The Many Benefits of Practicing Yoga as You Age (and Understanding a True Yoga Practice)Oct 11, 2022
We all want to stay as healthy and mobile as possible the older we get.
The numbers prove it—the global anti-aging market was estimated at $60.42 billion in 2021 and is expected to surpass that by 2030 to 119.6 billion.
You may have heard of the many benefits of yoga for your health and well-being but if you’re like a lot of people, when you hear “yoga” you think of super flexibility and impossible poses.
You may have even tried yoga at one time, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience. You felt awkward and it was a little painful.
Then you probably dismiss the idea of ever doing it again.
End of story.
The benefits of yoga as you age are actually plentiful but it’s important to make sure you’re doing a practice that works for you.
Understanding a True Yoga Practice
Yoga is one of the world’s oldest practices and many who practice it say it improves physical and mental well-being.
The thing is, in the West, we typically only practice one of the eight parts of an entire yoga practice: that is the physical postures.
Why is this important?
Because when we’re talking about yoga and aging bodies, we want to look at all eight limbs of yoga that include ethical guidelines for living, meditation, breathing, and continued study.
If we only focus on the physical postures, we’re not getting the benefit of the full practice—and since our bodies aren’t what they used to be, the other aspects of yoga become even more important.
Looking at Yoga and Aging Research
Another area scientists have been looking at more closely is the benefits of yoga as you age. Until recently, evidence for whether yoga can contribute to healthy aging has been based on poorly-designed research but that’s changing.
Multiple, well-designed studies provide data that shows a yoga practice has positive effects on cellular aging, mobility, balance, mental health, and the prevention of cognitive decline.
One 2019 review of 11 studies looked at the effects of yoga practice on the brain structures, function, and cerebral blood flow. Each of these studies used brain scans as an objective measure of efficacy.
What stood out was three important patterns: yoga practice could be linked to increased gray matter volume in the hippocampus, increased volume in certain regions of the prefrontal cortex, and greater connectivity across the default mode network.
So, what other benefits are there in practicing yoga as you age?
Reaping the Benefits of Yoga for Aging Bodies
Depending on who you ask, there are hundreds of styles of yoga—that is the Western physical practice of postures. If you look at the evolution of the ancient practice, there are six branches of yoga.
If I were to describe the yoga practice for healthy aging, it would include gentle yoga poses, meditation, breath work, and yoga philosophy. All of these tools give you a practice that works with the entire being: body, mind, and spirit. The many benefits of this practice include:
We begin to lose muscle strength in our thirties. As we age, muscle weakness can compromise our ability to balance and increase the risk of falling. Yoga poses enable you to contract certain muscles and the sheer variety of postures ensures that you can strengthen all the important muscles in your body.
A sedentary lifestyle as we age decreases our flexibility as fascia (the thin casing of connective tissue that surrounds and holds every organ, blood vessel, bone, nerve fiber and muscle in place) tends to dry out. Water content of tendons and ligaments become stiffer. Yoga enables you to stretch virtually all your muscles, keep joints healthy, and get deep into the fascia to keep it supple.
As we age, our ability to respond quickly and appropriately to balance challenges begins to falter. Yoga improves balance when you practice on parts of your body as well as improving the health of your somatic nervous system.
Changes in strength and flexibility as we age begin to affect your agility negatively and as the nervous system slows down, the speed at which the nerves relay information between the brain and the body. Yoga improves your overall coordination and builds fast-twitch muscle fibers. Getting up and down from the floor on a regular basis helps you maintain agility.
The physical changes that happen to our bodies as we age can be disconcerting. We face new challenges and the loss of people in our lives.
Yoga gives us tools to cultivate equanimity—the ability to stay calm, composed, and even tempered especially in difficult situations.
People who practice yoga regularly have known that a consistent yoga practice can have a remarkable impact on physical and mental health and well-being. It allows us to accept the changes to our bodies as we grow older and to be present with whatever shows up.
For me, yoga has given me the perfect way to age well.
COME BACK TO YOURSELF
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If you're feeling disconnected this is the meditation for you. You'll practice welcoming whatever feelings are present right now so you can connect back to your true self.