Is 40, 50, 60 TOO old to start Yoga?

Is 40, 50, 60 TOO old to start yoga?

I teach yoga to over 50’s. When I explain what I do, I am often told: “I am too old to start yoga.” I ask why and they say I could never do those “pretzel poses”. I rather like that description of very difficult poses done to show off someone’s skill.

The majority of people in yoga classes are over 40 (data from a new US Yoga Alliance study, but Australia has a similar demographic profile, so it is probably true here). Yes those poses portrayed in the media are unlikely to be achieved by anyone above 40. But that is a very small part of yoga. There are many poses (asanas) in yoga that are much less intense with the purpose of increasing strength, flexibility and balance. These poses are well within the abilities of someone over 40, 50 or 60. I have had students in their 90’s start yoga. With the desire to start and continue yoga, the benefits of yoga are available to everyone.

As we age the body does change and very difficult poses become difficult and less interesting. Yoga’s benefits for older students keep joints open, maintain balance and tools to decrease stress. Yoga is excellent at improving balance, strength and flexibility. Using traditional poses but modifying them for a person’s individual fitness level allows anyone to start at a comfortable level and improve fitness over time. Even someone who cannot get out of a chair can perform modified poses to improve strength in the legs and open major joints.

Improving balance is a major benefit of yoga. Yoga teachers can guide students in balance poses while holding onto a chair or the wall. Standing on one foot during a balance pose also strengthens the muscles in the standing leg. Older individuals need both strength and balance to remain independent and out of care. Teachers of senior yoga can change balance and strength poses to improve balance with a variety of techniques that take into consideration the student’s ability.

Flexibility or opening the joints in a careful and modulated method can help with flexibility and moving well. Starting at low level joint openers and working up to more intense poses keeps the joints lubricated and works the muscles to release and open the joints. Very tight joints can be painful as well as preventing a person from reacting to prevent a fall. Yoga’s benefits of improving strength, balance and flexibility are particularly helpful for older students.

Yoga can help keep strength in the legs, maintain balance and open joints – all abilities that can decrease with age. Differing from other forms of exercise, yoga has more to offer than only increasing the body’s fitness level. Also, increasing energy and releasing stress are also on yoga’s plate. Learning how to breathe deeply increases your energy, as most oxygen transfer (our petrol, if you will) occurs in the lower lobes of the lungs. Shallow breaths don’t provide as much oxygen as deeper ones.

Women in their 40’s and 50’s have the highest stress levels of any group; they may be taking care of older children, have responsibility for parents, and may be in responsible positions in their career. Learning how to relax and lessen their stress through breathing and meditation can be very beneficial. I always offer and most yoga teachers offer a relaxation period at the end of the class. Students learn to relax their bodies, shut down the mind and allow themselves to enjoy the moment.

Meditation – which is not thinking of nothing – is shutting down the judging brain and allowing oneself to be present. Students learn to stop judging past actions or anticipating probable or improbable future actions. Allowing yourself to relax and enjoy the present is quite relaxing and nurturing.

There are no age limitations with yoga – I recently read articles about two yoga teachers who are close to a 100 years old. Looking for a teacher that will change the poses to your age and fitness level will allow you to take part in class that is safe buy challenging. Give Yoga a Try.

 

Why I Teach Senior Yoga

Why I Teach Senior Yoga

 

Sixteen years ago, I went round the world on a pushbike. In September 2000, I flew to Australia for the Australia leg and after finishing Asia came back to Australia and have been here ever since. The terms of my visa did not allow me to work (that has changed in the intervening years), so I started to explore different things to do that I hadn’t had time to do before I took early retirement. One of those areas was yoga. I really enjoyed it and found that it, as I explain it, “got into your bones”; it just became an integral part of me. I was volunteering as I had significant experience in developing policy and sat on several boards helping them develop policy manuals etc. But it was yoga that I found the most fascinating.

One day I literally woke up and decided to become a yoga teacher so that I could teach seniors. I’m truly not sure how I came to that decision but it felt very right. In my volunteer positions, I met many people that had injuries or were older and from my experience taking yoga, I knew that yoga could be very beneficial for them if it was presented in a way that was sensitive to their needs and abilities. I completed basic teacher training.

