Is yoga something that is only effective for younger people?
Absolutely not! Yoga’s benefits know no ‘age.’ They include increasing flexibility, strength and decreasing stress and blood pressure. Yoga increases balance as well, which can be particularly challenging for older people. Yoga is also less stress on the joints than something like running so it can be quite accessible for people of all ages.
If you’ve never tried yoga, does it even make sense to start when you’re in your senior years or is it a waste of time because your body is already very tight and inflexible?
Yoga’s benefits will begin to take affect from the first class you practice. The only thought you’ll likely have is: “What took me so long to start?” The tightness one has built up in the body will require a longer period of time to undo, but with consistent practice, the body will loosen up. My advice for people is to do a little yoga regularly, versus feeling the pressure of having to do lots of yoga for long periods of time each day. This is just for many, not a practical possibility.
What are the benefits of yoga, specifically for those that are older?
As I mentioned before, yoga helps improve balance. As you get older, balance is one of the things that can get tricker, causing things like an increase in falls and just overall steadiness. Loss of bone density, osteoporosis, which is a particular challenge for women over 50, is improved by the weight bearing one does in yoga and has none of the potentially unwanted side affects of jumping up and down that comes with running. Yoga also helps naturally decrease the blood pressure and this can be elevated as one ages. Yoga also works to improve flexibility and increase joint mobility, which can decrease the affects of arthritis and other joint related conditions.
What are the benefits of yoga for people that are managing injuries or dealing with chronic pain?
The use of pain medications to manage chronic pain is rampant in the United States. The number of older Americans taking multiple medications to keep their pain under control is significant and for many, the pain is only bearable when on medication. Yoga’s ability to decrease stress and improve breathing capacity, flexibility and strength has been shown to give people a natural way to manage their pain and for some, has allowed them to decrease their pain medications. Restorative postures that hold the body for longer periods of time, supported by props, can provide significant relief and relaxation in a therapeutic way.
Are there any medical conditions that one might have where yoga would be unwise to attend?
Many medical conditions can be accommodated in a yoga practice; the condition should be discussed with the teacher so appropriate accommodations can be made. Some common things that come up include people with blood pressure conditions that preclude moving from standing to the ground in a rapid way; this can be alleviated by sitting in a chair or doing standing poses only. People with limited mobility can do yoga in a chair or supported by a chair or a wall, for instance.
How would an older person select a yoga class when looking at a studio schedule?
Picking a yoga class should take into account the person’s experience level and what they are looking for out of a class. Most studios post class titles and descriptions that reflect the class focus- things like “Beginners” classes are great for someone with no experience, regardless of age. “Restorative” classes use props to support the body in a pose for a few minutes each and is done in a very slow moving flow. For an older person with no experience, I’d suggest a beginner’s class. If the person has any medical condition or needs any special accommodation made, I’d suggest speaking to the teacher before class to update him or her on the condition and how it affects the person. If you were looking for something challenging and cardiovascular, a flow class (also called Vinyasa or Power Yoga) would be a great selection.
What can you expect as a new person to yoga, when you attend your first class?
In your first class, expect to feel a bit out of sorts, as you get used to the poses. This unsteadiness is part of the practice but is alleviated if you go with no expectations, breathe deeply and bring a sense of fun to the experience. From a practical perspective, go at least 20 minutes early, get a spot in the middle or back of the room (so you can see the teacher clearly) and wear comfortable clothing, but not something that will fall off your body when you bow forward. Eat lightly before class and make sure you’re well hydrated. All studios have mats to rent so you can always use one of them, but it’s best for health reasons, to have your own.
How do you break through the resistance you might feel to try yoga?
The resistance that one feels around attending class can be related to many things. It can be the fear of trying something new, a sense of fear around not knowing what to expect or not wanting to look silly. There can be a fear around how the body will respond and worry that you won’t be able to move freely from pose to pose. If you have a friend that can go to the first few classes with you, that’s one way to relieve some of the stress. Read up on the studio, the teachers and the class styles. Be prepared for your first class. Schedule it in your calendar. Promise yourself that you will try at least two classes before you decide yoga is not for you. Once you take that first class, for many, it’s enough to at least get you going to a few more.
How often should you attend yoga classes?
When starting out, as the body is getting used to the practice, it’s helpful if you can attend at least 3 times per week. If this is not possible, going once a week but supplementing that with at least 20 minutes on your own 2 or 3 times per week is a great start. There are many online resources and DVDS (including mine) that you can use to support a home practice. Remember, the tightness in your body did not build up overnight; it will take some time to break through it.
What resources are available so someone might stretch at home?
I have a yoga DVD that can be purchased on Amazon. Look up “Bare Bones Yoga” to find it. I also have many free, short videos on my website, barebonesyoga.com, that can support you. I’m holding a series of 4 classes at Charlestown Yoga in February, 2013. Yoga Journal’s website also has great online resources that can support you at home.