By May Yacoob, Ph.D.
For over a decade I have watched yoga studios open and close. I have also encountered seniors who have told me they’ve hurt themselves at yoga or how they felt that yoga was for the young and athletic.
As a mature practitioner, I can vouch for the fact that yoga is much more than standing on your head or doing numerous repetitions of ‘up dog’ and ‘down dog.’
Recent studies have demonstrated that yoga helps with back pain and other health challenges such as heart disease, insomnia and arthritis. A recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicinefound that yoga classes for the boomer-age group can be as safe and as effective as physical therapy in easing chronic pain.
As a result, more and more people of all ages are turning to yoga to enhance their health. For those new to the practice, however, it is essential to recognize that yoga classes vary widely in style—from vigorous and athletic to relaxing and restorative—and in substance—from “yoga flavored” exercise to “meditation in motion.”
Over the past 15 years, I’ve trained in numerous styles and philosophies of yoga, as well as how to teach yoga to more mature groups, specifically, to boomer-age students. One of the classes I lead—Yoga for Boomers—is hosted at St. Andrews by-the-Sea on Calle Frontera in San Clemente.
Even yoga instructors who are adequately trained to teach able and fit students typically have a limited understanding of the important safety considerations that are vital when working with older adults. In an article about back pain, Robert Saper, a physician and director of Integrative Medicine at Boston Medical Center, noted on National Public Radio, that the practice of yoga has to be adapted to the audience practicing it and must include breathing and relaxation.
To find the appropriate class and instructor for seniors, here are a few tips to consider:
- Talk to your care provider: This is particularly important if you have a serious health condition, so get guidance about any specific movement precautions. For example, people with glaucoma may be advised to avoid head-down positions which increase pressure in the eye. Recognize, however, that many physicians don’t know much about yoga and might assume that you are planning to stand on your head. Be sure to let your physician know that you are interested in starting with a gentle class consisting of simple movements, stretches and breathing practice.
- Find a well-trained and experienced yoga teacher: Don’t be shy; ask your prospective instructors how long they have taught yoga and whether they have any training in working with special populations such as older adults or people with health challenges.
- Consider beginning with some individual sessions: Work one-on-one with a qualified yoga instructor who will tailor a practice specifically designed to address your health goals.
- Be sure to share with your instructor any new health issues that crop up. A good instructor will consult a physician to find out exactly what a diagnosis means and how it affects the practitioner’s yoga practice.
May Yacoob, Ph.D., is a yoga instructor in San Clemente and is a professor of health sciences at Chapman University. She is currently teaching a course in health and aging. Dr. Yacoob can be reached at www.drmayyacoob.com. Yoga for Boomers is held every Tuesday and Friday from 9:30-11:00 a.m. at St. Andrews by-the-Sea, located at 2001 Calle Frontera, San Clemente.
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