When you think of yoga, you might immediately picture young, able athletes doing complicated, picturesque poses. But, the truth is, yoga is for everybody, regardless of shape, skill level, or age.
And mentally, yoga can help you feel more mindful, centered, and present in your daily life. If you’re worried about being too old for yoga, think again.
Here are three reasons to start fostering a mind and body connection today.
Yoga includes much more than physical movement.
“Anyone and anybody can do yoga,” says Mary McCarthy, an Iowa-based yoga instructor. “Yoga is not just an asana practice. It has eight limbs. These are the yamas (moral disciplines), niyamas (personal observances), asana (postures), pranayama (breath), dharana (focused concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (enlightenment). Therefore, anyone at anytime can be practicing yoga. It does not have to be on a yoga mat—it is a way of life.”
For Aaptiv trainer Ceasar F. Barajas, yoga primarily involves making a connection between your breath and the way your body moves; the former is called “pranayama,” and the latter is known as “asana.”
Different forms of breathwork can be taught at any age, and movement might occur on a yoga mat, a meditation pillow, or during a walk around the block. Any physical elements of yoga also depend on your physical status. If you’re recovering from an injury or suffer from any specific conditions, you’ll want to first check in with your doctor for approval.
But, as long as you’re not in a position to harm yourself or cause bodily damage, says Barajas, you’re never too old to start practicing yoga.
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You can modify your practice, or focus on different elements.
“A yoga asana practice may evolve from a very traditional movement-based practice to a more modified practice, with variations to allow for adaptations or conditions in the body, or to a practice in a chair or with other support,” explains McCarthy. “As people age, they also become more interested in the meditation and breathing practices of yoga. It can be a more spiritual practice, not just physical.”
Yoga can be done anywhere: at a studio, gym, or even in the comfort of your own home. Modifications allow you to customize a yoga class to fit your needs, and some common yoga props, like blocks and straps, can help any practitioner explore various yoga postures. However, it might feel intimidating to figure out how exactly to tailor yoga poses, especially if you have arthritis or osteoporosis, and that’s where an experienced teacher can be a huge asset, notes McCarthy.
“Find a teacher that has an inviting language to their cueing,” says McCarthy. “It should not feel competitive when you practice with others. The teacher can provide cues to use props to help modify or do a modified option of the traditional pose. Remind yourself that ‘gentle’ or ‘chair’ yoga does not always mean ‘easy.’ It may be simple, but not necessarily easy. These classes can offer a lot of options for people to work at their own personal level and do what they can do, depending on their physical condition.”
It might make you feel younger, and provide a fresh start to a new season of life.
“I’m in my early forties, and in better mental and physical shape now than I was over 20 years ago,” says Barajas. “Why? Because the general benefits of a regular yoga practice not only physically strengthen the body as we age but also the mind. Less stress and learning to consciously breathe means less wear and tear on the physical body and a quicker recovery; therefore, in essence, helping to reverse the aging process.”
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McCarthy says people choose to practice yoga for all kinds of reasons. When it comes to aging well, most simply want to stay active and healthy for as long as possible. Yoga can be a way to recover from injury, keep muscles and joints strong, or boost balance and coordination, as to avoid falling. It can also offer additional coping mechanisms for dealing with change, loss, or an unexpected turn of events.
“Yoga helps us recognize and become aware of how we are feeling, and deal with our feelings, instead of shoving them deep inside or ignoring them,” says McCarthy. “Yoga teaches people to breathe and relax, and stay calm and focused. We have enough life experience that ‘this too shall pass,’ but we can be more proactive, instead of reactive.”
“You can reframe your mindset to feel motivated and empowered by understanding that every day that you awaken, you are given the opportunity to begin again,” says Barajas.
“You always have a chance to start over. Ignore the stuck mindset. You’ll feel the freedom involved with being able to choose what you want to do. And, if it means beginning a yoga practice at a later age, then do it! [There’s] no one here to stop you, but you.”