As we age, our bodies undergo a number of physiological changes. We have to take care of ourselves in ways we didn't have to in our younger years, and yoga can be the right tool to help. Mature adults are increasingly being drawn to yoga, which is well suited for their physical needs because of the low-impact qualities of the practice.
One of the most beautiful things about yoga is that it is truly for everybody. With limitless styles and approaches, anyone committed to finding their place on the mat can find an approach that best suited for them.
In my practice, I find that mature adults are generally concerned with maintaining or improving their quality of life and are looking for help with managing stress, improving their flexibility, in addition to relief from the various health issues that affect the aging population.
Here are eight ways yoga can help older adults achieve (and maintain) a higher quality of life, and age more gracefully.
1. Reduced stress response
When we practice yoga and meditation, we stimulate the part of the nervous system which is responsible for bringing the body back into balance. The way we respond (or react) to life's challenges as we get older and traumatic events like the loss of a loved one, can often throw the body out of balance.
A regular yoga practice helps us find that equilibrium, lowering blood pressure and regulating heart rate, while stimulating the immune system and keeping the endocrine system on the right track. This allows stress levels to drop, causing a significant increases in the brain's serotonin levels.
2. Greater flexibility
A limited range of motion — which is a natural occurrence as we age — can predispose older adults to falls and accidents.
The gentle stretching of yoga poses can go a long way in helping develop greater flexibility, helping to maintain a better range of motion, making everyday activities easier — whether it's climbing the stairs or taking a shower. With a regular yoga practice, seniors can avoid those aches and pains that many think are just part of the aging process.
I love it when my older students share with me that they have finally touched their toes for the first time in years!
3. Stronger bones
Maintaining healthy bone density is a big concern as we age. We know that inactivity can lead to bone loss. By practicing weight bearing yoga postures, we're strengthening the bones beneath our muscles as well. Studies have shown that a gentle yoga practice can be effective in preventing and slowing bone density loss.
4. Sharpening the mind
Yoga helps to open the mind. It helps practitioners to be present and to pay attention to their thoughts and the activities of the mind. Yoga encourages students to express themselves more clearly. A yoga practice requires focus and critical thinking, in order to follow the instructor's verbal cues and connect movement with breath. This can help older students stay alert and keep their minds sharp.
5. Making connections
Aging can be lonely, without the social and family networks of years past. Yoga classes provide a link back into the community. Shared interests and time on the mat can lead to feelings of connection and a support system beyond the time spent in class.
6. Emotional well-being
Practicing yoga regularly allows mature adults to gain confidence in their body and provide them with a sense of control and security. Yoga contributes to a positive mental and emotional state, a brighter outlook, and enthusiasm for what is to come!
7. Increased vitality
As we grow older (no matter what age we are!) our yoga practice only continues to get better. Many adults may not ever have imagined the strength, mobility and flexibility that come with a dedicated practice. In addition to a boost in overall energy, yoga also promotes self-care, improving your beauty on the inside and out.
8. Acceptance of what is
It is said that yoga helps us to change the things about ourselves that can be changed, and to accept those which we cannot. Yoga helps us to accept who we are, wherever we are. We learn and become more comfortable with our limits, and where we can grow as we gain deeper insight into ourselves and our bodies. Yoga helps us to be more self-compassionate and to age more gracefully.
How many activities can offer so much to our lives as a yoga practice can? So find a class at your local studio and see if it's for you, too. Listen to and honor your body, so that you will be able to enjoy the benefits of yoga without the worry of injury.
Finding a yoga teacher who is familiar with the changes associated with aging and how to modify poses accordingly, is also important. Through a practice of movement, breathing and meditation, yoga can help older adults to age with grace and energize the years ahead!