Yoga has many long lasting health benefits when practiced on a regular basis. It is proven to lower blood pressure, increase flexibility, strengthen muscles and improve cardiovascular health. As we get older, it is important to continue an exercise program that is appropriate for our bodies. Most styles of yoga are gentle enough to practice through a lifetime, however there are a few considerations we must honor to avoid unnecessary strain or discomfort.
A proper warm up makes a tremendous difference in the way we carry our bodies in yoga. A loose and limber spine is paramount for getting into and out of poses with ease. Simple flexion and extension movements of the spine increase its fluidity by lubricating the spaces between each vertebra, allowing the adjacent muscles to release stiffness. Spinal mobility is a key component for a fit and healthy body, especially as we age.
It is also of great importance to be easy on joints that may be slightly worn or weakened. Maintaining joint flexibility protects us from injury as we get older, but we must remember that it is safer to do less, more often. Being a weekend warrior (exercising hard on the weekend and not at all mid-week) only invites misery for the body and can actually reduce over all fitness.
In general, if we are tight it’s appropriate to stretch, but some muscles may be overstretched, and over time, this can lead to joint instability. It is necessary to maintain a proper balance between strength and flexibility. Often times if we have a weak area in our body we may find the opposing muscle tight. For example, our hamstrings may be tight and our quadriceps weak, creating possible misalignment of the knee or hip.
Muscles get stronger when moved against resistance, such as free weights, machines or the weight of our body, however they only strengthen in accordance with the integrity of the joints associated with them. Beyond this, injury occurs. There are ways to move the body against a resistance without stressing the joints. A fully extended joint is at its weakest, so proper alignment of joints puts less strain on the muscles. Taking time, moving slowly and maintaining correct alignment of joints when we use our muscles prevents unwanted wear and tear.
Many resources suggest yoga can postpone the effects of aging. When practiced gradually and consistently, yoga offers wonderful benefits for the body and the mind. Another healthful gain from yoga is that it allows us to feel content with ‘what is,’ and not struggle with what we think ‘should be.’
Day by day our bodies change and yes, get a little older. We cannot turn back the clocks and be in a twenty-year old body again, but we can take care of ourselves now, enjoy ourselves just as we are, and savor our wellbeing as long as we live.
August 25th, 2011