By Susi Gibbins
In recent years Yoga has become more and more popular and accepted into the “mainstream”. It is no longer viewed as some “far-out”, strange and unusual ritual that only really “bendy” people do. Many once believed that Yoga was some sort of foreign religion. All these ideas have been proven incorrect. The general population now knows and is discovering that Yogic techniques can be practiced by anyone and although it has spiritual properties it is not a religion. People are discovering the importance of a regular Yoga practice, finding all of its wonderful benefits. As people are learning more and more about the necessity of good health and caring for the body, inside and out, they are turning to Yoga. Unlike certain sports, that over time break the body down to the point of having to stop the activity all together, Yoga can be practiced for a lifetime. The physical benefits can be helpful for all ages. When practicing there is a mind, body, spirit connection that is developed and this connection can also work wonders for the whole body and soul regardless of age or body type. Yoga has helpful properties regardless of ones physical abilities. All people can feel the positive effects from a Yoga practice.
Children of all ages can benefit greatly from practicing Yoga. In today’s modern times kids are very busy and often over extended with activities and responsibilities. Going to school alone takes a large amount of time, not to mention a lot of mental taxation. Then, there’s homework and after school activities taking away more precious time. Yes, it’s important to have all of these things included in a child’s life but often, it’s just too much. There are a lot of pressures placed on children to perform, participate and succeed. These days, most children are under great stress. They have endless homework, tough competition, student relationships and pressures from peers. They have to deal with so many various problems. Through Yoga, children can learn ways to relax and get control of stress in their lives. Practicing Yoga can help tremendously, giving a child the opportunity to decompress, relax and forget about daily pressures for awhile. In a child’s average day there maybe no time to just “do nothing”. Their minds and bodies are engaged in one thing or the other for the entire day thus resulting in a very stressful state. They never have the opportunity to relax. It’s important for parents to provide their kids the opportunity to take a Yoga class. Kids who take the time to practice will learn how to “turn-off” the mind and become still; a concept that many can’t even comprehend. When children start
Yoga at a very young age, say in the primary grade level, they can develop the skills necessary for relaxation. Yoga for kids can be taught in a very fun and playful way teaching them skills and giving them Yogic benefits without them even realizing it. Learning Yoga at a young age not only helps them mentally, but it can help develop their physical body as well. Yoga will help kids become more coordinated and flexible. It will teach them relaxation skills that they will be able to use for the rest of their lives. Children are naturally more flexible then adults and when Yoga is practiced through childhood onto adulthood that flexibility will be maintained. Practicing through the teen years will help students develop relaxation skills useful for stressful college years and on into adulthood. When we learn how to relax at a younger age, those skills can serve well as an adult. It comes almost naturally as opposed to something that needs to be thought about. Many studies have shown that children, who practice Yoga, are able to concentrate for longer periods of time. Kids learn to focus their mind more effectively. With Yoga, children can build their body, reduce stress and learn self-discipline.
Another age group that can really benefit from a Yoga practice are (whom I like to refer to as), the “young at heart!” This is the population of people who are elderly and perhaps not as mobile as before. As people are living longer there are a growing number of folks in this group. Chair Yoga is a perfect alternative for this group of individuals. As mentioned before, Yogic methods can benefit people at any age and this rings true here as well. Using a chair as an aide to assist with poses is perfect for this age group. If an individual has been practicing throughout their life they will be much more capable with many poses as they age but even if this is their first experience, they can benefit a great deal with certain modifications. A chair offers support and aides with balance. Most people view a chair as a tool for rest and relaxation; a place of comfort so to speak and therefore a good prop to use when learning new skills at an older age. Many exercises can be preformed by just sitting in the chair. Leg lifts, ankle rolls, knee bends, arm and shoulder exercises, and spinal twists can all be practiced in a comfortable seated chair position. Sometimes the ability to balance suffers with age and by practicing Yoga exercises in a seated position or standing near the chair, gives the individual peace of mind.
