If you’ve been thinking of giving yoga a try because you’ve heard how amazing it is but you’re not as flexible or strong as you used to be… here’s a way for non-flexible seniors to get the benefits of yoga without the senseless frustration of trying to pretzel yourself into a pose that you have no hope of ever getting out of.
If images of sinewy yogis folding themselves into seemingly impossible poses may be a turn-off for some, then it’s important to know that yoga isn’t really about twisting yourself into shapes only cats should ever attempt.
Yoga is about gently pushing your own limits while becoming more attuned to your mind and body, not about trying to become someone who can put their toes behind their ears while balancing on one foot. It’s about gradually developing flexibility, strength, and balance in a way that honors where you are in life.
The best part is, you can start right where you are. Your size, flexibility, fitness level, and age do not prevent you from doing yoga. There are always modifications to each asana (pose) that enable you to do what you can, as you can, and still reap the benefits.
Where did yoga come from, and why is it so popular?
In the West, we primarily see yoga as exercise. However originally, yoga was a mind/body practice with a spiritual core. Yoga originated in India around 3000 BC as a way to achieve enlightenment. It was quickly discovered that yoga seemed to cure physical ailments and diseases including hypertension and diabetes. Yoga came to the West in the late 19th and early 20th century and exploded in popularity in the 1980s. Yoga has many different schools, with the most popular in the West being hatha yoga. Hatha yoga is focused on the body, and encourages the unobstructed flow of prana, or life force energy.
Benefits Of Yoga
There are many reasons to practice yoga:
- Physical: increased flexibility, pain relief, muscle strength and endurance, weight loss, circulatory health, improved respiration, lowered blood pressure, relief from arthritis, greater energy, better digestion, better balance, better sleep, improved athletic performance, stronger connective tissues, and injury prevention.
- Emotional and mental benefits: stress management, self-mastery, improved focus and concentration, optimism, mental clarity, inner peace, improved body awareness, and resilience.
Yoga For Older Beginners
You’re not 20 anymore, and you’re not as flexible as you used to be. So now what? Do the non-bendy among us have to forget yoga? No! Luckily, there are two types of yoga perfectly suited for older beginners.
One particularly appealing version of yoga that is perfectly suited for older beginners is called Gentle Yoga, which is a less intense, less strenuous form of yoga that is slower and more meditative than other forms. Gentle yoga is intended for people with limited mobility who want to experience relief from chronic pain, stiffness, or chronic conditions while building flexibility, balance and strength. Gentle yoga moves at a relaxed, easy pace with fluid movements that are primarily floor- or chair-based.
Chair yoga is a type of yoga that centers around poses that can be done from a comfortable seated position, without worrying about losing balance and falling. It’s the perfect introduction to yoga for anyone with serious balance and mobility issues, or disabilities. Chair yoga poses are mostly done seated, although there are a few that involve standing and using the chair for support. Since it’s intended for people with limited mobility, there are few if any poses that require being on the floor (because it can be hard for people to get down or up off the floor). It’s a gentle, slow form of yoga intended to ‘awaken’ the body and begin restoring vitality. It increases flexibility and strength, and builds body awareness.
Class Vs. Video
Now that you know that there are two types of yoga that you can do no matter your current physical situation, the next question is, should you take a class, or can you learn and practice yoga via video?
Wherever possible, a live yoga class with an instructor is the best way to go to get expert guidance, and to avoid developing bad habits. However, videos have their place too. Here are the pros and cons of live yoga classes and yoga videos:
- Personalized instruction to help you do your asanas correctly (and explain why each pose is beneficial)
- An expert is motivating you, encouraging you, and guiding you
- You get explanations when you have questions
- Social interaction with other students
- Yoga classes can be expensive
- You have to show up, and if nobody is teaching the yoga style you want in your area, the drive may be quite far
- Practice when you want, where you want
- The right video for your needs: Yoga in 20 minutes? Done! Yoga for people with knee problems? No problem! Yoga for people with balance problems? Here you go!
- Huge variety of styles, teachers, and routines
- Learn more poses than you could in a live class
- Self-directed practice that may be prone to distractions and lack of motivation
- No personalized instruction – nobody improving your alignment, stance, technique, or breathing, which can lead to developing bad habits
- Too easy to get into a rut of doing the easy poses and not pushing yourself
- No social connections with other students
- Too many choices can be overwhelming
There’s no doubt that yoga is a beneficial, if not, completely transformative practice.
One way to start is to ask if you can join a class to see what it’s all about. Most teachers will comp you one introductory class or heavily discount it, and they’ll be happy to discuss whether a class is right for you, and what you can expect.
If you want to try gentle yoga or chair yoga for seniors and don’t have that option where you live, get started with videos and transition to a more advanced live class when you’re ready.
Yoga is a life-changing practice suitable for anyone. Your joints, mind, heart, lungs, and muscles will thank you! Give it a try today!
I’m an active Certified Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor who specializes in Senior Fitness and Functional Movement. Other interest include photography, travel, inspirational speaking and coaching others through any roadblocks that may be preventing full self-expression.
I firmly believe that nothing is more important in life than your health.
My mission is to continually grow, develop, and express myself fully in life while doing my part to help others discover theirs. Together we can help make the world a better place!