By Loretta Nemeth
It would seem only natural for me to write the required paper for certification on Yoga for people as they age, since that is what encouraged me to go beyond practicing and enroll in the Teaching Certification process a year ago. I am interested in how the aging population can benefit from practicing Yoga and want to share the Yoga message with them. I am 58 years “young”. I have always been a physically active individual who walks the talk of exercise, healthy eating habits, and the importance of quality of life. However, it is amazing as we creep into the 50’s, our bodies do not seem to understand that message like they use to. I started attending a Yoga practice and within a very short period of time received benefits. I had more energy, I had a longer attention span, I was connected to myself and my emotions more… the list is endless.
Simultaneously with all of this I have a few Aunts that are in their late 80’s and early 90’s that reside in Nursing Homes. I frequently visit them and not just seeing how they have aged, but also observing other residence in the Home, did I receive a wake up call. Realizing, we never know how we are going to end up, but if we can try and take control and be proactive by doing something about changing the outcome of physical limitations and of aging it is certainly worth the effort.
I embrace Karmic Yoga, and feel my calling through Yoga I can help the aging population with Hatha Yoga. Even if they only accept and practice some daily stretches, twists and easy breathing techniques, I will find joy in knowing that I helped make someone’s golden years a little more golden.
It is never too late to incorporate the practice of Yoga into your daily routine. What a healthy choice!
“Yoga is a gift for older people. One who studies yoga in the later years gains not only health and happiness, but also freshness of mind since yoga gives one a bright outlook on life. One can look forward to a satisfying, more healthful future rather than looking back into the past. With yoga, a new life begins, even if started later. Yoga is a rebirth which teaches one to face the rest of one’s life happily, peacefully and courageously.”
What a beautiful quote from Geeta S. Iyenga.
Regardless of age, taking care of our bodies should be a natural desire, but especially as we age. When we are young we feel we are resilient; nothing is going to happen to me, I can do anything. However, once we reach a certain point in life we see a decline in our resilient attitude and flexibility, sharpness of mind, the ability to loose weight, shifting of weight, loss of body mass…..The list goes on. Since we are all living longer, we need to take the responsibility of staying fit, healthy and maintaining a fit mind, body and spirit more seriously. As the old saying goes, if I knew I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself!
Daily practice of Yoga will keep old age at bay. Yoga transforms negativity into a positive, fresh outlook on life. If a person did not find the time to participate in any type of physical activity at a young age, due to lack of interest or time due to their other responsibilities, they may feel they have lost their ability to develop the physical part of their body. Yes, you can always walk, but some may feel they have limitations with walking due to their aging or damaged knees or hips. However, everyone can in some form or modification with the use of props practice Yoga.
It may seem like it takes too much time in a day to practice Yoga. However, turning that thought around – it will take more time if you don’t care for yourself. Would you rather be sitting in a doctor’s office waiting for your appointment, or spending that time in a Yoga Class energizing your body and spirit? We all have the same amount of time; we need to make a conscious choice of how we want to spend that time. The benefits from a practice are not just reaped today, but years from now our bodies will thank us.
It would be easy to assume that because we are living longer, we are in good health. Certainly a small percentage of the aging are, but many aging people suffer from serious and disabling health problems. A closer look at older people who have been saved by modern medicine finds that a high percentage of them are suffering from degenerative diseases. Arthritis, osteoporosis, heart disease, chronic fatigue, diabetes and cancer are common. Often times, these diseases are treated to ease the pain, but does not do anything for prevention. We may be alive, but we are not living.
Yoga’s holistic approach to health is rooted in Ayurvedic medicine – One of the most ancient, self-health care that exists. It is an active not passive approach to good health and limits its discussion on sickness.
Without proper exercise, the body contracts and we lose height, strength and flexibility. As a result, our natural free range of motion is restricted so daily activities become difficult and in some cases impossible. Yoga exercises reverse the aging process by moving each joint in the body through its full range of motion – stretching, strengthening and balancing each part. It is a proven fact that Yoga reverses the age process.
Due to the fact that we have spent so many hours sitting behind a desk, sitting in our cars, sitting in front of the TV – as we age our upper bodies are pulled forward, heads are collapsed almost to look like a hunched back. Over the course of a lifetime, the spine degenerates and the body becomes shorter. The back becomes rounded and compresses the chest. When this occurs breathing is restricted. Shallow breathing results in less oxygen to the cells, which in turn causes cardiovascular and other health problems. Poor posture and degeneration of the spinal column interferes with digestion and elimination. Maintaining the health and integrity of the spine is a core benefit/principle of Yoga.
