Updated: Mar 15
Think you're too old to try yoga? Find out what more than 10 million people age 55+ in the US discovered in the last decade, and reap the rewards of a safe and effective yoga practice for physical and mental wellness.
Myth #1: Yoga is for young people.
Statistics indicate that seniors are taking action and demanding yoga instruction that meets their needs. Key findings in the most recent Yoga in America Study conducted on behalf of Yoga Journal and the Yoga Alliance indicate that older Americans are increasingly taking the leap and trying out yoga for the first time in droves, significantly including older men. Attitudes will likely continue to shift as more and more people experience the many benefits of a regular yoga practice.
What are the benefits of doing yoga for seniors, anyway, you ask? The list goes on and on: yoga has been shown to minimize hypertension, strengthen bones, protect joints, build muscular strength, improve balance, sharpen the mind, and keep those extra pounds away. Increasingly, yoga teachers are learning specialized skills, such as Chair Yoga and Yoga Therapy, to adapt the physical practices of yoga and harness its healing properties for all to enjoy.
The mental health benefits of yoga for older people are significant as well. Pandemic life has adversely affected retirees, curtailing travel plans and provoking anxiety at the prospect of hugging the grandkids. The last two years have shown that mental health is health.
Myth #2: Yoga is all about performing postures.
Posture-centric yoga landed in the American lexicon with the advent of photography. Images of impressive young bodies performing extreme postures proliferated throughout the media. The "yoga body" became the new ideal, reflecting cultural ageist values that equate beauty with youth.
Yet, there is so much more to yoga than asana (postures), and I don't mean that new-agey stuff you may have already dismissed as weird. Yoga also encompasses a variety of breathing practices aimed at regulating the nervous system, mindfulness practices, and many different styles of meditation. Forget asana: if you can breath, you can practice advanced yoga. But if asana interests you, know that simple movements coordinated with mindful breath can have a profound effect on your mind and body. It turns out, peacefulness and a deep sense of well-being are possible without any acrobatics at all.
Myth #3: If I want to learn yoga, I need to go to a yoga studio.
The shift from public to home life has increased the availability of free and subscription- based online yoga classes, as well as private home instruction. Yoga Therapy is an emerging field that individualizes yoga practices outside of the studio setting. Some Yoga Therapists will even make house calls. Yoga Therapists prescribe therapeutic short home practices for clients to do as homework between sessions and will assist you to begin a home practice.
Not only can a regular home practice boost mood, it has been shown to reduce anxiety and alleviate depression. Breathing exercises are particularly effective at shifting mood. More and more, older people are discovering that yoga is both an effective and pleasant self-care option to promote physical and mental health wellness at home.
Myth #4: Yoga is for flexible people.
Chances are, when you were a child, you thought nothing of fearlessly testing your body's limits on a daily basis. But now, your dread of pulling a muscle may have you thinking twice about shoveling snow off your front walk, never mind swinging a golf club this spring.
As we age, we get to know our bodies better, which sometimes means accepting our physical limitations. Even revered athletes eventually must realize that their competing days are numbered, and that's ok. It's important to seek new somatic experiences in order to maximize your vitality and enjoyment of life. New experiences can be a little scary, a little thrilling, or both! That's the feeling of being alive.
Luckily, stiff muscles do not preclude one's ability to practice yoga. In fact, stiff muscles are only a problem if they bother you. For example, perhaps stiffness limits your range of motion to the point that your lack of mobility is preventing you from doing the things you love. A good teacher will guide you to learn practices that are comfortable for you and meet your personal goals. There are many aids to make the process accessible, from props such as blocks, blankets and straps, to chairs and even kitchen tables!
Myth #5: Yoga is all about muscles.
Any yoga instructor will tell you that yoga is all about mindful breathing, not muscles! Manipulation of the breath directly impacts the autonomic nervous system, allowing you to shift from an elevated stressed state to a restful relaxed one. Breathing practices cultivate a relaxed yet alert mind, making them particularly effective for managing anxiety and stress. Veteran's associations are increasingly hiring Yoga Therapists to treat PTSD and anxiety based on promising results from clinical trials.
Yoga practices have also been shown to boost brain health and keep your mind sharp. Recent studies link the practice of yoga to increased neuroplasticity, or brain changes that occur when we learn unfamiliar skills. Yoga unites, or "yokes," the body and mind in new ways that forge new pathways. Yoga Therapists utilize moving and breathing to address neurological pathologies such as stroke and early onset dementia.
Increasingly, people are moving beyond the view of yoga as a muscular fitness program as they reap the neurological benefits of yoga.
Myth #6: Yoga is not for people with aches and pains like me.
Who doesn't experience any aches and pains, honestly? But sometimes, regular pain crosses over to a state of suffering. With chronic pain, it can be difficult to function day to day. It can feel intimidating to try a beginner's group class that may or may not work for your body.
Yoga Therapy is a good option for working with chronic pain. Yoga Therapists work one on one with you to address your specific issues, such as arthritic pain, old injuries, or more complex pathologies. Yoga Therapists partner with you to find and adapt gentle movements and strengthening postures to your pain-free range of motion, working to create balance and ease in the body. These practices are then available for you to learn fully, and then take home to practice at your own pace in the privacy of your own living room.
And what about when pain is intractable and severe? The Yoga Sutras posit that it is possible to experience pain without suffering. Meditation techniques can help manage your pain by rewiring the way the brain experiences pain. So yes, yoga absolutely is for people with aches and pains... which, by the way, is all of us to some degree.