In celebration of the launch of The No-More-Excuses Guide to Yoga, I’ve invited some friends and colleagues to write articles relating to the theme of the book’s subtitle: Because yoga is for every body.
Given that yoga has enormous benefits for staying youthful – that is, being able to move freely even as you age – it’s strange that we don’t see more media images of older people practicing yoga. It sends the message that yoga isn’t for older people which so isn’t true.
Today’s guest author, who is nearing her 70th birthday with over forty years of practice experience, smashes this misconception and shares ways older people can make yoga their own.
by guest author Eve Grzybowski, Yoga Suits Her
A colleague of mine says;
“If you can breathe, you can do yoga.”
Is that really so?
Given that there are hundreds and probably thousands of yoga postures and practices, how do you go about choosing classes? In today’s climate with its infinity of yoga styles, what is the best choice for you?
… as the great Indian teacher, T.K.V. Desikachar was fond of saying;
The class you choose or the practice you do depends on variables such as: your age, your energy levels, your emotional state, and your general health. Some people like to vary the yoga they do according to the season of the year, the time of the day or the moon cycles.
A crucial influence in what you choose to do is the stage of life you are in.
For instance, rather than doing a static routine, you can choose restorative poses when you have the menstruation blahs, postnatal yoga after the baby arrives, dynamic yoga when you’re ready to go for it, and breathing exercises, relaxation, and meditation for times of stress.
It makes sense that as we ebb and flow in our lives that we need to adapt and change our yoga practices to reflect what’s happening in the moment.
For me, on the cusp of my 70th birthday, I do a very different type of practice than I did when I started out as a twenty-something-year-old.
Like many older yogis, I like to take care of my physical body by doing asanas. These days I still work on my flexibility, as well as emphasising strength building postures in my yoga practice. I even do weight training a couple of times a week – good for my bones and good for keeping muscles around my joints strong.
I do yoga at a slower pace than I did when I was younger. The truth is I need more time to get in and out of poses. What’s the hurry anyway? I’m just going to be doing another practice tomorrow.
The great thing about having had yoga as my constant companion forty-three years is that I’ve learned to accommodate long timings in poses. I can get there, stay there and reap the benefits of inverted poses, like headstand and shoulderstand – called, as we’ve heard, ‘the king and queen of asanas’.
Holding postures for long timings isn’t an endurance contest or a way to beat my timer. It’s about exploring the skill of surrender.
As I advance in age, it seems that there are so many things to deal with and learn to accept that were previously unacceptable: vision impairment, loss of hearing, a stiff body, even the relentless effects of gravity!
With years of practice, I see the breath as the main game: it must underpin every one of my poses.
Late in life, I have finally developed a pranayama practice. It’s a tool for bringing myself into each new moment. I sometimes think of my friend Anna who says she wants to be there, conscious, when she takes her last breath.
Along with pranayama, there are other reflective practices for us in the older population: yoga nidra, savasana and mindfulness meditation. These are the tools that we can use to face whatever developments occur with ageing: medical conditions, emotional instability, weakening of the physical senses, and even the end of life stage.
As an older person, like me, you can swim in the mainstream where every body is doing yoga, so long as you adapt it for you.
Here are some suggestions for you as a yoga elder and which you might like to pass on to your yoga teacher for consideration:
- Take your own sweet time getting and out of postures.
- Breathe naturally, and let it be a resource that you tap into affectionately and often.
- Work on your flexibility regularly but don’t overstep your limits. Fortunately, the old adage ‘no gain without pain’ is passé.
- Do weight bearing poses, but make sure your bones are up to it. You may need a bone density test. It will give you a baseline from which you can assess what poses are safe for you to do.
- Work on your posture in class and out of class. We all know we’re not doing yoga to discover the fountain of youth. However, one of the most ‘youthifying’ things an elder can do is demonstrate good posture – the ability to be comfortably upright.
- Be courageous. Be willing to try new poses. In my experience, the beginner older student will usually show the most progress. Well, yes, he or she will often start from behind, but that also means there’s the most to gain from yoga.
- Be tenacious. You know that if you don’t do yoga any gains you make will be lost. Yoga poses are portable so maintain your mental and physical health through home practice.
- Respect your energy levels. If after doing yoga, you feel depleted and don’t bounce back, you’re likely to be pushing yourself too hard.
- Take advantage of the social aspect of yoga. Your yoga centre might put on video nights, retreats or workshops. Often there are opportunities to have a cup of tea after class or at a local café with other students.
- Meditate. On sunsets, on your grandchildren, on physical sensations, on the sound of the surf, anything that is here in this moment. Even better if it gives a sense of wonder.
- Make time for yourself. Let yourself be introspective. Retirees are an especially busy group of people. The art of doing nothing can be incredibly rewarding.
It is true that yoga is for every body. It’s also true that it’s never too late to take up the practice.
The great Indian guru, B.K.S. Iyengar, who has just passed away at 96, was blessed to learn yoga as a teenager. But while he was still a relatively young man, he taught yoga to the Queen Mother of Belgium, a beginner, when she was 84 years old.
Do you need a little more incentive?
The healthy yoga practices you do are not necessarily just for you. They will carry over to your family and friends, and ripple out into the global sphere. You build up muscles for taking care of yourself on all levels – body, mind, and spirit. And, the energy you generate for yourself and your own healing can be directed outwards towards humanity and the planet.
The No-More-Excuses Guide to Yoga is specifically written to break down these pre-conceptions that many people have about yoga and help people of all ages make it to their first yoga class. Pre-orders are now open and you can find out more about the book here.
Eve’s yoga experience spans over 40 years. She founded two schools, Sydney Yoga Centre and Simply Yoga. Author of Teach Yourself Yoga and The Art of Adjustment, she also writes for yoga magazines and journals.
Eve has been a yoga teacher trainer since 1990 and sees training individuals to teach as the best way to promote yoga in the world. She writes about yoga and the country life on her blog ‘Yoga Suits Her’.