So I was asked by a student to address what to do as an older yoga practitioner. As many of us are 60 plus, I thought I might speak to this issue.
First, do not hurt yourself. Pain is the body’s signal that you should stop! Go to that place where you can feel an effort in your muscles and in your mind. But don’t strain or work so you cannot catch your breath. Do not work to the point of feeling intense sensation that stays in one place. With yoga practice we breathe and hold postures to the degree that we feel muscles stretching, relaxing or working in a curve, where the sensations shift. If a posture is not serving your body well, ask your teacher for a modification or alternative. It’s okay, that’s what the teacher is there for, and someone else in the class may appreciate the response!
Don’t compare or compete with others, not even yourself. Again, this is standard yoga protocol. As we age we tend to let go of trying to better someone else. We also remember how flexible or strong we used to be. So maybe use that as a carrot in front of you to strive for doing more than you can currently do. I am taking a core strengthening class with my daughter, Jen. I am fully aware that I am the oldest, and the weakest in the class. My goal is to continue to work, not overdo, and enjoy and appreciate the benefits of increasing strength that I receive.
Practice shorter holdings of the postures, with more repetitions. Again, not to overdo, but remember that your muscles appreciate repetition. In yoga we move slowly and hold postures for the muscles to work, to strengthen or relax. So stay in a standing squat-Utkatasana-for 3-5 breaths. Come out of the pose and then repeat. Squatting is a great exercise to continue to practice as we age. Balancing postures are also very important, mainly for focus of the mind. Remember it’s perfectly acceptable to come out of a pose before other students do or when the teacher says.
Do work on your joints. Feel free to rotate and circle with your joints, like ankles, hips, shoulders, wrists, but not your neck, please. Don’t circle with your neck like an owl, but allow your head to go down to your chest and make half circles, like grins across your chest from one shoulder to the other. Moving joints increases synovial fluid around them, which lubricates the joints and makes them happier. Be mindful of pain in joints, because that is not what you want. With our aging ailments you may want to ice or take an Alleve to help your yoga practice be more effective and pleasurable. Drink plenty of water before and after yoga practice.
Don’t be afraid to use props. This is not a sign of weakness, but rather a good choice. Using props, like a wedge for your hands in downward facing dog, or a folded blanket under your hip in pigeon may be the difference between being able to practice the pose or not. If you don’t know what to do, ask the instructor.
Above all else, don’t give up. Keep moving! And keep practicing yoga!