By Holly Glen Gearhart, Contributing Writer
While practiced in the East for hundreds of years, yoga was new to the West back in the 1960s, and the health benefits of yoga were not widely identified until recent decades. In the ’60s young people looked to yoga as an alternative practice to lead to a more fulfilling life.
Now in their 60s, 70s and 80s, those same people are returning to yoga, which has become one of the most accepted forms of exercise, and it is often included as part of wellness programs designed for improving the health of the senior population.
Physical and mental changes come with advancing age. Making the best of those changes is discussed in the article “Exploring the therapeutic effects of yoga and its ability to increase quality of life” by Catherine Woodyard, International Journal of Yoga, 2011.
According to the article, “Regular practice of yoga promotes strength, endurance, flexibility and facilitates characteristics of friendliness, compassion, and greater self-control, while cultivating a sense of calmness and well-being.”
Sleeplessness, chronic pain and clinical depression are some of the more common complaints of people over 50, according to the National Institutes of Health.
“Sustained practice [of yoga] also leads to important outcomes…” such as, “ self-awareness and an improved sense of energy … Yoga produces a physiological state opposite to that of the flight-or-fight stress response…” said Woodyard’s article.
The NIH, the Mayo Clinic as well as Dr. Dean Ornish all agree that yoga can benefit the aging population. According to Ornish, the progression of even severe coronary heart disease can often be reversed by making lifestyle changes with moderate exercise such as walking and various stress management techniques, including yoga-based stretching, breathing, meditation, and imagery.
He stresses that, “…even a few minutes a day of yoga and meditation can make a profound difference in your well-being.”
Starting a program of yoga does not call for a big investment of time or finances. PBS (Public Broadcasting System) broadcasts regular yoga shows for seniors, from programs using a stationary chair for stability to the more recent series by yoga instructor Peggy Cappy designed for seniors (and others) with chronic pain.
Physical flexibility, mental awareness, walking, general endurance and an overall sense of well-being are things that are impacted, often negatively, as we age. Yoga concentrates on stretching both the mind and body through intentional movement to stimulate both the muscular and cognitive systems on the body.