Every yoga student wishes for the flexibility to accomplish pigeon pose and the balance for a beautiful firefly pose. However, with age both flexibility and balance begin to diminish as the spine compresses, joint mobility decreases and stiffness sets in. While changes to the body are a normal part of aging, yoga isn’t reserved for the young and lithe. In fact, yoga can be a gentle and effective way to combat the assault of age. Decreased risk of heart disease and osteoporosis, increased mobility, and easing of stiffness and weakness are just some of the benefits of practicing yoga as the number of candles on the birthday cake increases. But, to realize the results, yoga needs to be accessible and manageable for older adults.
Focus on function
Tight tummies, sculpted arms, lean legs and firm bottoms are the desired payoffs for many younger yoga students. For older students, goals that focus on function, rather than form, may be more realistic and beneficial. Think about the true intention and benefit of each pose. For example, uttanasana, may help to sculpt the hamstrings, but, more importantly, it stretches and decompresses the spine which can increase mobility and decrease osteoporosis. Keep attention on fluid movements, and creating space in the body and joints, rather than tightening and firming.
One of the biggest benefits of yoga, for students of all ages, is a sense of calm and peacefulness. Slow, gentle movements increase this sense of wellbeing and are often more appropriate for older adults. Move slowly and intentionally into each pose, thinking through each movement along the way and relax before going deeper into the pose.
Play with props
Blocks, straps and even chairs all have a place in yoga practice for every age group. Props can be particularly helpful for older adults since they allow them to successfully get into a pose with going to far. Blocks are especially useful for taking a bit of the stretch out of poses.