The struggle is real.

By Renee’ Fulkerson

What does the struggle is real mean?
The struggle is real:
A phrase used to emphasize that a particular situation (or life in general) is difficult. It is often used humorously and/or ironically when one is having difficulty doing something that should not be difficult or complaining about something that is not particularly problematic.

When we were children growing up we moved our bodies though life with great ease. There might have been times we felt awkward in our bodies as they were growing and changing but still felt an ease in our movements. As young children turning into young adults we probably did not give much thought to the way our bodies carried us in our day to day lives. With the exception of the way we danced or if our parents told us to stand up straight because we were slouching. Fast forward to becoming an adult/ middle aged and beyond and suddenly what was not difficult or even obvious to us is now right in our face and possibly affecting our daily lives.

Why does our body begin to react in ways we are maybe not used to when we become an adult/ middle aged and beyond? There are many factors to consider however, I would consider stress, responsibility, finances and relationships in early adulthood could surely draw your shoulders up to your ears from time to time as the bodies way of reacting to the stressors. A job being stationary sitting at a desk all day could also contribute to the body talking to you through aches and pains. Starting a family, marriage and simply setting up a household are all heavy transitions from a single carefree life. Not to say these changes are not wanted and don’t bring much joy however, on the flip side take up a great deal of time, attention and energy. So do we blame our aches and pains and movement struggles on getting married? To this I say no that would be silly.

What once was a non issue in regard to our youthful body movements and stamina comes down to re-wiring the motherboard or simply creating new movement habits.

What do I mean by this? Our brain is wired to make things happen without much or any thought for example when we get out of bed in the morning we do not think to ourselves I am going to hobble to the bathroom or I am going to hunch over with my shoulders drawn to my ears it just happens. Why? Because these are are current movement habits. When we were kids we just jumped out of bed, wiggled and squiggled are way to the start of the day because those were are movement habits at that moment. Some days maybe we even dread that first step out of bed because we know it is going to be a struggle for various reasons. The struggle is real – having difficulty doing something that should not be difficult or complaining about something that is not particularly problematic.

The good news is you can rewire the motherboard and create new movement habits that will leave your body feeling pliable, happy and healthy once again. In YogAlign we refer to these changes as getting your kid body back. We let go of the regular tendency or practice of drawing our shoulders to our ears by becoming conscious with new positive habits. Example every time you get in your car when you sit (driver or passenger) draw your shoulder blades down underneath you and then simply rest and gently press the back of your head into the headrest. Yes, at first it may feel awkward and every other minute you may need to remind yourself to just relax – shoulders blades underneath me  and back of the head gently pressed into the headrest. As this posture becomes more comfortable and familiar the rewiring will begin and this posture que and comfort will follow through to other opportunities for your shoulders to relax such as in your office chair.

In regard to YogAlign it is a practice that is pain free from your inner core utilizing the SIP Breath giving us the gift of lift. I see new students as well as some long time students struggle with push ups due to the lack of connection to the core and trying to lift the weight of the body simply with their arms and old and not useful habit. I then gently remind long time practicing students and sometimes myself to remember to use the SIP breath and core engagement to float their/ my pushup up. I also reassure new students once they utilize their core (powerhouse and not their shoulders) with the SIP Breath it will become a habit and so much easier. They will no longer be shaking in their arms and possibly causing an injury to their unstable arm/ shoulder joints and can relax their neck and shoulders by pulling shoulder blades down.

Of course we all know ageing, injury and ailments also plays a factor in our body talking back to us however, we must not get in the habit of blaming the above mentioned for all of our poor movement habits. After all we do not want our fondest memory of childhood to be that our back did not hurt.

Here’s to squashing the struggle by creating new effective and efficient movement habits on the mat and in daily life.

GOODBYE NURSING HOMES! THE NEW TREND IS COHOUSING WITH FRIENDS

Karen Salmansohn, 58 years young

Senior cohousing is now trending – and for good reason. Below I share 5 reasons you might prefer senior cohousing with friends to nursing homes and assisted living.

Last week I got punched by the guy who came to fix my internet connection. And I was happy about it.

You see I was blaming my age for NOT being confident in technology – like the “younger generation.”

The technician told me I looked young – and asked me my age.  When I told him I was 58, he punched me in the arm – Elaine-from-Seinfeld style. He claimed he didn’t believe me.

Note: If you don’t know who Elaine is from Seinfeld – then I am old enough to be your mother – or even grandmother.

It’s not by accident that I’m (perhaps) a younger-looking and (definitely) younger-feeling almost 60 year old. 

