FG Founder Michele Pernetta looks at the benefits of yoga as you get older
What most of us think of as the inevitable downsides of ageing aren’t in fact inevitable. Stooped posture, aching and inflexible joints, lack of energy, loss of balance and immobility are not natural at all – they are the effects of lack of movement, a sedentary lifestyle, lack of muscle mass and poor postural alignment amongst other things. Simply not stretching and not returning the body to its natural range of movement regularly can begin the process of degeneration of discs, cartilage, stiffness, poor circulation and lack of energy.
So, in that sense yoga can absolutely defy many of the effects of gravitational force and postural habits our modern lives impose on us that can cause compression in the joints and the gradual calcification of the body and its tissues. Not only can it slow down this aspect of the mechanical ageing process, it can reverse much of it!
Supporting the musculoskeletal system
Yoga is one of the most effective ways of maintaining your musculoskeletal fitness—your body’s flexibility, balance, muscle strength, and coordination— an important indicator of your overall health. A study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, which focussed on a person’s ability to sit unsupported on the floor and then stand up without using any part of the arm or hand to assist, discovered after several years when some of the subjects died that all of those that had died early had scored very low on the test, and concluded these factors are directly related to longevity.
Having muscle mass has also been proven scientifically to increase longevity. The results of research published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research showed that women were 63 times more likely to die earlier from low muscle mass and men 11 times more likely. Yoga allows us to build muscle naturally and safely without the need for weights, (as yoga uses body weight to build the right amount of muscle for our frame) meaning it is the choice for people of all ages to improve their health.
Yoga poses for gaining strength
- Plank with optional leg lift
- Locust to strengthen back
- Half Moon Side Bend
- Boat Pose
Yoga poses for boosting bones
- Utkatasana and Awkward series
- Down Dog
- One leg balancing poses
Improving your flexibility safely by practising yoga improves quality of life. Being able to put on our shoes without sitting down, reverse down a one way street in a car without putting your back out, do the gardening - not losing our functionality is key to fighting what we call “ageing.” The body is made of up fascia, connective tissue, and if we don’t stretch this it becomes hardened - meaning we become stiff and our circulation also suffers. The body is also made up of mostly water - so by stretching this connective tissue more water is able to be held within the fascia, as it is open and elastic, meaning we are loose and comfortable, not hard and brittle. Think of a natural sea sponge, when it is dry and hard it can break. When it is hydrated it is loose and pliable. You are as old as you feel.
Yoga poses for improving flexibility
- Spine – Half moon series, backbend
- Hamstrings and Lower back - Janushirasana / head to knee
- Hamstrings and hips - Padahastasana / hands to feet
- Hamstrings, inner legs, hips - Separate leg stretching
- Hips - Cobbler
- Shoulders - Prasarita C
- Shoulders, chest, belly and hips - Floor Bow
- Neck - Bridge, Plough
- Abdomen - Backbend, Standing Bow, Bow
- Hip flexors - Dragon
Yoga is great for working on balance too. We lose the capacity to balance on one leg by several seconds each decade over the age of 40 if we don't practise it, but this capacity can be regained with the sort of practice a yoga class provides.
Yoga poses for improving balance
- Big toe stretch
- Standing bow
Helping you to glow
Meanwhile sweating helps detoxify the skin – which is why yoga in a heated room can be particularly beneficial – removing toxins such as heavy metals and chemicals from the body. The skin is the largest organ of the body, and sweating is healthy, so if we exercise our skin then it can take better care of us by functioning correctly, - it will also look younger, pinker and more glowing.
Yoga poses for glowing skin
- Half tortoise
- Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee
Don’t forget your extremities
Yoga keeps our hands and feet strong and pliable and is one of the main wellness methods that is practised with bare feet. Most people rarely walk barefoot, the most natural way to keep our feet healthy. Once the feet become weak, stiff and misaligned, walking and balancing suffer. Yoga stretches and strengthens the feet and hands, improving quality of life. Here's to opening pickle jars well into our 80’s.
Looking after your mind
And finally, yoga also helps the mind stay relaxed as well as the body, improving mood and energy levels - which make us seem younger!
You’re never too old to start
The great thing is that we can begin yoga at any age, it isn’t just for the young. Most Fierce Grace classes are accessible for beginners of any age, but our S.O.B. (Stiff, Old or Broken) class is specifically designed for the needs of anyone dealing with injuries and issues that are related to ageing such as stiffness, aches and pains.
Michele spent decades working on the knowledge and experience required to tailor a class especially for those who felt they weren’t ready for a regular yoga class. S.O.B. includes scientifically proven exercises that help the main injuries people come to yoga with such as different types of knee injuries, lower back issues, very overweight or very stiff, amongst others. We have woven them into a simple re-aligning yoga class that is safe for all levels.
S.O.B. will help realign a person’s joints and then strengthen all the surrounding muscles. Strengthening the core of the body will reduce pressure on the intervertebral discs and safeguard the spine. Most injuries stem from weak supporting muscles. So don’t expect to be taking it easy in this class, the “cure” is to work hard, and stabilise the muscles through strengthening. an injured athlete will find this a rewarding experience, as will the very unfit or older person
Reaping the benefits of yoga in old age
Older students of all FG classes report increased energy, less pain, better posture, better sleep and eating habits, more agility, and improved posture.
The yoga masters say we should “die healthy” - in other words becoming stiff, full of pain, overweight, underweight, lacking in energy, are often simply a result of lack of movement. Failure to move is the "dis-ease" itself. People stop moving as they age. Yoga is simply the natural way to move, the body’s full range of movement, performed with natural anatomical alignment. If we repeat this full range of movement regularly, we do not lose our natural range, and the body remains "young” - strong and pliable, toned and responsive.