As we age, our body becomes less adaptable to what we do to it. When you were 20, you could pull an all nighter, sleep a couple of hours, then be fine. If you try that when you are older, it might take you a week (or more) to recover and feel normal again. An injury to your 20 year old body healed much faster than with your older body. Our tissue doesn’t regenerate like it used to. That’s why my aging body needs yoga. Maybe yours does too.
An aging body can be a frustrating place to live. It doesn’t feel the same, it doesn’t look the same, it doesn’t behave the same way that it used to when we were younger. Our body requires more upkeep and maintenance just to be at baseline. Managing an aging body can become a full time job. Thankfully yoga exists.
The wisdom of yoga is that we don’t have to adapt ourselves to the practice, it adapts to us. A yoga practice can be modified to be more challenging, less challenging, focused on strength, focused on stretching, focused on core work, all of the above, or none of the above. Our yoga practice might be working on our mindset with our body in stillness.
These things keep us feeling good inside our skin, regardless of age:
- building and maintaining strength in our muscles and bones
- creating and maintaining mobility to find ease in movement
- improving our ability to balance
- finding acceptance of who we are right now and embracing that person
practicing yoga for strength
Keeping our body strong as we age helps us age more “gracefully.” It can be frustrating when we can’t do what we did when we were younger. Strengthening the muscles and bones will slow down the effects of sarcopenia (muscle loss) and osteopenia (bone loss), both of which are a natural part of aging. Practicing weight bearing exercise (even with our own body weight) slows the loss and we feel better. Yoga focuses on functional strength, with each movement using a group of muscles, rather than just isolating one at a time, as is common with traditional weight training. We use multiple muscles at the same time when we get a milk container out of the fridge, or go up and down stairs. When we raise our arms over head for Warrior 1, or move from Utkatasana (Awkward Pose) to Tree pose, we are strengthening muscles as a group.
practicing yoga for mobility
While scrolling through Instagram all sorts of bodies practice yoga and show off amazing feats of flexibility. While it looks amazing for a picture, that kind of flexibility is less practical for day to day living. We don’t need to put our foot behind our head, but we might need to be able to pull on our socks and shoes. We don’t need to do a full split, but we do need to reach for something on a high shelf, or look over our shoulder while driving. While some yoga practices cultivate extreme forms of flexibility, practices focused on health and longevity (like my classes), concentrate on functional flexibility, to help you feel less tight and more comfortable in your body. Unless we work on mobility regularly with mindful movement and stretching, our joints get stiff and our muscles get tight. Neck and lower back pain don’t have to be part of your daily life; a 15 minute yoga practice might be all you need.
practicing yoga for balance
Like I said in my post Aging Gracefully: The Importance of Balancing on One Leg, it is important to practice balance as we age. Like with strength and mobility work, we “use it or lose it.” Balance is something that most of us take for granted. We don’t think about it while we are moving through our day, but balance helps us walk up and down stairs without falling, supports us while carrying things like laundry (and going up and down stairs with a laundry basket), and aids our ability to run, bike, and play sports where we need to shift our weight around. It’s an easy thing to practice, just stand on one leg for as long as you can. You can work on balance while you brush your teeth or do dishes at the sink. Stand on one leg while waiting for something (the train, your kids after school, etc). Practice yoga and do poses like Tree, Airplane, Half Moon, and others. Yoga helps us cultivate both physical balance and mental focus; it’s hard to balance on one leg while thinking about your to-do list. You need to be fully present and fully in your body.
practicing yoga for self love and acceptance
While many people practice yoga for the physical benefits mentioned above, the most profound “side effect” of practicing yoga is self-love and acceptance. Each time you come to your mat, you are working with the body you have in that moment and honoring how it feels. You are noticing the stories you are telling yourself (I’m too much, I’m not enough, I’m not worth loving, I’m too fat, thin, tall, short, old….), and you are noticing how false these stories are. Too _____ for whom? We start to accept our aging body as it is, with its smile lines and creakiness, and we learn to love ourselves just as we are. Letting go of judgment, self-criticism, and doubt are some of the best things I have lost by practicing yoga. Self-love, acceptance, and confidence are some of the best things I have gained.
If you are interested in seeing if yoga is good for your aging body, click here to see my full schedule of classes.
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