“The Boomer” is a column written for adults nearing retirement age and those already in their “golden years.” It will also promote reader interaction by posting e-mail responses and answering reader questions. E-mail your questions or topic ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Baby boomers that stay active have a higher chance of remaining more independent and able-bodied into their golden years, according to experts, and yoga is quickly becoming a popular means for older folks to stay fit.
Yoga is very low impact and focuses on breathing and relaxation methods and is welcoming to boomers of all sizes and age.
Many studies suggest yoga can be effective in relieving stress, calming nerves and promoting heart health by helping to lower blood pressure. Yoga practice urges participants to listen to their bodies, and classes tend to start off slow and build up to full capacity. Special needs can be discussed with the trainer to create custom-made routines to fit your body.
Many fitness clubs have jumped on the yoga bandwagon and are offering classes with certified trainers. If you have problems finding a class in your area, check online or at your local library for DVDs that will walk you through different poses and levels of yoga.
Here’s what author and creator of the book and DVD series "Yoga for the Young at Heart" Susan Winter Ward, suggests for baby boomers looking to enter the world of yoga:
Boomer: For baby boomers not familiar with basic yoga, what does a basic yoga session consist of and what preparation do we need prior to the session?
Susan: For a baby boomer the most important thing to start with is an open mind, just take your body and go to your yoga class. My suggestion is to go twice a week for a month before analyzing, judging or deciding whether you like it or not.
On a more practical than psychological level, dress comfortably in clothes that allow you to move. You need a yoga mat and they come in different thicknesses depending on which one makes you comfortable sitting on the floor. You may also need a belt or a strap to help you reach your toes or stretch your legs. Every yoga instructor is different, so find a teacher that is inspiring and makes you feel good about yourself. Don't be competitive, there is no competition in yoga, there will always be someone ahead of you and someone behind you. Be gentle with yourself, take it easy and just coax your body lovingly in and out of the poses. Yoga is about relaxing and accepting yourself just exactly where you are in the moment.
Boomer: What is meant by the "system of yoga"?
Susan: Yoga is referred to as a practice because there is no goal; every day is different and every yoga class is different because every day we are different. The word yoga means to yoke: to bring balance between opposing forces, it is finding balance between stress and repose and between effort and relaxation. It really is a body, mind and spiritual practice. So it can be any of these things depending on the student. A lot of people come to yoga looking for an inner spiritual guidance or a guru to follow. There are people who come to yoga for physical reasons. From a physical perspective, yoga addresses every system of the body: the nervous system, circulatory system, digestive system, musculature and the bones, every part of the body’s physiology benefits from doing yoga.
Boomer: What are the principles of yoga?
Susan: Because yoga is a body, mind and spirit practice, everything is integrated. Our minds affect our bodies and our spirit; yoga practice takes you on a journey into yourself. It is a very personal practice and what you take away from it is what you choose to take away and what you are open to. For people who say they can't do yoga because maybe they are bed ridden, or they are in a wheel chair, I would say if you are breathing, you can do yoga. There is a whole practice of yoga called pranayama, which is about the prana, the life force energy that is in our breath, and yama is a practice of learning to use and participate with the breath. There are different patterns of breathing that bring about different frames of mind. Asana is the actual physical form of the poses. My yoga teacher has said when you have mastered the poses, that is when the real yoga begins because then you are doing the yoga from the inside out, rather than trying to master a pose from the outside. When I teach yoga workshops, my goal is to teach as many of the poses as I can, because learning the poses and the alignment allows students to do their own practice from the inside out.
Boomer: What is the typical cost for boomers if they want to begin with one yoga session per week? What equipment do we need to purchase? Can we do yoga at home?
Susan: There are yoga studios all over the country and the cost of a yoga session varies. You might pay $6 a session in one studio and $30 in another. You can purchase yoga videos for $20 and do yoga from home. You can have a private yoga teacher who can charge anywhere from $20 an hour up to $120.Yoga mats aren’t expensive. When contemplating the cost, remember yoga is preventative and could ultimately help you save on medical expenses.
Boomer: How can baby boomers benefit from a yoga diet? How do we get started?
Susan: A lot of people think a yoga diet is to be a vegetarian and there is nothing wrong with that. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables is a very healthy way to eat. There is so much controversy now about where meat comes from and some of it is kind of nasty. Often,the more people do yoga,the more in touch they get with their bodies and the less they want to eat heavy meats like hamburgers. It just doesn't feel good in the body anymore. They may not even realize it, but their taste has changed. Some people jump into it and decide they are going to do yoga and become a vegetarian--in those cases it is really important to get some coaching and understand where your nutrition and protein are coming from. If you allow the yoga to take you down that path it will be much more gradual.
Boomer: What health benefits do boomers get from including yoga in their lives?
Susan: Yoga will help boomers maintain and develop strength and flexibility which keeps us safe as we get older; if we fall we will not get hurt as badly or even at all. Yoga also helps to prevent osteoporosis by keeping bones strong because muscle working against the bone encourages the bone to develop more strength. It helps to keep the circulatory system clear.
Yoga also keeps the heart and the brain healthy. For a lot of women going through menopause, yoga is a saving grace--it is very relaxing and helps with hypertension. Every system of the body benefits from a yoga practice. As people get older, everything they deal with in their daily lives will benefit from yoga practice. The sun salutation pose moves every bone and muscle in the body, it is very restorative, healthy and a detox. Twists squeeze the abdominal organs and flush out the old blood and allow new blood to come in. It also keeps your spine flexible and hydrates the discs between the vertebrae.
So boomers, find a way to include some yoga exercise into your budget and life. My wife and I just had our first yoga session at our retirement community clubhouse last week and we are definitely going back for more!
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