Aging Well with Yoga
When I first started taking yoga classes it was to help better manage the daily stress of life and to get into better shape. Now that I’ve been practicing for more than a decade, I realize that there is another major benefit to having a regular yoga practice that is rarely talked about: Aging well.
Although it might not be as enticing as having six pack abs or being able to impress people with your feats of strength in a handstand, aging healthfully can have a huge impact on your life. It might mean the difference between being able to continue to do the things that bring you joy or being unable to due to injury, pain, or illness.
I’m constantly impressed by the age ranges of the students who take our yoga classes. When I compare many of the more mature students (middle age and beyond) to people I meet outside of the yoga community of the same age, I’m always impressed with the differences I notice in mobility. When I ask students what keeps them feeling young and healthy, the universal answer is that they’ve always been active.
There is a common saying amongst yoga teachers and fitness professionals that is, “use it or lose it”. The meaning behind this is simple; when we continue to move our bodies they stay healthy by being strong and flexible. When we stop moving our bodies we lose the elasticity in our muscles and we lose range of motion in our joints. Over time this could lead to injury, or worse, the inability to move our bodies in a way that feels good.
In addition to staying strong and flexible in our physical body, yoga helps our minds also maintain those qualities. During our yoga classes we are not only challenged to move in specific ways for our body, but we are giving our brains a workout as well.
One way that we do this is by using a Drishti, or focal point, to help strengthen our concentration. By focusing our minds during yoga we are building new neural pathways and fighting off mental impairments like dementia. We also integrate the various parts of our brain and hemispheres through meditation, yoga and asanas (postures) to help improve our mental and emotional health.
Incorporating yoga into your wellness routine to help you age gracefully might not be as intriguing as getting those six pack abs, but in the long run it is definitely more worthwhile. I can promise you that your future self, a decade from now, will thank you for it.
By Nicole Lovald, E-RYT, LAMFT
Interested in the research? Check out this article from the National Library of Medicine:
Yoga for Healthy Aging: Science or Hype?