We now understand how important weight bearing exercises have on our bone structure – especially as we age. Yoga is a superior weight bearing exercise and stimulates bones by the weight (our own body weight) we place on our hands, arms, upper body, legs, feet – even head. All of this helps to prevent osteoporoses. A regular practicing Yogi has far less falls due to their flexibility, and if they do fall, less injuries, and less osteoporosis because of strengthening their bones.
Yoga also has a proactive therapeutic effect on the joints. When a joint is injured a rehab technique in physical therapy is called passive range of motion. In passive range of motion the Physical Therapist moves the joint as far as possible without pain. Through much repetition, the joint is finally healed. This has been recognized in the medical profession as an effective form of therapy for injured joints, now they are discovering the benefits of this motion in healthy joints as well. That is exactly what a Yoga asana does – moving a leg or arm without pain as far as the joint will take you.
Inverted poses are extremely beneficial in reversing the aging process. There are many physical benefits from reversing the downward pull of gravity on the circulation, brain and lungs. Plants and trees are shaped by the direction of sunlight and wind; our bodies are shaped by the pull of gravity. As time goes by, the body has a tendency to narrow at the top and settle toward the bottom. Reversing the downward pull of gravity helps the body retain its balance and symmetry. It is also gives our heart a well deserved break from pumping and circulating the blood in our system. One does not have to feel like they have to do head stands to achieve results. As simple as getting on the floor close to a wall, scoot your butt close to the wall, and lift your legs against the wall and stay in that position for 5 minutes will work just fine. There are many other simple inverted positions that will alleviate age-related problems.
I mentioned before the use of props in a Yoga practice. A prop can be defined as any object that helps you to stretch, strengthen, relax or improve your body alignment. Or in a simple, direct definition: anything that is used to aid in your Yoga practice. By providing more height, weight or support, props help you to extend beyond limitations and teach you that your body is capable of doing much more than you think it can. Props allow you to hold poses longer.
If you cannot bend forward and bring your hands to the floor without straining or bending your knees, try placing your hands on a desk, table or chair. As you become more flexible you will find that you can put your hands on a lower proper like a bench, a stack of books or a block. With practice, most people’s hands will touch the floor and the prop will no longer be necessary.
Chair Yoga is especially beneficial to residents in nursing homes, retirement communities, senior centers, or assisted living. With Chair Yoga by the simple aide or prop of a sturdy chair one can hold onto it for support and assurance and allows the individual to gain self-confidence and independence. Chair Yoga can be adapted to many of the various poses/asanas such as the standing poses, Downward Facing Dog or most forward bending poses, also the Warrior poses can be modified with a chair. The use of the chair can be used as a sturdy aide in getting up from a seated position on the floor as well. Another use is just for the student to sit in the chair and do twists and forward bends etc. People identify with sitting and therefore find comfort in the stability of a chair.
B.K.S. Iyengar is credited with the creation and wide acceptance of props. Iyengar believes that students who come to Yoga late in life get the advantage of keeping themselves fit physically and mentally using props. His experience has been that bolsters, blocks, ropes and other props are useful in old age, when people may mot be able to do the posture independently.
I have only touched upon the physical benefits of Yoga for the individual by strengthening and balancing all the systems of the body. But Yoga also helps mentally, sociably, and spiritually as well. Sociably some times the elderly become lonely, isolated and depressed. Practicing Yoga in a community setting will help you get up and get going each day. It will allow for new friends, something else to share in conversation, and improves concentration.
As we age, if again we were not concerned at a younger age, most people become more in tuned with spirituality and mortality. Spirituality is very personal and unique for each individual. It is possible through the practice of Yoga for our minds, body, spirit to be united, and consequently each person will be able to identify with their own personal spiritual harmony and find peace and comfort within their beings.
If a person is only open to the possibilities of the practice of Yoga, the benefits they may obtain are endless. Again as Geeta Iyengar thinks, “Yoga is a gift….. Yoga is a rebirth which teaches one to face the rest of one’s life happily, peacefully and courageously.“
I hope that I am able to give the gift of Yoga to many…young and young hearted alike.
Loretta Nemeth is a certified Yoga teacher. She teaches classes in the Perry, Ohio area.