There are different parlances for every generation in regard to exercise options: Spinning (cycling), Zumba, Pilates, it goes on and on. There are trends in exercise just as there are in everything else.
Yoga is not a new type of exercise. It has been around way longer than any of us. Yet people are still a bit reluctant or even apprehensive when it comes to pursuing it even though it is arguably the best form of exercise available, particularly for those with some mileage on them.
There is some mystique attached to yoga because it is an ancient Eastern approach to health and well-being and not Western in origin. It is associated with monks and other enlightened souls. People are often leery of that which they are not familiar with.
Pick Your Poison
Some individuals, particularly older folk, do not want to run a marathon or lift back-breaking weights. They do not want to hip-hop and bounce around until their knees and ankles implode. They know the benefits of exercise but aren’t sure what they can manage considering their physical limitations.
This group needs to stretch, tone and strengthen their aged bodies while simultaneously engaging in an activity that soothes the brain, is a balm for the heart and is beneficial to the lungs. Yoga is holistic, addressing all parts of the body, including the mind.
In yoga, practitioners sit and lie on the floor, while quietly executing postures that do not put extreme stress on muscles, joints, bones or body organs, which older people cannot tolerate.
As humans age they stop breathing fully, resulting in lost flexibility in the ribcage. When the ribcage is no longer supple, space becomes inadequate and restricted and the lungs cannot expand. In yoga, practitioners learn to breathe mindfully, focusing on their breath, as well as execute ribcage expansion postures.
Breathing mindfully slows the heart rate, lowers blood pressure and concentration is improved. It also calms the sympathetic nervous system, which produces stress hormones, such as cortisol, which are hard on the heart.
Degree of Difficulty
Do not misunderstand. Yoga is not easy, particularly at first. The participant is asking her body to move in ways it may never have moved before or hasn’t moved in years. You groan and sweat but that’s good.
The designations of the poses/postures are often named after animals because the practitioner resembles that animal when in the asana, which means the art of sitting still and doing any posture useful for restoring and maintaining a person’s physical and mental health.
If your yoga instructor uses the term asana that means yoga posture or position. S/he may not use the term at all. After a couple of sessions, participants easily understand the teacher’s instruction to do a “downward-facing dog” but may not understand or remember the Sanskrit name Adho Mukha Svanasana. That’s okay. You aren’t going to be tested on it.
I’m Old … I’m Afraid…
Older people automatically assume they can’t do yoga, but they can. No, they’re not capable of twisting themselves into a knot but that’s not necessary. Yoga is not a competitive sport. You do not have to achieve what the contortionist 22-year-old across the room is capable of doing. A little bit of stretching is better than none at all. And, furthermore, you may be surprised what you are capable of doing after a few sessions.
One newbie to yogi observed the women in her class (Baby Boomers and older) resembled Shar Peis (those wrinkly dogs) when bending forward while executing a pose. Instead of being offended, the group laughed in unison. Spring chickens they are not but these women can execute a shoulder stand and are looking and feeling better than ever before.
S.K., age 58: I believe people think yoga is some kind of weird activity. I have to admit I was a bit intimidated when I first started. I only went because a friend invited me. I was not flexible and couldn’t do some of the poses but I was amazed how my shoulders opened and how good the poses felt after a while. I would never have believed downward facing dog could be a resting pose until I’d been practicing for a year or more. I don’t think people know the value of practicing yoga for the mind, body and soul so they don’t try.
Your instructor may offer progressive deep relaxation at the end of class, which is about as close to nirvana as you are going to get. During this period you become deeply relaxed and that includes your brain, which needs to take a break, slow down and just go blank.
You don’t have to be a yoga scholar to take, enjoy and benefit from the class. No one is going to drill you on the names of the postures. If you can remember ‘corpse,’ ‘crow,’ ‘child’s resting pose,’ ‘lotus,’ ‘cobra,’ ‘pigeon’ and ‘bow’ you’re good to go. You do not need to know the Sanskrit names.
Grab that mat, wear something comfortable and stretchy and head to class. You will be glad you did.
Count on it.