BY ALISON BURMEISTER
Raise your hand if you ever experience joint pain, back aches, and overall body stiffness.
Raise your other hand if you ever notice difficulty sleeping at night, inexplainable weight gain and/or surprising skin issues.
Now take both hands, reach down, and touch your toes.
If you said “yes” to soreness and “no” to touching toes, it is definitely time for yoga.
Yoga is great way to stay limber, maintain good posture, balance and mobility: it helps to increase blood circulation, lower stress, and boost energy levels.
And let’s be clear, yoga is stretching, strengthening and conscious breathing.
Even the strongest and most agile of athletes will eventually find that their bodies aren’t what they used to be. Done properly, yoga is a great way to rehabilitate and recover from some of the more taxing activities we put our bodies through in our youth.
If you have never tried yoga, there are several different types of yoga. There are also modifications and props, making yoga accessible to people of all ages and abilities.
Yoga has many upsides for folks over 50, by simply turning our bodies upside down.
INCREASED BLOOD FLOW – Hatha and Vinyasa yoga, two styles of yoga, which focus on breath-linked movements, bring more oxygen to your cells.
Twisting postures brings fresh oxygenated blood to organs, and inversions reverse blood flow from the lower body to the brain and heart. Slow, relaxing yoga practices lower blood pressure and improves circulation.
INCREASED MOBILITY/DECREASED WEIGHT GAIN-The poses of yoga were originally designed so a person could sit for hours comfortably in meditation. Today these poses help us to simply function in our daily lives. The more flexible you are the easier it is to move. The more you move the more likely you are to exercise and maintain a healthy weight.
STRENGTHEN AND STRETCH – Studies show that after age 30, we begin to lose as much as three to five percent of muscle mass per decade.
Ligaments also tend to shorten and lose some flexibility, making joints feel stiff.
Yoga poses are both concentric and eccentric. In a concentric contraction, such as squatting into “chair pose,” the muscle tension shortens making for stronger muscles. During eccentric contraction, such as “forward fold,” the muscle tension lengthens making for stretched out muscles.
The stronger and more flexible we are, the easier it is to maintain proper posture and remain steady on our feet when we fall out of balance.
REDUCE STRESS/ANXIETY – When you are stressed, tension is stored in the body making you feel tight and often causing pain.
The stretching of yoga releases tension from problem areas, including the hips and shoulders. Breathwork, meditation and slow conscious movements signal to the parasympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system that you are in a state of peace and calm.
The less stress we have in our bodies, the less likely our body will become inflamed reducing the risk factors for auto immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, psoriasis, Crohn’s disease, and celiac disease.
RELIEVE MENAPAUSE SYMPTOMS – Typically in their 40’s and 50’s, women experience a natural decline in estrogen. Side effects include, mood swings, hot flashes, joint and muscle aches, an increase in visceral fat mass (AKA “belly fat”) and a decrease in bone density and muscle mass. Less muscle means greater weakness and less mobility, both of which may increase your risk of falls and fractures.
Yoga helps to rebalance your emotions, restore depleted energy, reinvigorate a sluggish metabolism, tone and strengthen muscles, build bone density, balance and boost heart health
MINIMIZE WRINKLES – Without even realizing it, we hold a lot of stress in our face. From staring at our screens, to squinting and even sleeping, the muscles in our face need to relax.
Just like the rest of our body, gravity, muscle loss and stress take a toll on our face. Releasing a clenched jaw and furrowed brows, helps to smooth away wrinkles. Specific facial yoga exercises may also rejuvenate skin’s glow by reducing oxidative stress, which breaks down skin’s elasticity.
IMPROVE SLEEP – Levels of the brain’s natural nighttime sedative, melatonin, decrease with age. A daily practice of yoga increases melatonin levels. Various techniques of pranayama or breathwork are very helpful to calm the mind and body for sleep. Stretching right before bed can also help to relax tight muscles that might otherwise cramp or stiffen in the middle of the night.
ENHANCE BRAIN POWER – Studies have shown that the brain structure changes after meditation, resulting in improved awareness, attention, and self-related thinking. The areas of the brain that govern these functions, the hippocampus, amygdala, cingulate cortex, and prefrontal cortex have been shown to increase, and along with all these benefits, memory is also shown to improve. A combination of movement, breathing, and meditation is more powerful for brain health than one of those components on its own.
Still not convinced yoga is for you? It’s not surprising that many people are turned off or intimidated by yoga classes. Leave out all the fancy Sanskrit, references to astral portals and celestial beings, the practice of yoga is basically stretching, strengthening and conscious breathing. Something we can all use.
(Editor’s note: Alison Burmeister teaches a Thursday 6 p.m. class at the Palisades-Malibu YMCA and also teaches group and private classes Visit: alisonburmeister.com).
I started at 76 and I’m now 77. I go once or twice a week and I really cannot believe how much I can do with the class. I know I’ll improve gradually even with bad knees, limited hearing so I watch everyone and I’m really so happy I started.