I’m proactively taking care of my health and longevity.

My father passed away about ten years ago – in a challenging way– so I’m highly aware of my mortality.

For many reasons, I’ve been researching longevity – for a while now.

In my research I discovered that “Senior Cohousing” is trending right now – which I’m very excited about – for later on in my life, when I am older.

“Senior Cohousing” is when you live in an “intentional neighborhood” – surrounded by your friends – and you share in things like the same dining area, library, fitness center, garden, TV room etc.

Longevity research states that staying social with friends and family helps to keep you living longer.

It’s thereby no surprise to read that seniors who cohouse live at least ten years longer than they might otherwise live in traditional senior housing (Note: According to the Canadian Cohousing Network).

“Senior Cohousing” is a great concept for older people like myself, who are part of what I call the “Wellderly.”

“Wellderly” means that we’re older, but don’t feel old or act our age! 

With the help of the longevity tools tools I’m using I plan to remain “wellderly” for a long time to come.  And so I’m very interested in exploring this cohousing concept.

Cohousing sounds like a blast. Plus cohousing with fellow Wellderly friends is more affordable than nursing homes and/or living alone. After all, sharing resources saves money. When you’re a group paying for community meals it costs less than paying for groceries for one.

Plus it’s cheaper to maintain a yard, garden,  library, fitness center when you’re sharing in the costs with your friends.

It is estimated that by 2050, the number of people over 60 years old will triple from what it is now. 

I will soon be one of those people in that huge group – who’s looking for the most comfortable and enjoyable way to spend their senior years!

I love the idea of living in cohousing surrounded by friends – where I only need to walk a few feet to meet up with a someone for coffee or enjoy a walk in a shared garden.

If you’re seeking a more fun and rewarding way to spend your senior years,  here are…

5 reasons you might prefer senior cohousing:

1. A True Community

You get to enjoy having your friends close by so you can share time and activities. In contrast, seniors who live alone often feel loneliness.

2. Lots Of Privacy

In assisted living seniors live in very close quarters with one another. But with senior cohousing you get your own private apartment or house!

3. Less Money

Living in a nursing home or assisted living usually costs a lot more. But with senior cohousing, you’re sharing resources with friends, so you save money.

4. Lots of Mental & Emotional Wellbeing Perks

Let’s be real. Living in a Nursing home or in Assisted Living can feel a lot more depressing than living in a shared senior cohousing community.

5. Safety

In a cohousing neighborhood, you have neighbors around who expect to see you daily. They will notice if you’re not around. Hence if you fall,  then don’t show up for a meet up, your neighbors will check in on you.

Walking Might Be the Best Exercise There Is

Secrets from a 76-Year-Old Ironman Athlete

By Karla Walsh

27,886. That’s how many days Lis Heckmann lived on this Earth prior to the 2015 Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. The 76-year-old retiree from Lehigh Acres, Florida, was the oldest competitor tackling the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and 26.2-mile run this year. Here’s what we learned from six-time Ironman, who BTW, has also tackled 20 half Ironman races (70.3 miles), 100 Olympic and sprint triathlons, 12 marathons, 20 half-marathons, and countless 5K and 10K races. [Editor’s note: WHEW!]

1. Build from your specialty. One of Heckmann’s top tips for beginners? “Aim to be proficient at one event prior to training for your first triathlon. This gives you an anchor to work on and allows you to work on two instead of three disciplines,” she says.

2. Never lose hope. Strike 1: “While carrying a box in a slippery, greasy parking garage in 1975, I slipped and broke my ankle into 16 pieces. Fifteen screws and 6 months later, I was able to exercise again and started swimming and biking as part of my doctor-advised rehab,” she says. But her career kept her too busy to become a hardcore fitness fiend until about 10 years later when Heckmann took up running. Strike 2: That bad break caused arthritis. “In 2000, I started doing triathlons after my orthopedic doctor told me that I needed to focus more on cross-training to take some of the pressure off of my ankle,” she says. Strike 3: Heckmann was hit by a car while on a 75-mile bike ride in 2009. Her leg was broken, but just like always, her resolve was not.

3. Find a support team. Tim, her husband of 25 years, is her number one fan. “My proudest moment is seeing my husband’s smile as I cross the finish line. He is the most supportive man in the world,” Heckmann says. “Even though he thinks I’m nuts, he’s spent hundreds of hours taking me to the beach for open water swims or shadowing me in the car when I do long bike rides.”

4. Don’t fear new gear. “I’ve tried nearly every brand of sneakers. Three months ago I discovered Hoka shoes and I now own three pairs. Running feels better than it has in years!” she says.

