two seniors on yoga mats

When you think of a yoga class, you probably picture a room full of thin, vibrant twenty-somethings contorted into a dazzling array of impossible body postures. Some yoga classes do cater to the extraordinarily flexible and fit person. However, modern yoga comes from an ancient lifestyle practice that can be made accessible to anyone and is of tremendous value to people of all ages and fitness levels.

Benefits of a regular yoga practice include:

  • Weight loss
  • Better flexibility
  • Increased bone density
  • Stress reduction
  • Improved balance and coordination

Doctors, scientists, and natural health advisors alike have been drawn to yoga for its adaptability and inspiring outcomes. In addition to the short list above, yoga has been shown to ease the symptoms of arthritis and improve blood circulation. Even if you've never taken a yoga class before, it's never too late to get started.

For many people, yoga begins as trying out a new exercise class. But for many, it becomes much more than that. Classical yoga teaches breathing, meditation, diet, medicine, and ethics in addition to physical postures. The ability of yoga to touch all aspects of a person's life can lead to profound results in treating mental and physical diseases.

There are a staggering number of yoga classes available today. Each class takes a different approach to practicing yoga. For beginners, a slow-paced Iyengar or Viniyoga class would be most suitable.

Iyengar Yoga

Iyengar classes typically focus on proper alignment of the body to achieve perfection in poses while avoiding pain and injury. By using props such as blocks, straps, blankets, and bolsters, a yoga teacher can help even the most out-of-shape body move gracefully into a yoga pose. Poses are held for a certain amount of time, with a resting pose in between each active pose.

Iyengar teachers complete extensive training to earn their certification, allowing them to take a hands-on approach to helping individual students get the most out of class. Research shows that Iyengar yoga is beneficial for treating chronic pain and osteoarthritis of the knees. Because Iyengar focuses on aligning the body, it may help to correct bad habits that exacerbate the pain associated with arthritis.

Vinyasa

Vinyasa is an individualized, gently flowing form of yoga that's done at a slower pace than other yoga classes. Vinyasa teachers create specific sequences of poses that, when integrated with breathing exercises and meditation, create a stress-free and often therapeutic experience. A teacher may work one-on-one with students in a small group or private setting. Vinyasa teachers may also be well-versed in yoga therapy or other health and wellness specialties. By focusing on getting the body moving and reducing stress, Viniyasa may help to improve circulation, reducing the risk of heart disease and blood clots.

Getting Started

First, find out what classes are available in your community. A local health club or senior center might have classes specifically targeted to seniors. Many yoga studios offer free or low-cost introductory passes so you can sample classes until you find one that feels right.

Ask a friend or relative to join along; it can be easier to commit to a class when you have a partner. Be sure to bring a water bottle and dress in comfortable clothing. Tell the yoga instructor if you have any medical conditions, aches, or pains, so that he or she can suggest appropriate modifications. A good teacher will have a variety of options to suit the needs of all participants.

Listen to your body and ask questions if you feel that a particular pose is not working for you.

Once you attend a few classes, you may feel ready to continue your practice at home. You may notice after a short period of time that you are feeling more energized, happier, and freer to move than you were before.

Whether you think of yoga as a fun way to meet new people, management for a disease or condition, an interesting form of exercise, or a lifelong pursuit, yoga will have a positive impact on your well-being.