 

A few weeks later I visited my mother at the assisted living apartment where she lives. My mom is a little firecracker and we spent many years just trying to keep up with her – in fact, I still walk very fast today because that’s how we walked when I was a child. But I noticed that she was walking very slowly and appeared to be in pain. I asked her what was wrong and she said she had arthritis in her back and it was painful. I asked if she would like to try some gentle yoga stretches to see if that would help and she agreed to try them. We did the yoga stretches and then went to the store. All of a sudden, I’m hurrying to keep up with her again and asked how her back was feeling. She looked a bit surprised and said it really felt much better. So I knew that yoga has the capacity to help older people with their pain.

 

After taking specific training in yoga for seniors, I taught at community organisations, retirement villages and started my own classes. I have been teaching yoga for over 9 years and I continue to teach it because I love the interaction with my students. I particularly like when students take something they learned in class and use it to help themselves at home. I’ve had older students tell me they use the neck asana taught in class when their neck feels stiff and they do yoga nidra and breathing to help with insomnia. I’ve had some students report they felt that yoga had significantly contributed to their mobility after surgery or injuries.

I also enjoy the social interaction. For example, some of my older students explained what it was like to be in Australia during World War II. They were all young children attending school in Sydney and then when they were sent inland because of the fear that the Japanese would bomb Sydney harbor. We had a whole conversation about how Australia felt about the war and how people were hiding all of their valuables in the backyard because they were concerned that the Japanese would invade

Older people don’t have much ego over yoga; they do it because they enjoy it. So there is much laughter in class and no competition between students. They feel better after class and continue to come to class to share conversation over tea and to stretch muscles and open joints for a more pain-free existence. I provide a service that improves their quality of life but I receive more than I give. I am very glad I woke up that morning years ago and decided to teach yoga to seniors; it’s been a very exciting and rewarding time in my life

 

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Changes

So You Want to Make a Change

 

Many times we want to make a major change in our lives. Sometimes we are successful, but lots of times we are not. How we can make changes and have them be permanent has become clearer because we have a better idea of how the brain actually works. If you want to change and you want it to be permanent, then there are some things that you have to do.

Most of what we do is programmed in our brain along a pathway; so for example when you get up in the morning you don’t have to think of each thing that you will do. Your brain has figured out a sequence of events and has hard wired that sequence so it becomes a habit that you don’t have to think too much about. These pathways are more efficient then you taking time and effort to decide what you want to do each morning. But the more that habit is ingrained, then the more difficult it is to change.

So if on 1st January you want to start exercising in the morning before going to work, this is a major change to your morning habits. The first thing you can do so that you will be successful in changing your morning routine is to give your brain some idea of what you want to achieve. You have to set an intention: I want to exercise 6 days a week for at least half an hour and I want to become stronger especially in the core.

Ok that is pretty clear; you’ve set this goal. It is measureable; you will know if you reach it. But changing a very strong pathway used for many years is not easy nor fast. It takes concerted, sustained and consistent effort.  You have to reinforce this intention often because a new pathway grows very slowly.  You will have to get up and exercise for at least 6 months before this is a permanent change that the brain has hardwired into a new pathway. The more you think about this intention the stronger the pathway. So how do we reinforce your intention? There are many ways to keep this new intention in your awareness:

  1. a) Vision boards – pictures of what you want to achieve. This keeps the intention in your consciousness especially if you are a visual learner. The brain is not trying to defeat your intention but it is trying to be as efficient as possible and only use energy to build new pathways that are truly needed. So the more you think about your intention, the stronger the message to your brain.
  2. B) Setting short and long term goals with measureable outcomes (so you just can’t say I want to exercise more – you have to say how many times a week, for how many minutes, and what you hope to achieve so you and your brain will know if you are making progress with this change). Again, consistency is necessary to trigger new pathway development.
  3. C) Visualisation: Visualise what you want to look like, what it would feel like if you reach your goals. Visualise in great detail; where are you when you have achieved your goal, what do you have on, what is the temperature and what is the weather, how do you feel having met these goals, what can you do now that you couldn’t do before and anything else that makes this very real to you. With this kind of detail the brain can start to make the connections in the brain that will bring this visualisation to realisation. The brain does not make distinctions between what the senses bring in and what you mind and/or your will visualise; both are valid to the mind. Take time to visualise your outcome often.

