Recently I was asked to contribute to a discussion, on BBC Radio Scotland, about Yoga for Seniors, we spoke about the physical and mental benefits of a regular yoga practice as we age. (There's a link below for you to listen to the conversation).
To me, yoga is not about the shape, size or flexibility of the body – but rather the willingness to develop presence, cultivate awareness, to breathe more fully, to learn to relax and let go, to consciously create our lives and commit to our own ongoing self-development.
We do this by showing up on the mat (commitment), fostering moment by moment awareness guided by the breath, we might well move, squeeze and stretch our body and in doing so we squeeze, move and stretch our minds and our energetic hearts.
In doing so we develop balance within and without and start to feel happier, less triggered, connected to ourselves, planet and others and more open to possibility.
Therefore, I believe, that every-body, no-matter what shape its in can practice yoga to some degree or another. To me, age is not a reason to be deterred from taking up yoga for the frst time.
Of course, if a practitioner is showing signs of physical, mental or emotional health concerns it is advisable to seek additional support before undertaking a new activity.
Personally, I love teaching my elders yoga sessions (I currently have a few over 60s attending private sessions with me) and meditation. It brings me so much pleasure to engage with and learn from my students, whilst witnessing their transformation.
There is so much richness, in terms of experience, that can be shared in these sessions.
As an industry I would say that teaching yoga to seniors, is a rapidly growing niche, as we are an aging population and on the whole most people are wanting to live longer with more ease and grace, strength and vitality.
Generally, people are living longer due to better health care and the choices we make that enable longevity and vital living. The older generations often have more disposable income these days, which facilitates their being able to make conscious choices around their health, free time and social, leisure activities.
This may include the luxury of attending local yoga classes, eating fresh home prepared foods, meditating, choosing alternative therapies like massage, reiki, osteopathic treatments, dancing, attending art classes, the use of essential oils, tai-chi and so on, the list is not exhaustive.
By moving the body in gentle nourishing ways, we gain flexibility and a responsive, rather than reactive body, mind and emotions.
In searching for a good and reputable teacher, to guide you as a senior, you'll need to see evidence of the teachers adaptability, willingness to learn, ability to foster trust, great communication skills and perhaps they have had previous experience of working with over 60s.
Some of the benefits of having a regular yoga practice for over 60s are:
Community – by engaging in regular group classes we find ourselves immersed within a community of like-minded folk, therefore we no longer feel so isolated.
We gain mental focus and clarity by being present and aware in each moment as we move with the breath.
We activate different parts of the brain so that we create new pathways and the ability to think outside our normal day to day conditioned responses.
We develop enhanced breath awareness and thus this positively influences our whole mind/body/ connection.
Balance the nervous system to develop resilience and healthy coping mechanisms. (Sympathetic nervous system – flight, flight and freeze response and Parasympathetic nervous system – rest, digest and assimilate). So that the stress response doesn’t become the baseline of daily lived experience.
Supports restful sleep
Physical mental and emotional recovery is optimised
Helps to minimize high blood pressure - Statistics show that more than 60% of men and women over the age of 65 are dealing with high blood pressure. While many take medications to keep their numbers down, practicing yoga can also help. The controlled breathing done through the various yoga poses decreases nervous system activity which in turn helps to manage blood pressure levels.
Strengthens bones - Osteoporosis is a concern for many women as they age. The weight bearing activity done through yoga poses can help strengthen bones and reduce the risk of brittle bones.
Improve balance - As we get older, maintaining balance can become an issue. Yoga helps people to improve and maintain balance through a variety of poses.
Reduces Stress and Improves Mood - Yoga can help to reduce stress through the mindful breathing and meditation it offers. Yoga also causes your brain to release mood-altering chemicals that can make you feel good and ward off feelings of depression.
You can listen to the conversation on BBC Radio Scotland here:
I hope that this inspires you to get on the mat and see what yoga can do for you!
This beautiful image is of one of my students, Gill.
It was taken during one of our Yoga Teacher Training weekends.
Gill is now a fully qualified yoga teacher and intending to work with beginners and seniors.