5. Practice, practice, practice. Almost like a full-time job, Heckmann prepares for her next race for about 30 hours each week. Her seven-day schedule:

  • Every morning: 30 minutes of stretching
  • Five days/week: Swim for 1 hour
  • Three days/week: Run 7 miles, strength train for 1 hour
  • One day/ week: Spin for 1 hour
  • Plus 8 to 10 hours of biking

6. Keep yourself entertained. During those long and slow training runs or bikes, Heckmann tunes in to “bouncy Latin music or audiobooks.” Follow her lead and pop in those headphones (when on a safe, traffic-free path) and cue up one of our go-to motivating playlists.

7. Time it right. Next big race, Heckmann plans to arrive earlier to recover from jet lag and give her body time to adjust and deal with any lingering exhaustion, illnesses, and more.

8. Choose an active hobby. Since retiring from her career in real estate, Heckmann focuses on preparing for triathlons and tending to her organic garden. Even something as low-intensity as weeding and digging can help reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease, obesity, osteoporosis, and more.

9. Reflect on your success. “My most memorable race was running down Alii Drive, the final sprint, during my first Kona Ironman in 2005. I could hear Mike Reilly over the loudspeakers saying, ‘You are an Ironman.’ It was extremely emotional knowing that an entire year of training was coming to fruition, and I would be joining a very exclusive club of triathletes that have run the same path,” Heckmann says.

10. Move forward after failure. Unfortunately, Heckmann had to drop out of Kona this year, after struggling with a cold and stomach issues during the swim and the first 40 miles of the bike leg, but being in good enough shape to even attempt the 140.6-mile triathlon seven decades in has us uber-inspired. “I don’t think that age is a limitation to me and never really gave any thought to being the oldest in any race. I just want to do my best,” she says. Now, she’s more determined than ever to race down that road again! Next up: Training for the 2016 Florida Ironman to qualify for 2017’s Kona Ironman. Remember: Never let one setback hold you back.

Photo: Andrew West

Exercise Wins: Fit Seniors Can Have Hearts That Look 30 Years Younger

By PATTI NEIGHMOND

We know we need to exercise for our health, but a lifelong exercise habit may also help us feel younger and stay stronger well into our senior years. In fact, people in their 70s who have been exercising regularly for decades seem to have put a brake on the aging process, maintaining the heart, lung and muscle fitness of healthy people at least 30 years younger.

Take 74-year-old Susan Magrath, a retired nurse practitioner who lives in Muncie, Ind. Magrath has been running almost daily for 45 years. She often runs outdoors and describes it as addictive. “It’s just such a release, just a wonderful release,” she says. “I ran today and there were little snowflakes coming down, and I was down by the river and it’s just wonderful. And I think it’s become more of a contemplative meditative process for me.”

Magrath may be living proof that lifelong exercise helps with cardiovascular and muscle health. She recently took part in a study at the Human Performance Laboratory at Ball State University, also in Muncie, headed by exercise physiologist Scott Trappe. Trappe is among the first to study the enticing new population of lifelong exercisers.

After the running and aerobic boom of the 1970s, large numbers of septuagenarians stuck with it and have been exercising regularly for the past 50 years. In this population, Trappe says, “We were interested in basically two questions: One, what was their cardiovascular health? And two, what was their skeletal muscle health?

What he saw surprised him. “We saw that people who exercise regularly year after year have better overall health than their sedentary counterparts. These 75-year-olds — men and women — have similar cardiovascular health to a 40- to 45-year-old.”

” ‘Exercise wins’ is the take-home message,” he says.

In the study, Trappe divided 70 healthy participants into three groups. Those in the lifelong exercise group were on average 75 years old and primarily kept their heart rates up through running and cycling. They had a history of participating in structured exercise four to six days a week for a total of about seven hours a week.

The second group included individuals who were also, on average, 75 years old but did not engage in structured exercise regimens, although they might have participated in occasional leisure walking or golf.

The third group consisted of young exercisers who were, on average, 25 years old and worked out with the same frequency and length of time as the lifelong exercisers.

All participants were assessed in the Human Performance Laboratory at Ball State University. Cardiovascular health was gauged by having participants cycle on an indoor bike to determine VO2 max, also known as maximal oxygen uptake, which is the measurement of the maximum amount of oxygen a person can use during intense exercise and is an indicator of aerobic endurance. During the cycling test, which became increasingly challenging, individuals exhaled into a mouthpiece that measured oxygen and carbon dioxide levels.