Maintaining awareness of your intention as well as actually making the change daily will result in the brain making pathways to meet this intention. You want to make the new pathway as strong as possible, so you want to concentrate on it at least once a day. And you have to put into effect what you want to achieve. Just thinking about exercising is not enough; you also have to meet your goals. What will happen in six months is the brain will have incorporated this new change into your morning routine and you will exercise in the morning just like you brush your teeth. It’s become a habit.

If you would like a free audio recording guiding you through the visualisation process, please go my website www.yogalightness.com.au and contact me.

You Know You Are a Yoga Teacher if:

You Know You Are a Yoga Teacher If:

  1.  In class, you use Sanskrit terms that no one understands (because Sanskrit is an almost dead language that hardly anyone speaks or reads except professors of dead languages and Indian right wing politicians)
  2.  You wear see-through pants because a yoga teacher has great glutes
  3.  You never fart in yoga class even during the gas pose
  4.  Your day begins at 4 AM because some teacher said yoga teachers’ days begin at 4 AM.
  5.  You have tried: dog yoga, acro yoga, golf yoga, runners yoga, hot yoga, hot dance yoga (actually saw an ad for this one), SUP yoga etc.
  6. You wear your yoga pants everywhere including weddings
  7. You say Namaste at every opportunity
  8. You are a vego or a raw food expert or vegan or eat paleo or all of these things.
  9. You have selfies of yourself on the beach at dawn doing Adha Beanasana Mexicasana Hopasana or the one armed handstand hopping around like a Mexican jumping bean.
  10.  You have a wardrobe full of tie dyes
  11. You love and use your netti pot daily
  12. You love meditation and you know someday you will reach samadhi (maybe)
  13.  You have discovered Kirtan and drag all of your friends who may become former friends quickly to Kirtan performances.
  14. Your guru gave you a very special Sanskrit name which means nothing but sounds good.
  15.  You are an expert at saying OOOOOOOOOOmmmmmmmmm.
  16. You truly believe that yoga can and does cure every mental and physical condition/disease.
  17. You know 23 different breathing techniques some of which make very odd sounds.
  18. You say things like inversions make you think better. (What???)
  19. You are deferential to your teachers even though they say stupid things like inversions make you think better.
  20. You are very, very serious about yoga and know that is not a laughing matter and you didn’t laugh at any of these observations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Advertiser’s Yogi

 

The Advertiser’s Yogi

If you look at magazine covers or ads for yoga clothes or classes, you will almost always see one type of body. Slim, young, flexible, attractive and almost always Caucasian and performing some incredibly difficult, complicated asana (pose). That’s it!

You can’t possibly think you could be a yogi if you are a person of colour, overweight, a senior, a child, disabled, injured, etc. In fact a yogi is according to advertisements probably less than 1% of the total human population. Although I do know the rules of advertising and they are basically selling sex with these kinds of models – you are supposed to think – YOGA MAKES YOU SLIM, SEXY, FLEXIBLE.

But the problem is that the other 99% of the population either feels a) I can’t possibly do whatever that model is doing, b) I don’t look like a yogi so I wouldn’t be welcome in a yoga class or c) I’m in a yoga class but I can’t do that pose or look that way so I must be a failure!

Using advertising that is very restrictive concerning the models used  in their ads is not yoga. Those ads then bring about feelings of exclusion; you don’t look like models in those ads so you can’t do yoga. This is the absolute opposite of what yoga is trying to achieve. One of the core beliefs of yoga is to de-emphasise the ego. Yoga’s position is that you are here to make yourself better, not to compare yourself to others either to your or their detriment. Yoga emphasises working on yourself: cultivating body awareness, emotional stability, mental clarity. This is a very individualised process which will be different for everyone as students are at different points on the path to attain awareness, stability and clarity.

This type of advertising gives such a one dimensional, negative view of yoga. Yoga began 3-5 thousand years ago by Indian, usually older males. In fact the originators were almost the opposite of how yoga is portrayed today in Western advertising. It started as a holistic system to make one a better individual physically, mentally and spiritually and to lay the foundation for the individual consciousness to become part of the universal consciousness (however one wants to define these terms). Each person has the choice if they want to make joining with the universal consciousness their goal. Yoga has so many benefits on the path to learning how to join with the universal consciousness, that stopping short of that still is very beneficial for the individual on many different levels. So stopping people from even contemplating yoga because of ads trying to sell yoga by using a only one type of model -young, slim, flexible, white – is just WRONG.

