Want to be fit and flexible at all stages of your life? Practice yoga.
For the past decade, I’ve taught yoga at various places in the southern suburbs of Minneapolis/St. Paul — yoga studios, fitness centers, spas, and a community center.
The community center is the first place I started teaching at in late 2003, and the one place I’ve remained consistently all these years. What’s interesting about the class there is the age of my students: Many are in their 50s, with quite a few in their 60s, quickly closing in on 70.
I’ve gotten to know many of my students quite well, and after class the other night, Bill (not his real name) came up to talk. Bill doesn’t look like your average yogi: He’s approaching 70, is recently retired, and he’s stocky with wonderfully grayed hair and a full white beard … a yogi Santa Claus, if you will.
Bill has neck and shoulder issues due to an old sports injury that has left his upper body rather stiff and reduced his range of motion significantly. The stiffness causes his downward dog to be less than picture perfect, and he has challenges stacking his shoulders in revolved poses. The extra “stuff” around his midsection doesn’t allow for the graceful transitions from pose to pose and tends to get in the way during forward folds.
But none of that matters — because Bill does yoga! And he has been doing the physical practice of yoga for over eight years!
During the holidays, Bill told me, he mentioned to his family that he has been taking my class for several years. His son, who didn’t know his dad did yoga, asked if Bill could demonstrate a pose. So, Bill got on the floor and demonstrated one-legged pigeon pose (illustrated at right).
Bill’s son and other family members were stunned. One-legged pigeon (also known as half pigeon) is a fairly advanced pose that causes a strong opening on the outer hip of the bent leg and the psoas of the extended leg.
Now keep in mind that Bill’s body doesn’t get in the exact position as the illustration above. Neither does mine — a lot hips just don’t move that way. (Many people have the front bent leg tucked underneath them with their hips raised significantly off the ground; yoga blocks, bolsters, and blankets can be used to help support the hips for people who are really tight through the areas affected by this pose.)
But demonstrating this pose for his family offered Bill a great epiphany: He is more flexible and nimble than many men his age, and it’s something he has taken for granted.
What’s important for others to gather from this little story is that you can do yoga, no matter your age, strength, or level of flexibility. Truly, there are no perfect bodies allowed. Yoga is about starting where you’re at — physically, mentally, spiritually.
But before you run out to purchase a yoga mat and jump into any old class, a few pieces of advice:
- Let go of your ego. The ego has no place in a yoga class. Avoid the tendency to push your body too quickly or too hard, and avoid comparing yourself to other people in your class (every body is different). Move slowly and be gentle with yourself.
- Start with a gentle/beginner format no matter how physically strong or flexible you are, and take several classes at that level. This will allow you to learn how to do the poses correctly and how to transition from one pose to the next. You’ll greatly reduce the possibility of injury and begin to gain the stamina and flexibility needed to advance your yoga practice. Please refer to bullet point one if you feel you should jump into an advanced class. On that note …
- Don’t just wander into any old class. I once witnessed a first-time student walk into a class that was far too advanced for her, and have often wondered if she ever returned to yoga or if she now has a jilted mindset toward the practice because of that experience. Choose wisely!
- Love the props. The blocks, blankets, straps, wall, and chairs are there to make the poses safer and more comfortable. Again, please refer back to bullet point one if you think you don’t need the props.
- Please let the teacher know if something is uncomfortable or hurts. Your instructor should be able to provide modifications so you don’t risk an injury and you’ll be more comfortable.
- Have an open mind. Yoga is slower moving when compared to other physical practices. It forces you into your mind, which can be overwhelming for some, and the physical practice is quite different from other physical fitness practices since it integrates the spiritual component.
- Try several classes and teachers before saying yoga’s not for you. You may not be a fan of the style, or you may not be connecting with the teacher you started with. If you try several classes of a certain style or with the same person and you aren’t enjoying it, try something else (for an introduction to various styles of yoga, see “Yoga 4 You“).
If you’d like to be like Bill and impress your friends and family when you’re 60, 70, 80, or older (please feel free to invite your ego back in here — but keep it in check), start practicing yoga now. Your Future You will thank your Present You.
Tell Us: Do you practice yoga? What benefits have you enjoyed? Comment below or tweet us at @ExperienceLife.