Ways to support your Yoga practice as you get older

ayurveda and old age

The ripe age of 65 marks the transition to “old age” if, we are lucky enough to live this long!! Ayurveda views this stage as the age of Vata dominated by the element of air, when the body begins to dry out and vitality starts to decline. Joints stiffen, many suffer from forms of arthritis and nervous system disorders.

Yoga asana is indeed a remedy to offset the maladies of aging. However it must be practised with right effort: includes the asanas chosen and attitude with which they are practised. A general rule with Yoga is how we practise rather than what we practice.

To attempt to practice rigirous Yoga Asana in a class with 20 year olds, will generally not be helpful and is best left to the young in which case a strong vinyasa focused class, helps to contain the fiery restless energy (rajasic & pitta qualities) at this stage of life,  but can imbalance Vata and be exhausting for older folk. Not all Yoga offered is the same so be sure to find a teacher and practice that is best suited for you.

Rather a more refined internal form of asana should be practiced that emphasises awareness of the mind. As we age the mind continues to develop as physical energy starts to decline and withdraw, thus it is considered a time of deep meditation, contemplation and reflection, yet it is necessary to practice Asana as a continued part of a general lifestyle regime.

When setting aside time for practise, the mind and emotions should first be rested, a slowing down and resting breath developed before beginning any posture. Then a gradual pace established to warm the body. Asana approached in a slow steady and gentle way are generally considered the most effective as we age ( from the age of 48). Moving into a posture that is stable and firm with a strong focus of breathe creates a much deeper practice than focusing on body technique (which can increase the chance of hurting yourself and other negative effects) in this way the most simple movements applied with breath awareness are powerful tools to shift and balance internal conditions.

Focus areas include the spine, pelvic area and colon, all Vata sites to release tension in these areas, and avoiding rigidity in the practice.

Some fundamentals: Spinal twists help to alleviate nervous system disorders, along as the breath is full avoiding any holding of the breath.

Forwards bends help to produce calm and stillness and release qualities that contribute to stiffness in the joints, but need to avoid over stretching ligaments.

Backbends slowly and gently particularly if there is curvature of the shoulders. Cobra & locust are the safest in this regard and when practicsed with right effort will increase feelings of centredness and promote a warming effect.

Standing promotes stability sillness and balance, with a need to practice patience and concentration to really heed the benefits of standing poses.

Meditation and Pranayama (appropriate breathing techniques as taught by your teacher) applied in all postures help to alleviate vata qualities.

A well balanced practice should impart the feeling of stability warmth and calmness. A feeling of tension release from the abdomen, with energy and space for meditation.

A practice should not be exhaustive and avoid the need to hurry off into stimulating situations. Adding healthy oils such as Ghee to your diet help to keep the joints lubricated and support the phyiscal aspect of Yoga. Avoid eating, dry, raw, cold foods especially in Winter, instead opt for well cooked and spiced meals. Nothing beats a home brewed chai on a cold Winters day to radiate a lovely internal warmth. Include massage with warm seasame oil into a lifestyle regime.

If Yoga is something new to you, do a little bit every day, use books, and if your not sure where to start simply begin to quiet your mind and do what you can. A word of advice: when practised with right effort, it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just needs to be practised!

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