The Benefits of Yoga for Seniors
If you grew up in an era that now makes you a part of the Senior Community in the United States, you may have some misconceptions about yoga.
For many, the images that come to mind when you hear the word “yoga” usually include young people twisting and stretching their bodies in unimaginable ways.
If you are a man, your images most likely are of a female practitioner, further distancing you from the prospect of participating.
Over time, images and attitudes become imbedded in our brain, solidifying our perception of what yoga is.
Over the past two decades, yoga has gained in popularity to the point that you can’t walk through a checkout line at a grocery store without coming across an image of some beautiful woman in a yoga pose.
The current marketing of yoga seems to be done by young people, for young people.
There is by no means anything wrong with that, other than it gives those on the outside a distorted view of what yoga truly is.
However, the heart of yoga cannot be shown on a magazine cover as it is an experience and not an idea.
It is an experience that can be had by people of any age or physical conditioning.
Although yoga is inherently spiritual, it does not require that the practitioner hold a particular set of beliefs; Hindus, Christians, Jews, Muslims and just about every other faith you can imagine practice yoga across the globe.
Yoga is not a religion; it is a science.
It is a systematic way of increasing the energy in the body and directing that energy in a way that suits the needs of the individual.
By lifting and directing our energy flow, we create healthier and happier bodies and minds, greatly improving the quality of our lives.
Yoga tunes the body physically, promotes mental clarity and calms the nervous system. This is true whether you are seventeen or seventy.
While yoga is great for all ages, it is especially beneficial for those who have been in their bodies for a while.
Aging can be a scary process. In addition to experiencing the natural changes that occur as the body ages, we become more susceptible to environmental effects if the body and mind are not functioning optimally.
An automobile engine can function almost indefinitely if it is treated properly throughout its life, but as the parts age, more care is needed to maintain the functionality of the engine.
We also need to understand which parts of our automobile are most vital in maintaining longevity and how the various parts interact with each other.
Putting a fresh coat of paint on the car every year may keep it looking new, but it has no effect on the longevity of the engine.
That’s not to say that fresh paint doesn’t serve a purpose, we just need to place it in the proper context as it relates to other aspects of overall car health. So it is with the human body.
We need to understand the vital components that make up optimal health, primarily, oxygen intake, proper hydration, effective movement, diet and a calm nervous system. As we age, these factors become increasingly important in maintaining a high quality of life.
When done properly, yoga addresses all of the components that make up optimal health.
While there are precautions that must be understood before participating in yoga program, the beauty of yoga is that it can be adapted to suit almost all individual needs.
There is no one yoga program that fits the needs of everyone, so it’s important that we understand our unique bodies and choose a style that works best for who we are in our current state.
This is especially important for members of the senior community, as we are faced with a whole new set of challenges as our body’s age.
Fortunately, yoga has been shown to be extremely effective in combating many of the conditions associated with aging.
In the past five years, there has been extensive research done on the benefits of yoga and meditation as they relate to some of the more common conditions effecting our aging population. Here are just a few of the findings:
- Osteoporosis/Osteopenia: Not only has yoga been shown to reduce the bone degradation in osteoporosis patients, but in some cases it has actually reversed the trend and begun increasing bone density.
- Hypertension/Cardiovascular Disease: Yoga and meditation decrease sympathetic nervous system activity, relaxing constriction of the blood vessels, leading to a drop in blood pressure and increased blood flow to muscles. Yoga also fights stress, lessens anger, improves cardiovascular conditioning, helps control weight and is an antidote to depression.
- Cancer & Post-Cancer Surgery: Specific yoga programs have been shown to effectively reduce the growth of cancer cells. Additionally, PSA levels have been shown to actually decrease in individuals participating in yoga programs for cancer recovery. Restorative Yoga programs, such as those developed by BKS Iyengar, have proven to be especially effective.
- Alzheimer’s Disease: Although these studies are in their infancy, there is evidence to support that specific yoga programs can actually reverse memory loss in those suffering from Alzheimer’s
- Anxiety & Depression: Yoga and meditation programs have been shown to be extremely effective in decreasing anxiety levels and calming the nervous system. They promote a sense of well being, combating the effects of depression.
- Insomnia: Yoga and meditation have proven to be very effective in combating sleep disorders. It’s not excess energy that normally causes sleep disorders, but misdirected energy. Yoga and meditation align the body’s energy in a way that supports proper sleep patterns, and there are specific breathing techniques that can effectively calm the body and mind.
Additional studies have shown that yoga positively influences arthritis, asthma, chronic pain, diabetes, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, menopause and just about all other conditions related to the aging process.
As with any exercise program, it is important to consult with your doctor prior to participating. It is also important to work with an instructor who understands your individual needs (such as a certified Yoga Therapist) and can offer adjustments to suit your body.
-By contributing Blogger and Yoga Therapist, Bob Ash, of DevPrayag Yoga Therapy
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