The benefits of yoga are both physical and mental – not only can it lessen chronic pain, but it helps manage stress and improve your mental well-being. It can increase your flexibility and even aids in weight-loss. Suffice it to say, we can all benefit from a little yoga.
But when you think of a yoga enthusiast, what is the first image that comes to mind? Do you picture a young, athletic man or woman in an upside down, pretzel-twisted pose? Probably, since these are the images we associate with yoga. Granted, it’s easier to envision that than a 50 year old doing a handstand. Yet nearly 40 percent of practitioners in the United States are age 50 and older. And they don’t only do chair yoga, although this practice can be beneficial.
Since we’re not experts, we turned to a professional to answer a few of our questions.
Expert Advice on Yoga for Seniors
“If you can breathe, you can practice yoga,” says Carol Krucoff, C-IAYT, E-RYT, a yoga therapist at Duke Integrative Medicine. Krucoff is also the author of eight books, including Relax into Yoga for Seniors, which you can find here. “Yoga can be safe for anyone of any age—as long as the practice is appropriate for that individual’s abilities.”
To put it another way, if you’re 50 plus and suffer from knee, hip and back issues, don’t expect to walk into a vigorous and athletic class and prosper. In reality, Krucoff stresses the importance of participating in a class that is designed for your age and ability.
“Look for a class designed for mature bodies, which may be called something like ‘Yoga Over 50’, ‘Gentle Yoga’ or ‘Senior Yoga’.”
A good resource to find an instructor who can train older adults is www.yoga4seniors.com.
A growing trend today is that more men and women over 50 are doing yoga – but as a result, they also get more injuries. Here is an interesting fact, according to Krucoff: in some of these cases, it has nothing to do with age, but a tendency to overachieve.
“In general, people get hurt by being ‘over-zealous'” Krucoff explains. “That is, they push themselves to do too much, or an inexperienced or poorly-trained teacher pushes them to do too much. Yoga is not just about what you do, it’s about how you do it.”
“The yogic approach is to balance effort with relaxation,” Krucoff explains, “which can be surprisingly difficult for many people used to our culture’s emphasis on striving, competing and being ‘in it to win it.’ Learning not to push yourself…can be one of the most challenging and therapeutic parts of the practice.”
How you Can Start
Before taking a class, find a well-trained teacher who has years of experience. Krucoff suggests that you take it one step further. Ask prospective instructors about their credentials, how long they’ve taught yoga and whether they have training teaching older people.
“Ask to watch a class to see if it’s suitable, which is also a good way to assess the instructor,” she says. “A good yoga teacher will act as a guide, helping students explore what works best for them as they try each posture.” Additionally, start with a beginner’s class even if you’re in great shape. This will help you learn the foundations of the practice.
Why You Should Get Started
Men and women over 50 can benefit from yoga in various ways. First, think about your bones. When we’re young, we don’t give the longevity of our bones a second thought. But as we get older, it’s important to include activities that keep our bones strong. Studies suggest that this spiritual discipline supports bone health. It may also increase bone density in the spine and in the hip. A growing body of research suggests that it may hold a key to aging well, as it’s beneficial for the body and mind.
Benefits of Yoga When you’re 50 & Older
Don’t be afraid to try yoga for fear of injuries. With the right instructor and the right attitude, you can embrace yoga for its abilities to improve flexibility, strength and balance. Let’s not forget that it can improve your overall well-being of body and mind. In fact, as you get older, you may benefit from it more than men and women in their twenties and thirties.
“Beginning in midlife, many people face a number of age-related issues such as chronic pain, hypertension, heart disease, arthritis—even anxiety and depression,” says Krucoff. “Yoga can be extremely beneficial in managing the physical and emotional challenges that come with aging.”
Carol Krucoff is a yoga therapist at Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham, North Carolina. She offers classes, private sessions and workshops for people who struggle with health issues. She is the author of several books and co-director of the Integrative Yoga for Seniors Teacher Trainings. For more information, visit www.healingmoves.com.