By Janet Rae Humphrey
We start to age the day we are born. At first, the aging process is exciting: first tooth, first word, first step, toilet training, dressing ourselves, learning to read, balancing on a two-wheeled bicycle and getting a driver’s license.
In the last 90 years, life expectancy has increased from 59 to 79 years old, and the oldest person in the modern age lived to be 122. The question is, can you grow older and maintain the same quality of life and physically be able to do everything that you want to do?
I will turn 73 this month and am loving every minute of my life. My age does not bother me. I have been through some challenging medical problems. For decades, there were so many things I could not do, but with the help of some amazing and very patient yoga teachers, I was able to adapt my yoga practice and slowly heal my body. I can honestly say that today I am in the best shape of my life. You have the power to improve your health, no matter what your condition is today!
The beauty of yoga is its flexibility. It works in both the body and mind, and the essence of yoga is maintained even when the postures are modified to accommodate your health conditions and age or both. I have been teaching yoga in senior living centers and yoga studios for over six years. I have watched the weak become strong; the timid become sociable, the anxious become calm, the distressed become relaxed, and those in mourning move on to a new life. One 84-year-old student with a chronic illness commented that before she started yoga, she thought her life was almost over. After taking yoga for two years, she is living her life fully. My students appear younger, happier and healthier as each day passes.
Our bodies age slowly. Our skin loses elasticity starting at age 18. Next, lung function declines starting at age 30, followed by a decrease in bone mass after age 35. Each of these diminishes at the rate of one percent a year. By age 40, the muscles lose density and fat levels increase. The best antidote for the loss of muscles, bone density and lung function is exercise.
- Murali Doraiswamy, M.D., professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University, describes the advantages of practicing yoga in the following way:
“If there was a drug that could mimic the effects of yoga, it would probably be the world’s best-selling drug.”
Yoga has been shown to lower blood pressure, blood glucose and lipid levels, and increase the healthy chemical levels in the brain. Arthritis, anxiety, depression, insomnia, back pain and a host of other health conditions are improved with yoga.
Human beings evolved to stand and move. Hunting, gathering, walking and running are all done in an upright position. Today we sit while watching TV or when using a computer, tablet or cell phone. The weaker we become, the more we want to sit. The more we sit, the weaker we become. Disuse decreases muscle mass and causes the muscle fibers to atrophy. Sitting also reduces bone density and makes the bones more fragile. As human beings get weaker, they do less, and the vicious cycle continues until they become hunched over, frail and fall down.
You have the power to break that cycle and to enjoy a fun, interesting way to move your body to improve your posture, strength, flexibility, balance, stamina, range of motion and well-being. The benefits of this practice include increased independence, reduced pain, and a gradual improvement in our physical capabilities. The most recent research shows a decrease in office visits, lab tests, X-rays, procedures and emergency room visits among the individuals who participate in mind-body practices: conscious breathing, meditation, yoga and resiliency training. The cost savings estimates range from $640.00 to $60,200.00 per year per patient.
The benefits are available to all who choose to practice yoga by scheduling time to move their body and work toward a new level of fitness. Yes, it takes time to become fit. Either exercise or spend time waiting in your doctor’s office and being sick. You are worthy. You deserve to be healthy. Yoga takes more effort than swallowing a pill; however, the positive effects are longer lasting and improve the entire body, mind and spirit.
Schedule exercise and write it on your calendar just as you would a doctor’s appointment. Start practicing one or two days a week. Have fun watching yourself improve. Begin with the basics – breathing regulation, mountain pose and meditation. Alternate between the upper and lower body. Don’t do any movements that cause sharp pain. Rest when you need to and allow your body to adjust to the new movements.
Please check with your healthcare professional before starting any exercise program. Through the practice of yoga, you have the power to transform your life.
Janet Rae Humphrey, C-IAYT, E-RYT is a Certified Yoga Therapist, Yoga for Healthy Aging teacher and Integrative Yoga for Seniors instructor. She is author the book “Age Without Limits – Over 200 Chair and Standing Yoga Poses for Seniors and the Health Challenged.” She trains yoga teachers, healthcare professionals, body workers, seniors and caregivers how to teach yoga to seniors and the health-challenged. Come to her classes for ages 50-plus at A Mindfulness Life Center. Learn how to teach seniors by going to www.SeniorYogaPros.com. Next training will be February 15-18, 2018.