Yoga is hotter than ever, and I’m not just referring to the type you do in a sweltering room, packed in like a sardine. I’ve written a lot about fitness trends over the years and yoga seems to be one fitness trend that never loses traction.
But I’m loathe to use the word “trend” since it conjures the thought of something that will eventually reach its peak. I don’t think that will ever happen with Yoga. Here’s my reasoning. Have you ever heard someone say, “I need to do less yoga?” Probably not. On the other hand, how many times have you heard someone say, “I need to do more yoga,” or “I need to start doing yoga.”
There’s one group in particular that yoga can thank for its unflagging popularity. According to the 2016 Yoga in America study, nearly 38% of yoga practitioners are over the age of 50.
The practice of yoga tends to take on a different focus for many women after 50. Baby boomers in particular, are more interested in taking ownership of their health and aging rather than being able nail a perfect crow pose to handstand. For these empowered women, it’s also less about having a perkier butt in a pair of Alō Moto leggings and more about celebrating health, joy, and natural beauty.
If you’re considering whether to embark on a yoga journey, the right answer is yes, do it! From boomers to millennials and athletes to novice exercisers, there’s a style that’s a fit for pretty much everyone. If you’re already a seasoned yogi, your body may be dropping some hints that it’s time for a change.
If you’re over 50 and have been a practicing yoga for some years, you may start to notice little changes here and there when it comes to your strength, endurance and flexibility. Just like any type of physical activity, as we mature, some activities that used to come easy, begin to get a little more challenging. Maintaining and improving fitness becomes more of an uphill battle as we log more miles on our bodies.
L.A. yoga guru and fitness trainer, Maeve McCaffrey says, “if the style of yoga you’ve been practicing doesn’t feel good anymore, be willing to try something new.” For example, if hot, sweaty yoga was your jam in your 30’s or 40’s, realize it may not be so cool to do when hot flashes set in. It doesn’t mean you have to give hang up your yoga mat. “There are so many styles of yoga that allow the practice to change with you.” Maeve suggests speaking with your teacher so they can help guide you through a practice you can still love. Above all, “listen to your body and respect the changes you are experiencing.
If you’re a novice and just looking to get started after 50, Sue Garfield, a yoga instructor with over 25 years of experience feels Iyengar yoga is best method to start with. Iyengar yoga uses props such as belts, blocks and chairs to make the poses doable for all body types regardless of age, injuries, illnesses or issues.
According to Sue, Iyengar teachers are well trained in how to work effectively with all levels of students regardless of their limitations and have the know-how to address the concerns of menopause. Sue explains that women not only lose some of their physical flexibility during these transitional years, but they may also notice their ability to focus has diminished. Add to this the disruptions in family life, like ageing children and caring for elderly parents and women around this age, may find their stress levels on overload. These physical and emotional changes can also lead to depression. Sue says, yoga can be very helpful in lifting depression as one works through their practice. “When I turned 50 and realized that I was moving in ways I had never done before, able to stand on my hands or head, with new found flexibility in my spine, my level of joy and excitement was as high as it had ever been.” There are no age limitations in yoga. BKS Iyengar was doing his thing until days before he died at age 96. And, you may have seen the inspirational video of Tao Porchon-Lynch, the 98-year old yoga teacher in NY turned fitness phenom. Sue, who has been studying Iyengar since the mid-1980’s says she expects to be doing the same for as long as she’s alive as well.
Turn and face the strain
What to remember when you first begin your yoga practice:
1. Start at the beginning. It doesn’t matter when you start your practice, all that matters is that you are starting. Maeve says to, “think of this choice as a choice on the path of self-discovery.” No matter how well you think you know yourself, you will certainly discover more hidden truths as you commit to your practice. Maeve recommends to start at the beginning with basics and/or level 1 classes, and look for therapeutic and restorative classes.
2. Don’t judge yourself or others. When you walk into your first yoga class, it’s quite normal to think, “I’ll never be able to do that” or “I’m not as good as they are.” As the famous quote goes, “comparison is the thief of joy.” Yoga is called a “practice” for a reason. There’s no such thing as perfection or better than. Although it may look like it sometimes from the outside (especially if you live in L.A.), yoga is not a competitive sport. Don’t allow your mind to go there. Be compassionate to yourself and let your body be guided.
3. Show up. That really is the hardest part. In the beginning, it may feel like torture. When everyone else is gazing peacefully over their fingers in Warrior 2, your mind may start fantasizing about pulling the fire alarm and making a dash for it. At first, trying to quiet your monkey mind and bending your body in ways you’ve never tried will take you out of its comfort zone. And that’s the whole point, isn’t it? It’s important to remember to go in with an open heart and open mind, without placing expectations or demands on yourself.
4. Try different styles. When you go shopping for new clothes, you may be resistant to trying on a style different than from what you’re used to. It’s so easy to get stuck in our ways. But sometimes the salesperson at the store or a friend convinces you to try on something you’ve never considered and amazingly it’s a great fit. This is especially true with yoga. Each studio and instructor will have a different vibe and style. Try several and see which feels like a good fit.