Yoga Forever: Starting a Practice After 60 Can Be Just the BeginningJun 01, 2023 06:00AM ● By David Penn
Today’s media gives the strong impression that yoga is meant for those who are young, thin, vibrant and already flexible. Ads for big brands such as Lululemon and Under Armour showcase this concept. In promotions and commercials, it’s rare to find a yoga practitioner that doesn’t look like a 20-something athlete or model.
Fortunately, more people are recognizing how beneficial yoga can be for those well beyond their 20s. In an article published in AARP Magazine, Amy Wheeler, yoga professor at California State University at San Bernardino, writes, “It’s important to start caring for your joints, to help maintain your independence and preserve your ability to perform daily activities as you get older—things like brushing your teeth, combing your hair, getting dressed.”
Judi Bar, yoga program director at the Cleveland Clinic, a world-renowned multispecialty academic and medical center, explains, “Yoga can be accessible and attainable for anyone. Just remember to always listen to your body and find a class and an instructor that support you. I teach people who are 90 years old.”
But where should golden-ager yogis start, and how can they start safely?
Many people find that a restorative yoga class fits the bill. Restorative yoga consists of a gentler practice with more time spent in each pose. It tends to be easier on the joints, and it allows passive stretching in poses for extended periods of time. Students find they can relax deeply into the poses, with more time on the ground in seated or lying positions than in other styles of yoga.
If restorative yoga doesn’t resonate, many styles of yoga are taught and available throughout the metro Atlanta area. It’s best to find a studio with a welcoming atmosphere and instructors that take the time to speak with students and address their concerns. Seniors can find a teacher who recognizes that the body is different at 60 than it is at 26. While it’s not necessary to find a teacher who is a senior themselves, it’s helpful to find one that respects the concept that the body ages. Speak with the yoga teacher before committing to a class. Let the instructor know if there are issues with arthritis, knee or back pain or any other ailment. Ask the instructor if there are other seniors in the class and if there are any modifications or precautions to avoid aggravating any existing injury. Doing so can help set the stage for guidance in the class.
The extra equipment found at yoga studios is there to help. Yoga blocks, straps, blankets and more—referred to as yoga props—are there for the benefit of the student. Keep in mind that props are not training wheels; they are there to help the practitioner get the most out of their yoga practice. The yoga instructor should be able to demonstrate how to use props. For example, if a practitioner is not comfortable reaching the floor, they might use blocks for more support.
Clarity, Inner Power and Freedom
Joanna Elkhoury, owner of Truth in Motion Yoga in Roswell, teaches classes daily at the studio. “They say yoga has a way of sneaking up on you, and becoming a yoga teacher has helped me commit to my daily practice while revealing a sense of clarity, inner power and freedom that I had never before experienced,” she says. “Once I realized the profound impact that yoga has had on my life and the power that postures, breathing and meditation can have on our health, it was only natural that I wanted to share this knowledge with others and spread the benefits of yoga to the community and beyond.”
Elkhoury has noticed an increase in the general public’s awareness of the boon yoga can provide seniors. “In the past few years, there have been more adults over 60 walking into my yoga studio to try yoga for the first time. This is due to the growing interest and focus on self-care and healthy aging in the general population. It’s also due to the increased recommendation of yoga by the medical community as part of preventative healthcare practices.”
Being Mindful and Staying Present
Sunisa Kim is a California transplant who has taught yoga in metro Atlanta since 2015. Teaching classes ranging from the relaxed yin and restorative classes to the often vigorous vinyasa flow, she sees heightened interest across all classes from the over-60 crowd. “I’ve been working with yoga practitioners that are around 60 and over on a daily basis. Often, they are so much more into yoga than the yoga students I see in their 30s and 40s. Some are so much stronger and have been practicing yoga for many years.”
When it comes to older populations dealing with arthritis and injuries, Kim says it’s important for the student to be aware of their limitations, and for the teacher to be able to assist the student when necessary. “Allow your yoga practice to be an inquiry of your body and with compassionate eyes. Be mindful, and stay present with your body. Go at your own pace, modify postures and use props like blocks, blankets and straps as much as each body needs.”
Starting a Practice at 62
Sciatic nerve pain, or sciatica, is a common condition among seniors. According to Carefect Home Care Services, a Toronto-based company specializing in care for aged populations, people over the age of 50 have an increased risk due to their bones, nerves and muscles degenerating. The Mayo Clinic has stated that sciatica is caused by age-related changes in the spine. Six years ago, metro Atlanta yogi Donita Crockett, 68, began her yoga journey to combat the constant pain of the ailment.
“I was suffering badly from sciatic nerve pain. It was unbearable—from my long commute and sitting at a desk for eight to 10 hours per day. Two weeks into yoga classes, and I stopped taking ibuprofen for sciatic pain. I could not believe it,” says Crockett.
“Yoga has so many positives for me, posture, balance, breathing, stretching, centering your thoughts, lowering your blood pressure, helping sleep and calming your mind and body.”
Beginning a yoga practice is an excellent way to pursue strength, balance, stability, flexibility and an improved sense of well-being. We can all be better for it, including those of us over 60. ❧
David Penn, E-RYT 200, founded Sun Dragon Yoga studio in 2015. He offers private instruction at homes and businesses throughout metro Atlanta and offers classes online. Contact him at 313-303-0096.