Friday, October 23, 2009

Yoga and Aging -- Growing older with grace

I've noticed that I've gotten stiffer over the last few years, despite my yoga practice.   I've seen this in some of my long-term students as well.    Our hips, ankles, shoulders, and back just don't move or stretch as freely as they used to, or at least not as quickly.     Our strength and sense of balance eventually start to decrease as well.

Apparently this is an inevitable parting of growing older.   This doesn't mean we give up on our yoga practice -- on the contrary, our yoga practice will keep us stronger, more limber, and overall healthier and happier than if we didn't practice.

I did mention that I am stiffer than I used to be -- this stiffness goes away during practice, although it takes me a little longer to get there.   I can't imagine what my body would be like without this practice, let alone my state of mind!    I'd probably be a hunched-over crank with bad knees and back, and a perpetual scowl on my face if it weren't for my yoga practice!    (Well, hopefully not, but I'm not going to test it!)

We have to practice differently as we get older than when we were younger.    Perhaps we can't throw ourselves into poses with the joy and abandon of younger practitioners, but our body awareness develops so that we can more intelligently and more skillfully work to increase our physical and mental health, or at least to maintain for longer our current level of health.

This photo of B.K.S. Iyengar is from the Vanity Fair article link, below.  This was taken when he was 88.
The Yoga Portfolio Outtakes Entertainment & Culture:
Of course this photo is meant to inspire-- most of us won't have such a beautiful back arch at any age perhaps, but it shows that the human body is capable of more than we think it is.    B.K.S. Iyengar doesn't "hit the perfect pose" right off the bat, however.   He moves his body with intelligence during his practice, skillfully moving deeper and deeper into his poses, with the aid of props and keen mental awareness.   This is how we all need to work as we get older -- mindfully and intelligently.

The photo of the woman doing paschimottanasana ( seated forward bend) is also inspiring, and more accessible to more of us.   But it's still a pose that needs intelligent and mindful work if we want to deepen the pose without injury.

In the Denver Post article, Turning Age on it's Head , one of the teachers that is interviewed says, " Iyengar is the safest yoga for older practitioners because of Iyengar's focus on proper alignment and the use of props — blankets, blocks, straps, chairs and ropes — to assist poses.
"Mr. Iyengar's genius engineering in the use of props and sequencing makes the essence and benefit of each pose available to any student, regardless of ability, strength, flexibility, experience or age,"

If you're new to yoga, and are starting to feel the effects of age, you may prefer to find a "Gentle" yoga class or a "Yoga for Seniors" class as your introduction into this practice, so that you're with other like-minded, and like-bodied people.    Yoga IS for everyone, but not every beginning yoga class will be suitable for all beginners.   Some will prefer an active, vigorous class (I think many younger people need this activity), while some need a slower-paced, more supported class that gently strengthens and stretches and opens the body.  

Again, from the Denver Post article, one of the interviewed teachers says,
"For those who practice yoga regularly, stiffness turns to suppleness. Closed joint spaces open so the life-force energy known as 'prana' can flow to bring vitality," Frechette says. "And the oxygenated flow of blood brings youth-promoting nutrients to all the nooks and crannies of our aging bodies."

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.