Am I Too Old for Yoga? 6 Yoga Poses That Age Well
You can do yoga at any age — really! It’s just a matter of picking what type of yoga you do and working within your abilities. It might even help you age better, keeping you flexible and building strength through low impact moves. “We lose about a half-pound of muscle per year for each year we’re not regularly engaged in resistance training,” says Jessica Matthews, assistant professor of exercise science at Miramar College in San Diego. Strength training also helps keep your bones strong. Yoga is a great option because it does not require specialized equipment and can be done anywhere. Matthews says her yoga classes are filled with people of all ages and skill levels, and she has seen older adults embrace the practice in recent years. “One of the most important things is taking great care to understand what your body needs,” Matthews says. If you have arthritis, limited mobility, or other health issues, she says, there is a modification for almost every yoga pose to accommodate your physical needs. Whether it’s at a yoga studio or community center or in your home, yoga is a great way to gently build your endurance while also fostering a mind-body connection.
Here are six poses Matthews suggests to get started:
1. Tree Pose
Tree pose helps to improve balance, Matthews says, which can help prevent falls. Stand with your legs together and your arms straight over your head, palms together. Raise your right leg slightly off the ground so that the toes are still on the ground and your heel is touching the inside part of your ankle. Balance for 20 to 30 seconds if possible. Repeat with the other leg. Hold onto something if necessary. As you gain balance, draw your raised foot upward, resting the sole of your foot on the inside of the lower leg. Eventually, work toward having your raised leg bent, with the foot resting on the inside of the opposite leg above your knee.
2. Warrior II
Any standing pose helps to improve bone density, Matthews says, while also improving lower body strength. “Not only do you strengthen, you get a stretch through your hips, groin, and inner thighs.” Begin with your feet hip-distance apart and your arms straight at your side. Turn to the right, and step your right foot out wide about 3 to 4 feet while keeping your heels in line. Turn your right foot out to a 90-degree angle. Inhale and raise your arms straight to the sides to shoulder height. As you exhale, bend the right leg until your thigh is parallel with the floor. Your left leg should be straight. Hold pose for up to 30 seconds while concentrating on your breath. Repeat pose with other leg.
3. Extended Puppy
A cross between two of the better-known yoga poses, downward dog and child’s pose, extended puppy pose offers the benefits of lengthening your spine without some of the discomfort some people find on their knees and hips in the other poses, Matthews says. Start on all fours in a tabletop position, with your knees under your hips, and wrists under your shoulders. Place a towel under your knees if necessary. Walk your hands in front until your chest is close to the ground while your hips remain over the knees. Keep your head down, and press your arms and hands into the ground.
Breathe deeply for 20 to 30 seconds, and then return slowly to tabletop.
4. Low Lunge
This move offers the benefits of a lunge, but with the added stability of the back leg remaining in contact with the ground. Stand with your legs hip-distance apart and arms at your side. Step the right foot forward and bend the knee until your knee is directly over your ankle. Your left leg is straight behind you with the knee or shin resting on the ground. Place a towel under your back leg if necessary. Press your hands or fingers into the floor to the side of your right heel. Keep your upper body lifted. Breathe for 20 seconds, and then return to standing and repeat with other leg.
Bridge pose is good for your hips and strengthens your lower back. “This is great if you’ve spent many years working at a desk job or if you haven’t been active in a long time,” Matthews says. Begin lying on your back with your feet flat on the floor, hip-distance apart directly under your knees. Arms should be straight at your side. Breathe in as you press your hands into the floor. Exhale and tighten your stomach muscles as you tilt your pelvis and then your spine off the ground until you are in a bridge position. Hold for 30 seconds, and then slowly lower your spine starting from the shoulders until your back is flat on the floor. If needed, put a folded blanket or towel under your shoulders for support.
6. Legs Up the Wall
This restorative pose can offer some of the gentle release of other poses without the strain of bending over, Matthews says. It also helps recirculate blood back to the heart. Sit with one side of your body against a wall. Slowly lower your back to the floor. Shift your legs up the wall until the backs of your legs are flat against the wall. If you can’t get your legs flat against the wall, move your body back slightly from the wall and bend the knees slightly. Keep your arms flat at your side. Breathe deeply through the stretch for 30 to 60 seconds. Slowly swing your legs down from the wall.
Jessica Matthews, MS, E-RYT, assistant professor of exercise science, Miramar College, San Diego.