Feedback from TappMD Expert
Erin Palinski, RD, CDE, LDN Yoga
Think yoga is for young adults? Think again! Yoga is safe to fully practice at any age, but the practice must change along with the body. Regular yoga practice can help maintain flexibility in midlife and beyond, so start doing yoga if you want! It can’t hurt to add more activity into your day!
While many yoga classes across the country seem to cater to the youthful enthusiast who wants to sweat his or her way through an hour-and-a-half workout, a growing number of longtime yoga devotees are raising questions about the best way to safely continue a yoga practice into midlife and beyond.
“I suspect that yoga was at times an old person’s sport, and that it has prolonged the life and liveliness of people over the millennia,” said Dr. Loren Fishman, a back-pain specialist in Manhattan who uses yoga in his rehabilitation practice and has written extensively about yoga as an adjunct to medical treatment.
“Designed appropriately and taken in proper dose,” he said, “it is certainly safe.”
Carrie Owerko, a New York-based teacher of Iyengar yoga who has been a yoga student for decades, agreed. “Yoga can be practiced fully and deeply at any age,” she said, with an added caution that “the practice has to change as the body changes.”
Dr. Fishman noted that aging brings impairments of range, motion, strength and balance that can require modifications, even among veteran yogis, like using the support of a chair or the wall for many poses. In addition, students may begin to feel the effects of arthritis, injuries and other ailments that may require students skip certain poses altogether.
Someone with osteoporosis, for example, may want to avoid headstands and poses requiring extreme spinal flexion or extension, while someone with glaucoma may want to avoid taking the head below the heart in poses like headstand, handstand, shoulder stand and standing forward bends. When in doubt about the safety of practicing with any specific medical condition, Dr. Fishman recommended working with a doctor.
Generally speaking, a warm-up sequence is important for the veteran yogi, Ms. Owerko said. “Our bodies may need more time to warm up properly, especially if we are experiencing stiffness or arthritic changes in the joints or in areas that may be more vulnerable to previous injuries,” she said.
It is also important to include various one-legged standing poses — Tree Pose or Eagle Pose are examples — that challenge one’s ability to balance, even if you need the support of the wall, Ms. Owerko said. Weight-bearing poses, like Plank Pose and Forearm Plank, and standing poses like Warrior pose variations, are also important to help counteract the decline in muscle mass and strength as we age, she said.
To help maintain flexibility, poses like standing or seated forward bends and hip openers, like Bound Angle Pose or Pigeon Pose, are also important, said Roger Cole, a longtime Iyengar yoga teacher and research psychobiologist in San Diego.
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