It’s never too late to learn yoga. Regardless of when you start, regular yoga practice can provide health benefits to people of all ages. Think about BKS Iyengar, the famous grey-haired yoga guru. At 90 years old, Iyengar was still putting on his yoga top and effortlessly touching his toes – not by reaching forwards, but backwards. Obviously, it’s unlikely that those who take up yoga mid-life will be able to bend themselves into that kind of position; however, studies suggest that yoga can help to fight a plethora of challenges that ageing bodies face, including stiffness, loss of bone density, hormonal fluctuations, hardening of the arteries and depression. With this in mind, it really is never too late to learn yoga.
A study conducted by the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine, asked 21 participants to practice Hatha yoga for 12 weeks. All 21 participants were over the age of 60 and suffered from hyperkyphosis, the health condition known as ‘dowager’s hump’. The condition causes a hunched back which interferes with normal movement. At the end of the study, the curvatures were reduced by 6%, reaches were improved by 18% and walking speeds increased by 8%. Many of the participants also reported that their balance had improved.
A 2019 study published in the Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation investigated bone density loss. The study enrolled 18 participants with osteoporosis or osteopenia. At the start of the study, the participants underwent a baseline bone density test before being split into two groups. Seven people were split into the control group while the remaining 11 learned a 10-posture yoga sequence that included basic asanas like Bridge Pose, Downward Facing Dog and Mountain Pose. Each posture was held for between 20 and 30 seconds. After two years, a further bone density test was carried out which found that almost every person in the control group has either lost or maintained bone density, while 85% of the yoga group gained it. According to Dr Loren Fishman, who carried out the study, putting pressure on the bones without harming the joints could be the answer to osteoporosis. After the study, Dr Fishman was so inspired that she decided to write a book on the matter called Yoga for Osteoporosis.
Studies have found that regular yoga practice can keep old age at bay. However, it’s not necessarily all we need for overall fitness. Only fast-paced practice like vinyasa flow or power yoga gives the heart an aerobic workout. If you’re unsteady on your feet, it may be worth sticking to slower yoga classes and get your aerobic exercise in elsewhere. For an overall workout, practice a gentle yoga sequence a few times each week and take yourself for a 20-minute power walk. If you find a yoga studio within walking distance of your house, you could even combine the two by walking to the studio! Of course, if there’s another form of exercise you enjoy, incorporate that too.
Below, we explore a simple yoga sequence that is suitable for all ages.
To practice Mountain Pose, stand tall with your feet in line with your hips. Distribute your weight evenly through each foot without shifting your centre of gravity forward or back. Next, engage your thighs and draw your tailbone forward. Remember to keep your legs straight but your knees unlocked. Take a deep breath in and lengthen your spine as much as possible. As you exhale, draw your shoulders down and back and reach your fingertips toward the floor. On your next inhale, bring your arms up and reach your fingers toward the ceiling. Finally, bring the palms of your hands together whilst still reaching your arms upward. You are in Mountain Pose. Hold the asana for around 30 seconds whilst breathing deeply.
To practice Downward Dog, stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bending at the waist, slowly lower your torso forward until your body forms a triangle. Your hands and feet should now be securely on the ground. If your shoulders or hamstrings feel too tight for the pose, try bending your knees slightly to make the posture easier. Spreading your fingers for additional balance, move your head forward until it is in-between your upper arms. For maximum benefit, move your shoulders away from your ears. You are in Downward Facing Dog. For a deeper stretch, try extending your tailbone up and back, breathing deeply whilst doing so. While the recommended duration is 2 minutes, Downward Facing Dog can be held for as long as it feels comfortable.
One of the simplest postures out there, Legs Up the Wall Pose stretches the muscles in your neck. Additionally, yogis believe that this asana can cure a variety of other ailments and health issues. To begin, place the shortest side of your yoga mat against a wall. When your mat is in place, take a seat facing the wall. Gently lie back on the mat and extend both legs up the wall. Make sure that your bottom is almost touching the wall and that your legs are close together. You can either rest your hands on your stomach or on the mat – whichever feels most comfortable. You are in Legs Up the Wall Pose. Close your eyes and relax, holding the pose for around 5 minutes.
To practice Supine Twist, begin by lying on your back. Bring your arms out into a T position with your palms facing down. Next, bend your right knee and place your right foot on the left knee. As you exhale, move your right knee over to the left side of your body by twisting the spine and lower back. Move your head to look at your right fingertips and keep your shoulders flat on the floor. You are in Supine Twist. Hold the asana for around 10 breaths before repeating on the opposite side.
It really is never too late to learn yoga. Regardless of your age, gender or ability, a basic yoga sequence can benefit both the body and mind. If you want to combine yoga and cardio, see if there’s a yoga studio within walking distance of your house. That way, you can raise your heart rate with a brisk walk and then relax with a restorative yoga sequence. When the sun is shining, protect your skin with a yoga cap and go equipped with a fresh bottle of water.