Beginning a yoga practice as an older adult can be intimidating, especially if you’re out of shape or working with health conditions. Although you don’t want to jump into a 90-minute hot yoga class with a group of younger practitioners, starting a gentle practice for beginners can be an excellent way to stay active and lower stress levels. Yoga can have a number of benefits for people over 50, from healthy bones to flexibility to anxiety relief. Ninety-four-year-old yogi Tao Porchon-Lynch swears by yoga as a way to maintain a positive attitude, relieve stress and age gracefully.
Yoga is not only safe for older practitioners, but also effective in keeping the mind and body in good health. If you’re thinking about starting a yoga practice, make sure to find a class and instructor who can meet your needs.
“People can either find an individual teacher to work with when they first start out, or find a studio that works with beginner classes, and see if they tailor to people over 50,” Eva Norlyk Smith, yoga teacher and Managing Editor at YogaUOnline, tells Huff/Post50.
Starting up a new practice may come easily to you if you’ve been fairly physically active through your life, but if you’re out of shape, don’t go straight for a walk-in class. Many studios offer beginner classes with props for modifications, and some even tailor to older adults. New practitioners should also remember that they can opt to sit in the resting child’s pose or take a seated meditation during more challenging postures.
“There’s a lot to learn, and most people over 50 run into issues like tight hamstrings, which affects alignment in so many different postures,” Norlyk Smith says. “If you go in and have a 20-year-old doing it perfectly next to you, you’re going to push yourself more than you should.”
If you’re considering starting a yoga routine post-50, scroll through the list below for five health benefits of the ancient stress-relieving practice for older adults.
1. You Get The Benefits Of Movement — Without The Strain.
Exercise is a crucial part of healthy aging, but high-intensity cardio or strength training can also put strain on the body. According to stress expert Dr. Kathleen Hall, regular exercise reduces the risk of death by a third and the cuts the risk of chronic disease by 40 percent. Yoga can be an excellent low-impact exercise options that’s easier on the body than activities like running or weight-lifting.
“Yoga helps people integrate an exercise program into their routine without some of the downfalls that you can easily come across in different training systems,” says Norlyk Smith. “Yoga does offer strength training because you use the weight of your own body in may of the postures. But unlike regular strength training, because you’re not adding any weight, you’re less likely to get injured.”
2. Increased Flexibility.
The gentle stretching of a yoga poses can go a long way in helping you develop greater flexibility, which can ensure that you maintain a good range of motion as you get older. A limited range of motion, which naturally declines as the body ages, makes older adults predisposed to falls and eventually get in the way of daily activities.
“Yoga exercises parts of the body that may not be exercised in any other programs,” Norlyk Smith says. “One is spinal flexibility… There’s a yogic saying that ‘the body is as young as the spine is flexible.’ I think that’s a reflection of the importance of keeping the spine pliable and keeping the circulation up in the spinal chord.”
3. Yoga Can Relieve Menopausal Discomfort.
Certain yoga postures can also help ease the hormonal fluctuations of menopause. Try poses like The Bridge, Seated Forward Bend and Plow to relieve uncomfortable symptoms of menopause, from hot flashes to anxiety to painful menstruation.
4. Promotes Good Bone Health.
A gentle yoga practice is not only safe for those with osteoporosis, but it can also be effective in preventing and slowing bone density loss, according to medical director of Manhattan Physical Medicine Dr. Loren Fishman. Whether you’re looking to prevent osteoporosis or to relieve pain from an existing bone condition or fracture, gentle twisting poses and stretches can be beneficial.
“I know [yoga] can help because I’ve done the studies,” Fishman, who has done extensive research on yoga and osteoporosis, told Huff/Post50 in a previous interview. Referring to a study involving adults with an average age of 68, he said, “We did a bone mineral density (DEXA) scan, then we taught half of them the yoga, waited two years, and did another scan. And not only did these people not lose bone, they gained bone. The ones who didn’t do the yoga lost a little bone, as you would expect.”
5. Yoga Keeps The Mind Sharp.
Taking quiet time out for yourself through a weekly or daily yoga practice can help relieve stress, and keep you centered and energized.
“When your body functions better, you’re going to feel better,” says Norlyk Smith. “You’ll have more energy, more vitality, and most yoga practitioners will say that regular yoga practice helps even out one’s moods.”