The aerobic profile of the participants’ muscles was measured by taking a sample via a biopsy about the size of a pea, says Trappe. Then in the lab, researchers examined the micro vessels, or capillaries, that allow blood to flow through the muscle itself.

They also looked at specific enzymes that provide fuel to the working muscle and help break down carbohydrates and fats.

Although the study was relatively small, the findings, which were published in the Journal of Applied Physiology in August, suggest a dramatic benefit of lifelong exercise for both muscle health and the cardiovascular system.

“Lifelong exercisers had a cardiovascular system that looked 30 years younger,” says Trappe. This is noteworthy because, for the average adult, the ability to process oxygen declines by about 10 percent per decade after age 30.

“It’s kind of a slow decay over time that’s probably not so noticeable in your 30s or 40s,” says Trappe, but eventually as years go on, becomes apparent. People can get out of breath more easily and may have difficulty pushing themselves physically.

The age-related reduction in VO2 max is directly associated with an increasing risk of multiple chronic diseases, mortality and loss of independence. Maintaining a strong heart and lung system has been shown to decrease these health risks.S

As for muscle health, the findings were even more significant, says Trappe. Trappe says researchers were surprised to find the 75-year-old muscles of lifelong exercisers were about the same as the muscles of the 25-year-olds. “If I showed you the muscle data that we have, you wouldn’t know it was from an older individual. You would think it’s from somebody that’s a young exerciser,” he says.

David Costill, 82, was not part of the study but is a former colleague of Trappe’s and professor emeritus of exercise science at Ball State University. As an exercise physiologist, he has always known about the benefits of exercise and has been committed since high school.

He says he has spent about “60 years actively exercising.” Costill ran marathons for about 20 years until his knees started to bother him, so he headed to the pool. “And I’ve been swimming for the last 35 years.”

When Costill looks at his friends, he says he finds he can do a lot more physically than they can. “If I’m out with a group of my peers, guys who are near 80, and we’re going someplace, it seems to me they’re all walking at half speed.”

Trappe says the findings are clear: 30 to 60 minutes of exercise a day may be the key to a healthy life. But you don’t have to run marathons or compete in cycling events. “If you want to do 30 to 45 minutes of walking a day, the amount of health benefit you are going to get is going to be significant and substantial,” he says. “Will it equal the person training for competitive performances? No. But it will outdo the couch potato.”

Unfortunately, couch potatoes are the norm. Federal guidelines recommend two hours and 30 minutes of moderate exercise a week, or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous exercise per week. Yet 77 percent of Americans do not come close to getting that amount of exercise.

Dr. Clyde Yancy, spokesperson for the American Heart Association and chief of cardiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, says the findings suggest “a lifelong investment in health and fitness appears to be associated with a really sustainable benefit out until the outer limits of life.”

Since we are living longer, maintaining a good quality of life is more important than ever. While the study was small and the findings need to be confirmed, they present a “strong argument” for lifelong exercise that is inexpensive and accessible for everyone. “If you can swim, do yoga, cycle, or walk,” you can benefit,” Yancy says.

The 11 Moves That Help Athletes Get Better with Age

Stay in the game longer and stronger with a solid prehab routine, and go harder with a smart recovery routine by Nick Heil

Among the most important things an athlete can do to preserve fitness for years to come is avoid injuries. Sprains, tears, and broken bones can resurface as nagging aches or weaknesses as you get older, preventing you from pushing yourself with the kind of high-intensity interval training that’s so important for older athletes. Enter prehab, pre-exercise routines that prepare your body for the loads and stresses of a workout or race while also helping stave off injury.

“It’s a daily evaluation tool,” says Eric Dannenberg, performance manager at Exos in Phoenix, “a way to make sure you can perform movements before you load your muscles.”

Dannenberg recommends doing each of the following five exercises before every hard workout. They’ll add about seven minutes of warm-up, but the payoff will be huge when it comes to longevity in your sport. “Greatness isn’t one game or race,” says Dannenberg. “It’s consistency of habits over many years.”

The Five Exercises You Should Do Before Every Hard Workout

Half Turkish Get-Up (unweighted)

half-turkish-get-up.jpg
(Todd Detwiler)

Lie on your back, right leg extended, left leg bent so your foot is flat on the ground. Use your right arm to prop yourself into an upright seated position, with your right arm straight and your left elbow resting on your left knee. Push through the ground with your left heel to raise your hips toward the sky. As you do, raise your left arm so that it points at the ceiling. Repeat by lowering your butt to the ground, returning your left arm to your knee, and driving your hips and arm back toward the ceiling.

