Yoga is a great way to stay fit, even for those in their golden years! Yoga instructor Nabilla Sharil shares the tips to maintain a healthy yoga practice for those above 50.
How many of us have seen pictures of lithe, young women and sculpted bodies of men in poses that make you chuckle quietly and say to yourself “pfft, I’ll never be able to do that in a million years”? Or maybe, you’ve genuinely wanted to give yoga a go but turned around as soon as you saw the crowd of fit, “young things” literally skipping their way to the studio when just taking 10 steps up the studio stairs leaves you blue in the face.
One of the many wonderful things about the practice of yoga is its flexibility (no pun intended!) in adapting to the many different circumstances and changes that our lives and bodies go through as we age.
As a woman, I know I am able to modify and adapt my practice when I am sick, injured, and pregnant or when I have reached the age of menopause. I am also fortunate to have fallen in love with the practice at a young age (my first taste of yoga was at the age of 18 but I only started a consistent practice at the age of 25). But regardless of whether you are man or a woman, in your early 20’s or late 50s, introducing yourself to yoga can be a really wonderful experience and perhaps a start to a journey of health and vitality.
Yoga can be safely practised in your 50s as it can be in your 20s. As a teacher, I am always delighted to have men and women in their 50s and beyond walk through the studio doors. Not only do they have so many more stories to tell (I always love to chat after a class!), their patience, resilience and wisdom that comes only with age and time shines through as they bring themselves into new and challenging poses on their mat. I have even witnessed mothers practising alongside their twenty-something daughters moving into the poses with more ease and grace then their offspring could have done.
The difference in taking up yoga classes in your 50s is the intensity in which you will approach your practice and the modifications that you will do for certain poses depending on your current health situation.
Here are a few tips to help you get started safely and perhaps give you more years to enjoy the finer things in life (Sky diving at 70 anyone? :))
1. Make sure your teacher understands your current health situation (injuries, past surgeries, chronic diseases etc)
This should be the first thing that you do at your first yoga class. Arrive earlier so that you can catch him/her before class begins to discuss any health concerns. Most yoga teachers will also make it a point to ask their students if they come with any new or existing injuries at the beginning of each class. However, it is always a good idea to be proactive and let the teacher know before class begins. This will allow them to give you the correct modifications during the class later.
2. Be gentle on yourself
Approaching any new exercise regime in your 50s will always feel a lot more different then if you were in your 20s. Although yoga is more than just an ‘exercise’, the asanas performed in a yoga class can be likened as such. You wouldn’t approach dirt biking with such enthusiasm in your 50s if you haven’t got on a bicycle for the last three decades. Perhaps you would practise on some soft slopes before tackling the dangerously steep hillsides. Same applies to getting on your mat. Begin gently. The years that you have under your belt will allow you enough knowledge to understand how far you can take your body into a stretch or a pose. Do not go beyond your body’s current ability too fast too soon. Yoga is not a competition of who can hold the most beautiful, pretzel-like pose. Rather it is a practice to cultivate awareness, self-knowledge and compassion.
3. Be mindful of your recovery time
The reason that you need to begin gently is in tune with your body’s ability to recover as you age. It is no secret that a 15-year-old teenager will heal from an injury much faster than someone who is in their 30s. The same rules applies, and in fact amplifies, as you move into your 50s and beyond. If you had tried a yoga class a decade ago, don’t be surprised if the same type of practice leaves you achy and sore for the rest of the day now.
Feeling sore and achy after your practice is not necessarily a bad thing. It could sometimes indicate you are working on ‘awakening’ the muscles that have long gone to sleep due to many years of sitting on an office chair and working in front of the computer. More senior yoga practitioners in the West are now openly talking or writing about how their yoga practice has evolved with age and many have noted that being gentle and honoring their energy levels helps them to manage their recovery time.
4. Pay attention to what you eat
Diet matters more now than when you were much younger. You will feel a big difference in your morning’s practice if you were to eat a large meal the night before. A plant-based diet consisting of whole foods, fresh leafy greens, vibrant colored vegetables, seeds, nuts and ripe fruits will help to speed up recovery time and is likely to leave you feeling more energetic the next day. Alcohol plays a big factor as well and while you may not entirely be ready to give it up, consume very little to no alcohol if you know you will be having an early morning class the next day. You will wake up with a clearer mind and feel much better getting yourself from your bed to the studio.
5. Enjoy yourself
Most importantly, enjoy yourself as you try out new and different types of yoga classes. Just as not all teachers will click with your own belief system, the same applies to the different types of yoga that is available out there. Some days you will wake up full of energy and find yourself ‘flying’ through the poses in class. On other days you will feel terribly fatigued and prefer to just lie down on your mat for 45 minutes to relax. That is completely fine too. What’s important is to remember that your yoga practice should function to support you and your health and ultimately allow you to enjoy your exquisite golden years among your loved ones.
Will you continue your yoga journey this Ramadhan? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page!