Eubie Blake, famed ragtime composer and pianist who was still performing at the age of 99, once said, “If I’d known I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.” Blake was definitely on to something.
As we age, though, our bodies begin to feel the effects of time. The risk of obesity, cancer, osteoporosis, cognitive impairment/Alzheimer’s, vision/hearing loss, balance issues, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and diabetes all increase as we age. Advances in medicine, earlier detection of diseases, and adopting a healthier lifestyle all contribute to enjoying a fuller, longer life.
There’s another integral component to the anti-aging arsenal — yoga. Long touted for its mental and physical powers, yoga has been practiced for more than 5,000 years.
Marianne Erena, owner of Hello Yoga in Wilton, says, “Yoga has long been shown to alleviate the symptoms of many conditions from which seniors can suffer, such as high blood pressure, osteoarthritis and poor sleep. The combination of physical poses with relaxation and breathing techniques improves overall health and well-being.”
Hello Yoga offers restorative yoga workshops, which rely on the use of props and the prolonged holding of a few simple poses to achieve a deep level of relaxation. Erena suggests Hello Yoga’s “Deep Stretch” classes, which utilize non-weight bearing stretch classes aimed at improving flexibility and joint health.
At Sama Yoga at Halo Studios in New Canaan, the motto is “yoga for every body, age and ability.” Rebekah Jacobs, director and owner, adds, “We believe that yoga should be accessible to everyone, no matter how old, how young, how fit. We offer many gentle and slower-paced options specifically geared toward those beginning yoga later in life or those who wish to move at a slower pace.”
Yoga has been shown to increase and improve range of motion, coordination, posture, balance, and strength, according to Jacobs. “As we age, yoga stimulates osteocytes, the bone-making cells, and can lower blood pressure, decrease physical discomfort or pain, and relieve emotional stress or anxiety,” she explains.
Julia Hepfer, yoga teacher, holistic health coach, and owner of Trumbull-based Pure Yoga, concurs: “As people age, their posture and balance become compromised, along with weakened core strength, leaving them vulnerable to falling. Yoga helps maintain good balance, proper posture and builds a strong core. A regular yoga practice will help improve muscle strength in the arms and legs and maintain a great level of flexibility which everyone needs.”
The studio offers Pure Basics Yoga, Restore & Relax and Gentle Yoga. Hepfer is also proprietor of Trumbull Physical Therapy and Wellness, along with partners and physical therapists Jennifer Iannucci and Anne Wolf. To complete a well-rounded health and wellness program for an older clientele, the business offers several small group classes that are geared toward people 55 and older and accommodate those with physical limitations. “For students who can’t get up and down from the ground easily, we offer ‘Standing Strong’ and ‘Active Aging,’ for example,” Hepfer says. “We also have Chair Yoga and Qigong, which are very gentle.”
Maritza Johnson, owner of Bikram Yoga Ridgefield LLC, notes, “A yoga practice is beneficial at any age and provides amazing benefits. Bikram yoga is performed in a heated environment to facilitate the body to stretch, detoxify, relieve stress, tone, and heal chronic pain such as arthritis, joint aches, knee injuries, back problems, and more. Consequently, Bikram yoga adds the extra advantage for a 55-plus student of facilitating the body to stretch with ease.”
Many YMCAs also offer yoga classes. Bridget Philipp, senior director of healthy living and medical fitness for the New Canaan YMCA, acknowledges the many physical and mental benefits of a yoga practice for seniors. “Yoga keeps the mind active as you focus on breathing and holding postures,” she explains. “It also lowers stress and anxiety levels and helps to boost your mood. We offer many classes in which seniors would feel comfortable, including Gentle Yoga and Restorative Yoga.”
Jessica Van Sciver, director of health and fitness for the Darien YMCA, agrees: “Yoga improves physical capabilities and decreases the symptoms of many conditions. The combination of physical poses with relaxation, breathing techniques and balancing exercises are proven to improve overall health and well-being. We have many options for older, active adults, such as Tai-Chi, Light ’n’ Easy, Restorative Yoga, Corrective Exercise, and Meditation Mondays.”
Whether you’re looking to expand your current yoga practice or embark on one, it’s never too late to start.