Regular Chair Yoga practice not only helps improve the body but also the mind. It offers the individual a certain independence and increases self-esteem. It’s less intimidating when the whole class is using a chair for their practice. The chair can also aide with standing poses, offering something to hold on to for extra support. For example, a modified tree pose might be achieved by standing behind the back of the chair, one foot anchored on the floor and ankle of the standing leg, one hand holding the back of the chair and the other arm lifting overhead or at the hip. Warrior II may be modified by coming into the stance as low as possible sideways behind the chair holding onto the back of the chair with the arm closest to the chair and taking the opposite arm parallel to the ground, or close to parallel. The chair can also be used to help with flexibility. For example, if downward dog pose is no longer possible in its full form; if a person can not easily lower the body to the ground, the chair can aide in providing a modification. One can use either the back of the chair or the seat of the chair to bend over into a modified downward dog pose. Always make sure that the chair is stable and does not slide or move in anyway! As a Yoga teacher, this type of practice, Chair Yoga, can be used at nursing homes, retirement communities, senior centers, adult day care facilities and assisted living facilities. I have used the elderly here as an example of who can benefit from a Chair Yoga practice but I would also like to mention that using a Chair is not only a practice for senior citizens. It is a very beneficial type for people with disabilities, the overweight or obese and can also be helpful for office employees and people who sit at a desk for hours.
Women who are expecting a baby can also find many benefits to practicing Yoga. Ideally, if she has already been active in a Yoga practice before becoming pregnant many Yoga moves and poses would be easier since flexibility and range of motion already exist. However, women who have never practiced before will also benefit. Regular exercise is beneficial during pregnancy and choosing a class specifically designed for pregnant women is an excellent choice. Going to a Prenatal Yoga class allows the expectant mother to learn poses that will aide in delivery. Keeping the body limber and staying flexible can make labor feel less painful. Controlled breathing is also an aspect that will help pregnant women as they go into labor. Expectant moms will learn how to breathe more deeply and evenly. Using the Yogic approach to deep, calm breathing can benefit everyone but especially women in labor. Prenatal Yoga helps moms to relax and it’s a great way to keep worries under control and helps them become more centered and tranquil, staying in the moment. Expectant mothers can also get an aerobic exercise without high impact. Low impact Prenatal Yoga helps keep muscles strong without the risk of injury and exhaustion.
Pregnant women may feel stress and pressure about becoming a parent and about the delivery itself, but through a regular practice meditation techniques will be learned which will aide greatly in the labor and delivery. Learning how to relax and focus will also help after birth as new pressures of caring for a newborn arise. Taking a Prenatal Yoga class will help teach pregnant moms how to properly move their bodies throughout the different stages of pregnancy. In a class designed especially for them they will be guided as to what poses to do and not to do based on the trimester they are in. Women participating in a Prenatal class will also be surrounded by other expecting moms giving them the opportunity to share experiences and concerns and to build camaraderie and gain friendships. These friendships and connections may even continue on long after their births as their babies grow up together offering future playmate opportunities. A new mom may also join a Postnatal Yoga class which is a great way to support the body’s recovery after birth. In a Postnatal class, postures, breathing techniques and meditation offer a practice that supports healing, relaxation and toning. New moms can bring their babies for an experience that incorporates Yoga and bonding with the baby. Postnatal Yoga classes are a wonderful way to connect with other new mothers in a supportive and healthy environment. Some of the benefits of taking a Postnatal class are, strengthening of the back, abdominal and pelvic floor muscles, releasing tension in the shoulders and neck muscles and helping to improve posture. It can also decrease overall stress and promote relaxation, rejuvenate the mind and increase energy.
These are just a few examples of how Yogic exercises can help specific people. I believe Yoga can benefit everyone! Anyone practicing will learn how to connect better with the body and mind. Yoga will teach you how to relax and still the mind. It will strengthen and tone the muscles and give you inner peace. I would like to offer Yoga to people who may not fit into the “mainstream” type of Yoga class. Offering a class that allows people who may have limitations to feel comfortable practicing within their own abilities is my goal. I believe any class can offer this by just encouraging the student to only do what they can, but some people may feel intimidated when surrounded by very capable and experienced yogis. So, offering specific classes for specific needs, ie. Chair Yoga, Pre and Postnatal, Kids and Yoga For the Rest of Us (for those who don’t feel comfortable in a more advanced type class) gives an individual choices and options that best suit them.