Many people over the age of 60 will write off yoga as something they’re unable to do because of their lack of flexibility. However, yoga is not just about physical ability and flexibility – in fact, it is a practice that aims to find holistic healing of the inner landscape by linking mind and body.
If you’re confused when you read this, because you’ve only ever seen yoga advertised as a physical practice in which you turn your body into a pretzel – then read on, you might be surprised! In fact – if you’re over the age of 60 and have noticed your flexibility reducing and your clarity of mind not being what it used to be – yoga might be the perfect practice for you.
Yoga as a spiritual practice is ancient, but the postures you tend to see on Instagram are actually a more recent invention. The postures as you see them today only came about in the 1970s. In fact, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (one of the earliest yogic texts) explains that yoga is a practice to stop the “fluctuations” of the mind.
Yoga philosophy explains that we experience suffering due to our “monkey mind” always being caught in the past and future, but rarely in the present. By exploring these physical postures, known as “asanas,” as we tune into our breath – we are able to tune out of our thinking mind, and our attachments to worries and concerns, and into the present moment where we can explore feeling safe and grounded. Posture / Asana: The Physical Practice The word “asana” can actually be translated simply as a “steady and comfortable seat.”
So, when we practice these poses we’re actually aiming to tune inward and notice how we feel in the pose – if it’s not steady and comfortable, we aren’t actually practicing in the way the philosophy teaches. In the early yogic texts, the only “posture” mentioned was lotus – a seated position. The earliest yoga practitioners practiced the physical and active forms of yoga in order to be more able to sit for long lengths of times in meditation. If you practice a simple flow, that is perfect for your body as it is today (no crazy gymnastics required), you will notice that mindful movement not only makes you feel physically more capable, stronger, and more flexible – your mind will slow down and you’ll feel less anxious and lethargic.
The practice of meditation is simply stopping, tuning inward, and in the simplest forms – just noticing your breath. However, for something so simple, it can be quite difficult. For busy, overwhelmed people, we can often think: I don’t have time for that. Why would that be necessary?
Meditation has been proven to help with anxiety and to reduce stress. When practiced regularly, it can change the wiring of your brain to allow for you to have better impulse control, and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. The more physical parts of a yoga practice in which we flow around on a yoga mat are what’s called a moving meditation. We are linking breath and movement in a single moment so we can tune inward and truly feel the experience on the mat.
A seated meditation is much the same, instead of moving and breathing, we are simply breathing. This can be much harder. A misconception about meditation is that we need to be completely quiet in the mind, think of nothing, and have a sensation of stillness. In fact, when you first start to meditate you will feel like your mind is incredibly loud.
You perhaps will have thoughts such as, “What’s for dinner? Did I remember what I have on my to-do list tomorrow? Have I forgotten something important? I can’t believe Kathy said that to Sarah last week!”
When we meditate we need to truly accept the fact that our brains love to think, and we can be compassionate rather than frustrated about this. Just gently guiding our awareness back to our point of focus (the breath, the sensation of our bodies on the earth, etcetera). After you practice this a few times, you may notice after guiding your awareness back to your breath for the 20th time, your body has relaxed. Your breath has slowed. You’ve successfully taken yourself from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system.
We are often trapped in the active, fight/flight response during the day due to our worries, commitments, and the relentless requirements demanded by our daily life. This is the “Sympathetic Response,” your central nervous system is on high alert due to a lack of perceived safety. However, being trapped in this response is much like being chased by a bear for days on end – your system becomes exhausted. It demands rest. So, understanding a these powerful ancient practices to get yourself out of a stress state and into a relaxed state does wonders.
When you learn how to regulate your nervous system you can have full body healing results:
• Reducing Inflammation
• Steady Healthy Heart Rate
• Healing Digestion / Gut Issues
• Calming Anxiety
• Soothing Depressive / Ruminative Thoughts
Yoga has the biggest rewards when practiced consistently. In philosophy there are two terms, Abhyasa and Vairagya. Abhyasa defines a practice as something with consistency, duration, and commitment. In other words, you may not be good at it, or always feel like it, but you keep showing up and you’ll feel the rewards over time (it is not an instantaneous result). Vairagya is defined as non-attachment to the outcome of your practice. You are aware that all that is in your control is your own effort, you can’t become a superhuman yogi / yogini overnight. You need to honor your own humanity and fluctuations. So, show up to your practice, and let the universe decide the rest – showing up is the only thing you need to worry about!
So, yoga is not just a physical practice like gymnastics. In fact, when practiced consistently it can take you from anxious and lethargic to focused and confident, stiff to flexible, and weak to strong. Rather than your lack of flexibility meaning you shouldn’t practice yoga, perhaps it means you need it even more, after all?
Share this article via: