Movement After 50: Why Yoga?
Written by Paula KS Gardner
Motion is lotion.
We’ve all heard that we need to move in order to keep our bones, our joints, our mind healthy.
We have LOTS of options for movement and need to choose things we enjoy so that we’ll do them, right?!
With all these choices, why choose yoga?
HOW we move determines how healthy we remain into old age. HOW we approach moving determines how well we’ll be able to move as we age.
At age 41, I was the mother of 1- and 3-year-old boys. I had completed marathons and triathlons. And I discovered yoga. I fell so in love that I wanted to share yoga with everyone.
Over the next several years, I completed advanced teacher certification. My practice was very physical, keeping in line with my mental expectations of a “workout.”
I got injured several times before I began listening to this body telling me, “I’m not as young as I once was and if you wish to be able to move into your 90’s in excellent health, you need to pay attention.” (My father passed at a very healthy age 98 and my mother is a very healthy 96 years old.)
After a decade of several injuries, I I finally began learning what it means to honor our body and how important this is to our healthy aging journey. I finally began practicing some of the principles of yoga and appreciating how my mindset determines the direction of my health and well-being. I finally began applying the principles of yoga to not only my physical yoga practice but to my life off the mat as well. I finally began honoring this body and the aging process…not as a way to weaken me, but as a way to strengthen me.
Two decades later, I say without qualifications: “Yoga has made me healthier of mind, body, spirit and being.” Yoga is even older than I am. The physical practice of yoga is only one of its 8 parts. The others relate to life values and spirituality. Physical (hatha) yoga is a breath-based form of movement. This means that we let the breath LEAD us in our movement. Which means that we begin to inhale and we begin to move; we begin to exhale and we begin to move.
This “following our breath” requires awareness of how we breathe and our awareness of breathing AS we breathe. This mindfulness is a hallmark of yoga. But mindfulness is a PRACTICE, it’s something that we work at each day of our life. It doesn’t just come. And it certainly doesn’t just stay once we figure it out.
How does this mindfulness help us?
Mindfulness continually brings us back to being aware of what we’re doing while we’re doing it.
When we practice mindfulness in yoga, in swimming, in walking, in running, we pay attention to the body. And we minimize our risk of injury and maximize our health.
One of our toughest challenges is that we live in a youth-obsessed society. How hard it is to see ourselves as we are RIGHT NOW instead of how we were 20 years ago or how we always wanted to be.
You don’t NEED to choose yoga, but I invite you to take a yoga approach to whatever exercise you do and I’d LOVE for you to consider integrating yoga into your movement choices. Here’s what I’ve discovered through yoga:
* My daily yoga practice (10-30 minutes) has made me as strong or stronger than many 25-year-olds around me. (I currently work part-time as a Barista at a local Starbucks so I get to test this each shift!)
* Practicing deep breathing on my mat helps me access and use deep breathing in stressful life situations AND helps me breathe better while running and swimming and walking and dancing! I have great stamina!
* Cultivating mindfulness in my yoga practice has helped me exercise greater awareness of my movement everywhere so that I pause before I lift, before I run, before I teach, before I enter a pose, allowing me to move with greater ease, greater consistency, greater safety. I have suffered very few injuries since I started truly living with mindfulness. And I now also know better how to heal (rest, anyone?)!
* I’ve discovered that yoga also influences me to be more aware of what I eat. I’m more likely to actively choose something healthy for me than just stick something in my mouth because it’s in front of me. (This does not mean that I never treat myself—I love my ice cream and I love my potato chips! But I pay attention to what I eat and when I consistently choose well, I feel more vitality, more energy, greater focus.
* Consistent yoga practice helps me sleep better. And helps me go BACK to sleep every time I have to get up to pee!
* I’ve learned that all of life is a practice. We do the best we know how in each situation. Some days, we nail it. Other days, we begin again. And again. And again.
* Each moment is an opportunity to learn. To begin again.
* It all counts. Each thought we make; each step we take moves us “in the direction of” where we aim to be.
* I began by setting an intention for my yoga practice. Now I begin each day writing what I intend to feel, do, and leave to God this day.
* Life is cumulative. We learn, unlearn, relearn, learn from a different perspective, start fresh, but always with the emotional and muscle memory of what came before. Yoga has taught me that as we celebrate each year in this body, we begin to recognize its wisdom. When we listen to, observe, and honor this wisdom, we set ourselves up for a long life of health and well-being.
How do YOU integrate yoga into your life? Or, if you already do yoga, how do you practice a yoga that best serves this over-50 mind/body/spirit?
Here are some rules of thumb that I share with my students:
— Even the experienced yoga practitioner tends to get caught up in our monkey-mind and loses sight of moving with our breath. We get distracted, we humans. I encourage you to try different classes, to be discerning in whom you choose as your teacher, the kind of yoga s/he shares, and to make choices within the class based on YOUR body and not on what the teacher is inviting you to do. Trust yourself. Not JUST yourself, but
trust yourself first.
— Don’t look down your nose at chair or gentle yoga classes. They may be JUST what your body needs today.
— If you only do ONE pose each day, you’re doing more good for yourself than if you do a long yoga class once a month. Do a little yoga, change a little. Do a lot of yoga, change a lot.
— Set your personal intention for your practice each time you step on the mat or sit in your chair.
— Try Judith Lasater’s Relax and Renew® restorative yoga. Find a certified teacher by going to Judith’s website. Even once a month is an excellent opportunity for the body to heal and restore from daily life.
— Let go of the notion that you have to look a certain way or be able to do things like you did when you were 25. At age 61, I’m in a different body than I was even 5 years ago, much less at age 25.
— Drink water.
— I prefer classes where teachers teach rather than lead. I like getting feedback on what I’m doing because I don’t always KNOW or recognize that I’m not doing what I think I’m doing. Choose classes that YOU prefer.
— Let yourself grow into your practice. You have all the time in the world. (This one is tough, I know!) Judith Lasater says, “Yoga is not about touching your toes; it’s about what you learn on the way down.”
I intend to learn and do and teach some form of yoga for as long as I’m blessed to live.
Care to join me?