Jackie Heffer-Cooke, Norfolk’s expert Yoga teacher and founder of The Orange Grove Clinic tells us about how yoga can keep you feeling young!
Yoga for the elderly in India is not a class you just do on a Saturday morning, it’s a way of life. The motivators for the elderly are the same as any other age: yoga improves
- mobility and strength
- balance and stability
- cardiovascular health
- aids sleep and good digestion
- improves blood flow
- keeps control of blood pressure
It also improves mood, well-being, helps with depression and anxiety, assists in self-discovery and growth, and well, it may even help keep you young!
Don’t just take my word for it – one of the greatest Yoga masters of the 20th century, 120-year-old Swami Sivananda does at least two hours of yoga every day. He has no health complications and continues to look after himself in every aspect of life from living on his own, to travelling unaccompanied on his favourite public transport.
So actually, there is no such thing as ‘yoga for the elderly’ – it’s for everyone and like many things in life needs no age classification.
The Science ……
There is an increasing body of research which indicates that regular practise can have a direct positive influence on mechanisms ranging from gene expression, cognitive function, immune support, and on diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s. There are also studies showing the beneficial effects of long-term yoga and meditation on reducing ‘age related decline’. Sat Bir S. Khalsa, a Harvard Medical School researcher states “The long-term implications of global implementation of yoga practises are a reduction in disease rates in the elderly, improvements in physical and cognitive performance, and hence better quality of life.”
Sounds good right? And it’s pretty easy to start making these small changes. Often it is not the super-flexible or standing-on-your-head kind of postures which make a difference, but rather the softer moves, for example the easy Cat/Cow moves, which increase flexibility in the spinal column – increasing healthy circulation, massaging the spinal discs, promoting a healthy back through better blood flow.
Breathing deeply is good for your health too. We know that when we breathe deeply we activate the parasympathetic nervous system which enhances the calming hormones and therefore reduces cortisol, the stress hormone. Stress we know has all kinds of negative effects from depression to osteoporosis. Yoga and meditation is, says Khalsa “working at a molecular level in the cells of our body”.
It is never too late to start
It really is never too late to start. A study researched in Norway isolated the effects after just four days of yoga practise on the participants immunity related gene expression and found significant increase in good activity – about three times that of those who took relaxing walks or relaxed listening to music. These kinds of findings are important as we get older. As the immune system becomes less powerful with age, as does the body’s ability to find and correct cell defects, which undiscovered can lead to serious issues, including cancer.
Retirement is also a chapter in our lives where we tend to be less busy, and therefore more prone to self-study. This is a great time of opportunity to really self-discover what works for you as a person, and what doesn’t, and take a chance on a new, different, or more enjoyable path to self-being. Yoga is about emotional wellbeing as much as it is about physical health, Yoga teaches better resilience, self-love, contentment even joy.
With yoga, like anything else, the key is to feel motivated. It’s not just a pill you can swallow twice a day, so finding a class and a teacher you like is important. It’s possible some teachers can teach you as a one-on-one yoga student, then you can really get to grips with your own yoga practise as an individual and eventually practise yoga on your own, as part of your daily routine, just as the Indians do.
Have a go for a few sessions, a few weeks, a few months, and you will never look back!
Jackie wrote this blog for agespace.org. If you have elderly relatives or you yourself needs some support then please contact them for fantastic help and advice.