Photo: Neil Barden, 82 year old Stretch Now employee
Centred, supple and 60 plus:
It’s a no-brainer, friends - we are all getting older! (In fact, it’s happening right now - we’re both a whole 20 seconds older than when you started reading this!) Ageing is a totally natural process, and despite what many glossy advertisements tell us, it’s a process that can’t be stopped.
Getting older can certainly cause a few grumbles - grey hair and wrinkles are one thing, but when the physical body starts to ache and seize up, certain activities become more difficult, potentially impacting our quality of life.
Yoga is a wonderful choice for maintaining a healthy body and mind as we age. And it’s not just for lithe young bodies capable of twisting into pretzel-like shapes - anyone can experience the many benefits of a regular yoga practice - regardless of age, shape or bendy-ness.
Here are 9 ways yoga benefits older adults:
- Maintains flexibility
Remember when you were little - touching your toes and hanging from the monkey bars was, well, child’s play! As we age, the number of muscle fibres in the body dwindle and shrink in size, compromising flexibility. Everyday tasks such as looking over your shoulder to reverse the car out of the driveway can become tricky, or even painful, as the muscles lack their former youthful elasticity.
Stretching and elongating the muscles with gentle yoga poses works well to soften them and making them more flexible, helping you move with ease.
- Supports strong bones
Sorry folks - older bones means weaker bones! Over time, they lose density, making them susceptible to breakage.
The good news - it is possible to maintain bone strength and slow the rate of density decline - you’ve simply got to keep active! Yoga poses which hold the weight of the body, (even for a short time) such as downward-facing-dog are particularly useful.
- Eases joint stiffness
Joints gradually lose their full range of motion from a lifetime of wear and tear. The cartilage, synovial membrane and synovial fluid that once kept the joints moving smoothly all start to decline. Slow, purposeful movement, such as an appropriate yoga sequence, stimulates production of the lubricating synovial fluid essential to cushion against stiffness and pain.
- Yoga gets the blood pumping! Combined with the physical aspect of practice, paying attention to the breath and breathing deeply in class delivers a fresh burst of oxygen to the brain, helping you feel more vibrant and alert long after your yoga session.
- Cultivates balance and stability
Good balance is tremendously important at any age, but with research showing falls and fall related injuries as the leading cause of injury and hospitalisation for older Australians, learning to stay steady on your feet is vital. Standing yoga poses all work to strengthen the legs and ankle joints, which can be particularly vulnerable to giving way.
Balance poses excel at strengthening one side of the body at a time, and as a bonus - also help develop better mental focus and concentration.
- Helps manage stress
Getting older may bring a new set of worries including financial concerns, loneliness, loss, grief as well as navigation of new or ongoing health issues. Meditation and pranayama practices in particular can create a soothing container for older adults to process worries, calm the mind and develop a healthy, positive mindset. Plus, once learned, simple meditation and pranayama techniques can be utilised anytime, anywhere.
- Promotes quality rest and relaxation
Along with the physical signs of ageing, sleep patterns can get thrown out of whack. Many older adults say they are much lighter sleepers, and that a night’s sleep does not feel as refreshing as it used to. Several yoga poses are quieting for both the body and mind and make a wonderful preparation for quality sleep. The practice of yoga nidra is of real value here too - this guided meditation takes about 20 minutes but many proclaim it’s as restful as 4 hours sleep!
- Advocates self-acceptance
Every stage of life has its ups and downs. As we get older, it’s important to stay focused on what is possible, rather than dwell on any perceived negative impacts of the ageing process. Through yoga we get in touch with our own awareness, and as we practice awareness of our physical movement with the breath and mind, yoga helps harness an attitude of self-love, acceptance and compassion to support the journey into our older years.
- Develops sangha
Taking a class with fellow yoga enthusiasts can help widen social circles and develop a sense of sangha, or community. This holds great value for positive mental health.
Ready to try yoga?
When you are ready to try yoga, seek out a class that caters for participants over 60. Be sure to chat to your teacher and/or healthcare provider about any concerns you have before embarking on your yoga adventure. Check out the timetable at your local yoga studio or community centre for suitable classes.