early 20s! Of course, it’s all relative. When it comes to the stretches, alignment, and warming up of yoga, everyone can do it as long as they adapt it to their age.
In this article, we're going to look at senior yoga. People can still attend a yoga class, do yoga postures, and enjoy the restorative benefits of yoga well into their twilight years.
A Brief History of Yoga
Let's start with a bit of history though. What is yoga, and why should an older person bother to practise it? The important thing is that looking at the discipline through history reveals lots of yogis were still practicing into the age that we might now define as 'senior'.
People generally know yoga as an ancient spiritual activity that was born in India. It's generally recognised as beginning some five thousand years ago in northern India, as it is first mentioned in the books known as the Rig Veda (although some scholars reckon the practice is actually twice this old).
It wasn't until the second century, however, that yoga as a practice was formalised into something that we might recognise today - and this came along with someone we know as Patanjali, an historical figure known as the 'father of yoga'. He wrote a number of books that developed the work of the Veda. (Inconveniently, though, Patanjali may not have been just one person; rather, that name may just refer to whoever wrote the texts.)
Building from these works, many different scholars and 'yogis' built upon the ancient scripts and teachings. Over the years, they eventually developed a form of yoga known as Hatha Yoga. This is generally what we know as yoga these days - with its salutations, and its attention to body awareness and breathing - in which the physical body becomes the important aspect in spiritual enlightenment and enrichment.
Into the twentieth century, yoga practitioners travelled to the west, and some of them began to combine traditional yoga techniques with western exercises. One of the major minds in what came to be known as the 'Yoga Renaissance' was Swami Kuvalayananda, who practised long into his senior years.
And if you are looking for inspiration, you might want to look at Tao Porchon - the world's oldest yoga teacher, who turned 100 last year. Based in New York, she still teaches up to eight classes a week - and attributes her old age to the fact that she has been practicing yoga since she was six!
Why Do Yoga?
People do yoga for a whole load of reasons: to reduce stress, to develop physical fitness, flexibility, and core strength and it's a particularly good supplement to other exercises too. Yet, there is a lot of research that suggests that yoga also combats pain, irritable bowels, obesity, and asthma.
Among older people, it's a fantastic way to develop health and well-being in a low-impact and social way. Keeping active is important at all ages - particularly when you are older. Exercise in general helps your mental health and your mood - and can contribute greatly to improved sleep patterns.
The majority of people that commit to yoga find that the spiritual aspects of the discipline become ever more interesting. So, if you are into that, you may find that you find greater inner peace by dedicating yourself to the exercise.
And finally, as one of the most in-vogue exercise disciplines in the world, you are sure to look super cool whilst doing it too!
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What Is a Senior When it Comes to Yoga?
Whatever discipline you practise, be it yoga or otherwise, there is an age when you’ll be considered a senior. This is the age when you’ll need to adapt certain exercises to match your age and your fitness. However, this is a generalisation, as there are some people of a certain age who’ll be fitter and more capable than their younger counterparts.
Of course, not every yoga posture is the same and time takes its toll on parts of your body such as your spine, hips, knees and problems like arthritis can make it seem that the yoga practice has an age limit.
There are specialised yoga courses for senior citizens since most people of a similar age will have a similar level when it comes to doing sporting activities such as yoga. For the purpose of this article, we'll consider a senior to be someone who’s approaching retirement whose physical prowess isn’t what it once was during their younger years.
When it comes to breathing techniques, alignment, muscle toning, improving flexibility, and managing stress, there are certain considerations that need to be made for older yogis. You can’t do all of the above with the same intensity as you would with a group of 20-somethings. However, there’s nothing that can’t be altered to work for older participants. You just need to modify the energy and intensity of the courses.
If you’re pregnant, you’ll probably want to consider prenatal yoga, a type of gentle yoga that women in the first or second trimester of pregnancy can do.
Yoga for Seniors: Adapt Your Objectives
Yoga is a great discipline but you need to manage your goals and adapt them to your own capabilities. There are plenty of reasons and goals for doing yoga:
- Meet new people
- Understand a new way of life
- Change how you eat and exercise
- Harmonise your mind, body, and spirit
- Start meditating
- Learn to control your breathing
- And many others!
