If you see pictures in magazines, then you would think that yoga is only for young, flexible, mainly women who can do very advanced poses. However that is far from the reality. I teach yoga to over 50’s. When I explain what I do, I am often told: “I am too old to start yoga.” I ask why and they say I could never do those “pretzel poses”. I rather like that description of very difficult poses done to show off someone’s skill. Is 40, 50, 60+ Too Old to Start Yoga?
The majority of people in yoga classes are over 40 (data from a new US Yoga Alliance study). Yes those poses portrayed in the media are unlikely to be achieved by anyone above 40. But that is a very small part of yoga. There are many poses (asanas) in yoga that are much less intense with the purpose of increasing strength, flexibility and balance. These poses are well within the abilities of someone over 40, 50 or 60. I have had students in their 90’s start yoga. With the desire to start and continue yoga, the benefits of yoga are available to everyone.
As we age the body does change and very difficult poses become difficult and less interesting. Yoga’s benefits for older students keep joints open, maintain balance and learn tools to decrease stress. Yoga is excellent at improving balance, strength and flexibility. Using traditional poses but modifying them for a person’s individual fitness level allows anyone to start at a comfortable level and improve fitness over time. Even someone who cannot get out of a chair can perform modified poses to improve strength in the legs and open major joints.
Improving balance is a major benefit of yoga. Yoga teachers can guide students in balance poses while holding onto a chair or the wall. Standing on one foot during a balance pose also strengthens the muscles in the standing leg. Older individuals need both strength and balance to remain independent and out of care. Teachers of senior yoga can change balance and strength poses to improve balance with a variety of techniques that take into consideration the student’s ability.
Flexibility or opening the joints in a careful and modulated method can help with flexibility and moving well. Starting at low level joint openers and working up to more intense poses keeps the joints lubricated and works the muscles to release and open the joints. Very tight joints can be painful as well as preventing a person from reacting to prevent a fall. Yoga’s benefits of improving strength, balance and flexibility are particularly helpful for older students.
Yoga can help keep strength in the legs, maintain balance and open joints – all abilities that can decrease with age. Differing from other forms of exercise, yoga has more to offer than only increasing the body’s fitness level. Also, increasing energy and releasing stress are also on yoga’s plate. Learning how to breathe deeply increases your energy, as most oxygen transfer occurs in the lower lobes of the lungs. Shallow breaths don’t provide as much oxygen as deeper ones.
Women in their 40’s and 50’s have the highest stress levels of any group; they may be taking care of older children, have responsibility for parents, and may be in responsible positions in their career. Learning how to relax and lessen their stress through breathing and meditation can be very beneficial. I always offer and most yoga teachers offer a relaxation period at the end of the class. Students learn to relax their bodies, shut down the mind and allow themselves to enjoy the moment.
Meditation – which is not thinking of nothing – is shutting down the judging brain and allowing oneself to be present. Students learn to stop judging past actions or anticipating probable or improbable future actions. Allowing yourself to relax and enjoy the present is quite relaxing and nurturing.
There are no age limitations with yoga – I recently read articles about two yoga teachers who are close to a 100 years old. Looking for a teacher that will change the poses to your age and fitness level will allow you to take part in class that is safe buy challenging. Give yoga a try!
Stephanie Cunningham is the owner of Yoga Lightness. She has taught yoga for over 50’s for 10 years and recently produces two podcasts: one to bust the myths about yoga and the other to bust the myths about retirement.