Yoga is not perfect but it is diverse and adaptable. It can easily maintain its core structure and beliefs, and still be modified to be accessible to those that can’t and don’t want to look like the people in the ads. There is room for everyone in yoga and to exclude people based on looks does no one a service.

So let’s take a day off – for ONE day, we buy nothing from companies that use these types of models that represent such a small proportion of humanity. We don’t buy yoga props, clothes, magazines, books anything with yoga on it for one day as a signal to advertisers which are advertising to US that we will no longer accept their narrow one-sided view of yoga. If they want to sell to us, then they better think about displaying the whole diverse world of yoga not just their narrow, banal and ultimately uninteresting view.

 

 

 

Teaching The Beginning Stages of Meditation

 

Teaching The Beginning Stages of Meditation

Yoga is more than poses. It also includes holistic guidelines to improve the body, mind and emotions. One of the most important parts of yoga is learning how to meditate. Meditation is broken down into stages: the first of which is to improve the mind’s ability to focus on a thought. The first stage of meditation teaches the student to learn how to focus the mind on a single thought. The largest challenge for a novice meditator is to quiet the mind. We can’t change the past and we can’t know the future but we do have control over the right now.

Focussing the mind on one object in the right now and trying to maintain that focus begins with the novice meditator training the mind to stop jumping from thought to thought. This is often called monkey brain in yoga where thoughts just whiz through the mind often without any way to control them or even think deeply about each thought. Training the mind to slow down and only concentrate on one thought at a time is difficult, but the following guidelines are good for the novice meditator to begin the process:

1) Have a ritual that signals the body that it is time to meditate. Always starting with a certain sequence of breath techniques, or sitting in the same position in the same room, and/or putting on the same music are all signals to the body that it is time to meditate and to relax.

2) Perhaps integrate beginning to meditate with svasana; allow the body to completely relax and learn how to ignore the information from the senses. At that point of relaxation, it is a good time to start a basic meditation exercise.

3)  A critical step at the beginning when learning meditation is to learn to focus the mind on one thought. But this process may be very different for each student. Try different types of focussing techniques and let the student find the one that is most beneficial for them. Some different techniques are:

  1. a) Mantras: have people develop their own mantra or they can use some common yoga mantras. Saying the same sentence or series of sentences as long as it has meaning to the person can bring them internal focus and quiet the mind.
  2. b) Visualisation: students who learn visually and are adept at observation may feel best with a visualisation cue. For example, visualize a structure like a table that has a light source on it. They then build a very detailed picture in their minds of what the structure is, what the light source might be, and what are the surroundings. Introduce all of the senses: what does the object feel like, what color is it, are there any odours (like a candle burning), can you hear anything are all helpful for the mind to really focus on the picture being built. There visualisations can be quite detailed which engages the mind on one idea.
  3. c) Cues: senses or kinaesthetic A cue in the room like a lighted candle that people focus on or a certain music that is played each time, or perhaps a walking meditation (in which students walk in a large circle concentrating on how their bodies are moving and what each step feels like) are other ways to quiet the mind and begin the focussing process.
  4. d) Setting goals: Have the student concentrate on a goal they wish to attain. Again using all of the senses, how would they feel if they had this goal, how would they know they had reached the goal, what would be different in their life if they attained the goal, why do they want to reach that goal take the student deeper into the thought and begin the training for focussing.

Students have to be reassured that although this is a difficult process to learn and it will take time to eventually train the mind to focus on one thought, it is doable. It is important to remind students that when a stray thought enters the mind as they try to focus to not engage with it, but just let it float through, attach no emotions or judgement to it. Let the stray thought gently disappear and bring your thought back to the single idea that you are trying to focus on. This can happen many times during a session as the novice meditator starts to learn how to focus and it is perfectly normal.

There are more steps in learning how to meditate but the beginning step of learning to focus, quietening the mind and learning how to really think about a single thought is often very hard for students. Let them learn these steps over multiple classes with lots of encouragement. Meditation can have a very beneficial effect on the mind and the emotions as people begin to focus and allow themselves to slow down mentally and emotionally.