Thus, there are plenty of reasons for seniors to start doing yoga. Throughout your life, these goals and reasons will change and there’s nothing wrong with deciding to start doing yoga later on in your life.
Don’t forget that those with physical disabilities can also do yoga!
Adapting Yoga to Seniors
Whether you’re 50 or 100, as we age, our bodies become less responsive and it’s more difficult to certain things once you reach a certain age. This isn’t necessarily a problem. However, you do need to take this into account in order to enjoy all the benefits of yoga and do your breathing exercises or poses like the sun salutation.
As you get older, you’ll need to consider attending yoga classes that are adapted to your age and your fitness rather than practising on your own as you run the risk of injuring yourself. The idea is to harmonise your body, mind, and spirit regardless of your age. After all, yoga is a way of life that’s open to everyone!
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There are a number of different types of yoga which are good for older yogis:
- Nidra yoga which can help those who struggle to sleep manage their concerns.
- Yoga for back pain.
- Laughter yoga, a type of yoga that’s aimed at those who are feeling sad and only, something which can happen as we get older and approach retirement.
These aren’t the only examples but they do show that regardless of your age, you can still do yoga. You just need to listen to your body and find out which type of yoga is best for you.
Find out more about yoga for couples.
An alternative style of yoga that has become popular in recent years is chair yoga, which, as the name suggests, is yoga performed in a chair. It's designed for people with reduced mobility or with difficulties with balance - or indeed anyone that wants to start slowly with yoga - but it maintains most of the benefits of yoga practices, as it can improve balance, increase flexibility, and reduce aches and pains.
Quite surprisingly maybe, most of the postures and positions are easily performed on a chair. However, the extra proper offers a bit more support, so that the posture is not so physically taxing. You will find that you will still be able to move between positions smoothly (in yoga, this transition is known as a vinyasa) - as the chair doesn't get in the way as much as you might think.
As above, you'll need to think about the ways to adapt the conventional yoga positions to chair yoga - but you will find many different guides on different positions online. They will have you bending and stretching effectively and will prepare you for when you want to progress to the yoga without the chair.
Whilst the choice of chair is not so important, it's worth mentioning a few things. As you will be stretching and moving, ensure that the chair on which you do your yoga exercises is stable. You should probably avoid chairs with wheels and any that might feel unbalanced when you sit on it. Chairs with arms might also be a bit tricky, as they might restrict your movement a little.
Yoga Poses that Older Yogis Should Avoid
As you’ll have understood, there’s nothing that you can’t do once you reach a certain age as long as you adapt it to your own fitness levels. Of course, some exercises or poses in their purest forms may be too complicated for ageing bodies to do. This is why a specialised yoga instructor or tutor can help you adapt these poses for older yogis.
There are certain poses that aren’t recommended after you reach a certain age. For example, a lot of the twisting poses, as well as those that require high levels of balance, may not be suitable. Generally, a lot of yoga sessions for seniors include poses where you’re lying down or seated.
Since your range of motion probably won't be what it once was, your yoga therapy may focus on trying to strengthen certain parts of your body or just focusing on the calm and relaxing aspects of yoga.
Of course, if you practise yoga, you’ll want all the benefits of doing so. However, you’ll also need to pay attention to your health! Yoga’s a great way to improve your wellbeing, refocus, and relax.
So are you ready to give it a try?
There’s no age limit when it comes to feeling good.
Choosing a Yoga Instructor for Seniors
Your yoga instructor or tutor is there to support you, guide you, and help you to get better at yoga whether you’re in a private class or a group class. Regardless of your age, everyone’s body is different and this will define how you do yoga. With poses, harmonising your body, mind, and spirit, and meditation, there are plenty of things that you need them to teach you.
As a yoga teacher, your instructor needs to adapt their sessions to their students. This is why there are certain yoga instructors who only teach seniors and specialise in doing so. They’re aware of exactly what the older generation is capable of. It’s not about doing impressive yoga poses but rather finding a tutor who knows exactly what can do.
Thus, whether you’re 65 or 80, anyone can learn to do yoga and get better at it. This is where your yoga instructor comes into it as they’ll be able to manage your expectations and help beginners become experts over time. There’s nothing better than a good teacher to help you get better at something.
Yoga is a physical activity that can be adapted to anyone. It’s also a way of life that anyone can adopt. You just need to know how to adapt it to each person according to their abilities, goals, and desires. You can become an expert in relaxation and listening to your mind, body, and spirit. Yoga is an art, after all.
With so many types of yoga including hatha yoga, Iyengar yoga, restorative yoga, Ashtanga yoga, power yoga, etc., nobody has an excuse for not attending a beginner yoga class and learning their first asana (pose) or improving their awareness of their body and mind.
If you're looking for private yoga teachers, you should consider checking out the tutors on Superprof. Whether you need a routine tailored to you, want to feel more relaxed and mindful, or start stretching and healing, you can find specialists in yoga for beginners, seniors, those with physical disabilities, and pregnant women.
You can get one-on-one tutors, online tutors, or tutors offering group sessions of yoga. Online tutors tend to be cheaper as they have fewer outgoings but having a tutor there in-person is usually a better idea to ensure that you're not doing any of the poses wrong.
Helpful Things You Might Need for Yoga.
Yoga can be performed anywhere: all you really need is you and your body. However, there are some things that might make your yoga experience a bit easier and more comfortable.
- Yoga mat. - Whilst we like to say that yoga can be done anywhere, the closest thing to a necessary tool in the discipline is a yoga mat. This prevents you from getting sore in contact with the ground - and generally makes the whole experience a bit more pleasant.
- Yoga videos. - If you don't want to pay for a yoga teacher, you can either find yoga teachers live online or find a yoga video on sites such as YouTube. These will run you through a yoga routine or two - and get you practicing from your own living room.
- A chair. - We talked about chair yoga above, and, if you do this, it goes without saying that you're going to need a chair! However, don't worry about getting any such thing as a 'yoga chair', as these are a waste of money; any old chair will do.
Whilst that is sort of the essentials, you may want also to consider the following:
- Yoga brick. - These are blocks of foam that you can use to position yourself better when following your yoga workout. They also double up as seats that you can use during moments of rest.
- Yoga blanket. - Any blanket will do, but these are designed to maintain your core body temperature when you are in between routines.
Otherwise, some proper sports gear is recommended. Whilst it may look relaxed, yoga is a workout, so swap those jeans for some leggings.
Some Tips that Elder Yogis Should Remember.
It is worth pointing out a few things that might be helpful to know about yoga. There are ways to practise that may be more beneficial and others that are less so. And, whilst yoga might not seem like a particularly grueling discipline, it can hurt you if you are doing it wrong.
So, here are a few things to remember when you are starting off with yoga - things that will keep you motivated, improving, and safe.
- Start slow. - When learning a new discipline, sport, or even just a pose, it is important to start off slowly: don't rush into any yoga pose, as you don't want to strain yourself.
- Practise regularly. - Just because you are starting slowly, it doesn't mean that your yoga has to stay slow for long. Instead, the more you practise, the sooner you will improve your flexibility, your balance, your strength, and the sooner you will see the health benefits.
- Be honest about your ability. - Be honest with yourself about the amount of exercise you can do and about the way your body feels whilst doing it. It's okay, when starting off, not to be amazingly competent nor super strong - but don't push yourself harder than you can go.
- Perform the poses correctly. - Beginners yoga is fairly undemanding. However, it is really important to try to do the poses as correctly as possible. If you do them wrong, you may not get all of the intended benefits - and you may even end up hurting yourself!
A Yoga Glossary
|Asana||the poses adopted in yoga|
|Vinyasa||the movement between poses.|
|Kripalu||a type of yoga focused on physical healing and spiritual transformation|
|Kundalini||divine energy thought to reside at the base of the spine|
|Namaste||a greeting in Hindi, but heard everywhere in yoga circles.|