When you picture a yoga class, do youthful-looking, limber people performing headstands or pretzel-like poses come to mind? Then you may be surprised to learn that you don’t have to tie yourself up into a knot to reap the benefits of yoga. In fact, many older adults are getting in on this hot exercise trend. One reason yoga’s become so popular is that it’s adaptable for people of all ages, shapes and fitness levels, including the overweight and the inflexible.
Yoga lets you work at your own pace, but you don’t have to wait long to see results. Even beginners can start becoming more flexible. Focusing on breathing while doing yoga poses helps improve blood flow, extend joints’ range of motion, ease tight muscles and improve balance and coordination, making it less likely that you’ll injure yourself during everyday activities. An added bonus: Yoga’s slow stretches combined with deep breathing exercises may help relieve stress.
You can do yoga at home, with guidance from yoga books, magazines and DVDs or videotapes, but signing up for a class may be your best bet—especially if you’re a beginner. Instructors can teach you how to hold and move your body correctly while using soft yoga blocks, blankets and other props to support your body and make poses more comfortable. They can also offer reassurance that keeps you motivated and coming to class.
Senior centers, adult schools, health clubs and, of course, yoga schools offer classes for people at all levels. But not all yoga classes are alike, so ask before you sign up. For example, Ashtanga yoga involves vigorous athletic movements, while Iyengar yoga emphasizes more mental focus while using props like chairs and blocks to help you align your body properly. Gentle yoga and Hatha yoga classes are great choices for beginners. If you’re athletic, you may easily progress from a gentler class to one that’s more demanding. But if one class doesn’t interest you, try another, since instructors vary in their approach.
If you have physical limits, try a chair yoga class. You’ll still be able to improve your flexibility, mobility and balance by performing poses in a chair.
Although yoga is generally safe for healthy older adults, talk with your doctor before beginning, especially if you have or have had joint problems, neck or lower back pain, high blood pressure, a risk of blood clots, osteoporosis, psychotic disorders or eye disorders such as glaucoma.