Yoga: Benefits at any age
Are you already a yogi? The practice of yoga, which has its origins in ancient India, isn’t just for young flexible types and health fanatics. No matter what your age, physical shape and abilities, anyone can do it. It’s just a matter of adapting the practice to your own body. Here are some useful tips to help get you started or to improve your existing practice.
What exactly is yoga?
Yoga is a 5,000-year-old physical and mental practice that traces its origins to Hindu philosophy. The word “yoga” derives from a Sanskrit root that means “to join, attach or harness”. Many of its forms are popular today, but what they all share in common are the asanas (physical poses). When combined with breathing exercises, the asanas promote physical and mental well-being.
Yoga isn’t defined as a religion, but it has a philosophical, spiritual and meditative aspect that many people find appealing, enriching or revitalizing. At the same time, many practice it mostly for the physical benefits. How you choose to define your practice is up to you!
Health benefits of yoga
As we age, we tend to put on weight and lose muscle mass. Doing yoga can help fight these changes and keep our bodies healthy. Many people who do it gain strength and improved balance, which helps prevent falls. They also notice benefits in terms of flexibility, endurance, range of motion, healthier joints, improved breathing and reduced chronic pain. According to one study, this activity helps decrease oxidative stress, which plays a key role in hypertension. Practising yoga regularly can also help reduce insomnia, stress, digestive problems, depression and anxiety while improving self-esteem, body awareness and mindfulness.
It can be particularly useful for people with chronic diseases like diabetes, or for those recovering after an injury or illness such as stroke or cancer. Ask your doctor or physiotherapist if it is a good option for you.
Types of yoga
Thinking of trying it out but not sure which style of yoga you should choose? The yoga practices listed below are often offered at yoga studios, gyms and community centres. Before signing up for your first class, it’s best to find out what a typical session entails and whether it’s appropriate for beginners. Don’t forget to talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise program.
- Hatha yoga : If you’ve never done yoga before, this is an excellent choice. The term “hatha” encompasses all forms of yoga that include physical poses (including all the other forms described below). If you see this term being used to describe a class, you can expect a slow-to-moderate pace of movement where you’ll be instructed to hold various poses.
- Ashtanga yoga: Also known as “power yoga”, this is a faster and more vigorous style where you move through a predetermined series of poses synchronized with your breath. You’re likely to work up a sweat with this one, so it’s not recommended for beginners, who should stick to a gentler and slower practice.
- Yin yoga: This is a more passive form where practitioners hold seated and lying poses for several minutes at a time. According to Yoga Journal, it stretches the connective tissues around the joints (especially around the knees, pelvis, sacrum and spine), which can help you stay in seated meditation longer and more comfortably.
- Iyengar yoga: Named after its founder B. K. S. Iyengar, this style uses props to make the asanas more accessible to people with physical limitations (for example, people with chronic illness, injury or disability). It emphasizes proper body alignment to strengthen weakened muscles and ease tense areas of the body.
- Vinyasa yoga: Also known as “vinyasa flow” or simply “flow”, this style emphasizes smooth transitions between asanas and synchronizing every movement with the breath. A new sequence of asanas is introduced in each session, and instructors often like to play music to accompany the movement.
- Restorative yoga: As the name suggests, this type is all about rest and relaxation. In a typical class, you’ll perform five or six different poses, holding each one for several minutes, while being supported by props such as blankets, blocks and cushions (depending on your needs).
- Chair yoga: Individuals with reduced mobility or balance problems can try out various poses while seated in a chair.
If you want to learn yoga, it’s best to do it as part of a course taught by a certified instructor. This is especially true if you have injuries or other physical issues. The instructor’s role is to ensure that you perform the poses safely and correctly. Always take a break or ask for help if the need arises. Look for classes that are geared toward beginners or seniors. Start slowly and gently. Be patient. It will take some time for your body to get used to the new forms of movement. Finally, enjoy the experience of trying out something new and don’t hesitate to ask questions.
Have you ever tried it?