It's that time of year again when wherever we look we're accosted by health and fitness slogans – join a gym, start running, take up a sport.
Joining a gym or signing up for a half marathon is all good and well if you're young and relatively fit but not so appealing if you're an older adult looking for a gentle way to start exercising. But getting fit and healthy doesn't always mean sweating it out at the gym on a treadmill, or in a spinning class. There's a much simpler, easier, gentler way of getting in shape and staying healthy. How? Yoga, of course.
What is Yoga?
Yoga originated in India thousands of years ago. It comes from the Sanskrit word Yuj, which translates as unite. The core of Yoga is to unite the mind, body and soul, and the aim is to reach a balance of perfect harmony and well-being. This balance is achieved in three parts
- Physical exercises (asanas)
- Breathing practices (pranayama)
- Meditation (mindfulness)
The good thing about yoga is that it's suitable for any age and fitness level, even pregnant women practice yoga. But what if you've got an established health condition, should you still just go ahead and start practicing yoga? 'I would recommend that if there are any medical or health related concerns then the individual must consult their GP prior to commencing any regular exercise,' says yoga teacher Cathy Underwood Radan, Founder & director of www.yoga4mums.com, 'An experienced, qualified yoga instructor can then work with any information obtained and that person will reap enormous health benefits from the practice.'
'Yoga can help in the relief of physical, mental and emotional ailments,' says Cathy, 'such as arthritis and rheumatism, to name but a few.'
As well as improving your flexibility and muscle tone, yoga has a host of other health benefits including:
- Improving digestion
- Lowering blood pressure
- Reducing stress
- Decreasing anxiety
- Curbing depression
- Aiding joint and back pain
Which Yoga practice is best for the older adult?
Needless to say, if you're new to exercise or have never practiced before, lunging into a strenuous type of yoga such as Ashtanga or Power yoga wouldn't be prudent. 'I would recommend a gentle Hatha yoga class,' Cathy suggests, 'where the emphasis is on gentle breathing techniques, yoga postures that encourage strength and flexibility and mindful meditations for optimum relaxation.'
What you need to get started
All you will need to get started is loose, comfortable clothes that aren't restricting, such as jogging pants and a t-shirt or sweatshirt. You can buy specific yoga clothing if you wish but it really isn't necessary. Yoga is always practiced barefoot on a yoga mat to stop any slipping or sliding. It would be a good idea to invest in your own yoga mat and take it with you to classes, although some classes do provide mats for you to use during a lesson, you'll find it more comfortable to use your own.
Finding a class
You can practice yoga at home with a DVD but it would be a good idea, as an older adult, to join a class initially so that you can learn how to do the postures and breathing techniques correctly. 'It's important to find an instructor/class that works with small groups or on a one to one basis,' Cathy advises, 'This traditional method of sharing yoga, in my opinion, is safer and more beneficial because it helps develop an important relationship between the instructor and the student.'
Check your local paper or community board for classes in your area. Many classes offer concessions to people over 60. Cathy Underwood Radan runs classes across North London. They are open to all ages and abilities but in particular to the over 40s. You can join her between 7- 8pm at St John's Parish Centre, Friern Barnet Road, N11 3BS or contact her for classes in your area on: 07957272066
How often you should practice?
Ideally, yoga should be practiced daily but this isn't always feasible. A few times a week is fine and you will still feel the benefits. You can combine a once or twice a week class with a home practice.
Yoga at home with a DVD
Once you've mastered the postures by attending a class you can then practice at home with a DVD. Try Six Steps to Great Health and Wellbeing by Yoga4mums, which can be practised as a whole or in small 10 minute chunks if pushed for time. And no, you don't have to be a mum to use this DVD! Other titles you can try include Jane Fonda AM/PM Yoga and Yoga For Absolute Beginners by Yogi Marlon. All DVDs are available on Amazon.
As always, please contact your GP before embarking on a new exercise regime. Yoga is a non-competitive exercise, so 'always' go at your own pace. Don't try to keep up with the rest of the class, however tempting, or you may find that you run out of steam very quickly or, worse still, cause yourself an injury.
Never force your body into a position when it's resisting. If you can't perform a particular 'asana' then just stop, sit it out and resume when you are more comfortable.