Bear Crawl

bear-crawl.jpg
(Todd Detwiler)

On all fours, crawl forward ten steps, moving your opposing hands and legs forward at the same time. Stay low, with your back straight and your knees just a couple of inches off the floor. Finish by crawling backward the same distance.

Lunge with Twist

lunge-with-twist.jpg
(Todd Detwiler)

Step forward in a deep lunge. Plant both hands on the floor inside your forward foot. Keep your back leg straight. Raise your inside hand toward the ceiling so your torso twists upward. Plant your raised hand on the outside of your forward foot and straighten your forward leg to achieve a deep stretch in your hamstring. Finish by returning to the standing position, feet together. Repeat on the opposite side. Alternate for six total reps.

Bodyweight Squat

bodyweight-squat.jpg
(Todd Detwiler)

With feet a little more than shoulder width apart, lower your butt down and back as deeply as you can without rounding your back. Keep heels grounded. As you move down, raise your arms so they extend straight in front of you. Your knees should stay over your toes. Keep your head up and your chest out. Do six reps.

Pogo Jump

pogo-jump.jpg
(Todd Detwiler)

Bounce on both feet in a full upright position, as if you’re on a pogo stick. Continue for 15 seconds, then rest for 15 seconds. Do two sets, adding height or speed to make it more challenging.


The Six Exercises You Should Do After Every Workout

Superstuds like Ned Overend don’t get that way by charging relentlessly through middle age. They understand that at least half the game involves recovering properly, which allows for consistent hard efforts without the detrimental effects of overtraining. A nutrient-rich, plant-heavy diet and lots of sleep are essential, but a recovery plan that includes daily breathing exercises, foam rolling, and mobility work will help you rebound even faster.

“A lot of top athletes come in wanting to improve their movement and speed, but their nervous system is out of whack or they’re broken down,” says Miguel Aragoncillo, a strength coach at Cressy Sports Performance in Hudson, Massachusetts. “There are techniques to help you regenerate between workouts and correct the problems.” Here are six of Aragoncillo’s favorite recovery exercises. Do them immediately following a workout, in the evening before bed, or during a rest day.

90-90 Hip Lift

90-90-hip-lift.jpg
(Todd Detwiler)

Lie on your back with your feet on a wall, knees bent at 90 degrees. Place a ball or foam roller between your knees. Tilt your pelvis slightly forward. Squeeze the ball or roller, and lift your tailbone a couple of inches off the floor. Repeat five times.

Payoffs: Improved posture; pelvic alignment

Deep Exhale

deep-exhale.jpg
(Todd Detwiler)

Lie flat on your back. Breathe in deeply using your diaphragm. (Your belly should rise and fall rather than your chest.) Exhale as deeply as possible, holding at the end for a few seconds. Repeat for five breaths.

Payoffs: Deeper sleep; relaxation

All-Fours Belly Lift

all-fours-belly-lift.jpg
(Todd Detwiler)

Get down on your hands and knees and draw in your breath, pulling from the front of your stomach toward your spine. Round your back, breathing into the stretch. Repeat five times.

Payoff: Improved breathing

Plantar Fascia

plantar-fascia.jpg
(Todd Detwiler)

Roll a small, firm ball under the arch of your foot, applying pressure as needed. Hold it against sore spots for several seconds as tolerable.

Payoff: Foot mobility

Adductor

adductor-exercise.jpg
(Todd Detwiler)

Lie on your stomach. Place a foam roller under the inside of your upper leg. Roll back and forth, from groin to knee, gradually lowering your body weight onto muscles and soft tissue.

Payoffs: Balanced running mechanics; increased blood flow

Hip Flexor

hip-flexor.jpg
(Todd Detwiler)

On your stomach, place a ball just below your hip bone. Lower your weight onto the ball and roll it around that zone. Hold the ball against sore spots for several seconds

Payoff: Hip mobility

 

10 Tips for Starting Yoga at 50+

by Amber Burke & Bill Reif

Medical practitioners and health-focused websites are increasingly recommending yoga to those of middle age and up, perhaps because yoga can help make you more flexible and mobile, improve your balance, reduce age-related changes in gait, increase your energy, reduce chronic pain and addictive behavior, decrease the risk of heart attacks and strokes, alleviate depression and anxiety, improve sleep quality, and even slow the effects of aging on a cellular level.

Older adults seem to be listening. According to one large survey, those 50 and up constitute 38 percent of all practicing yogis, making them the second largest group of practitioners (after those 30-49). If you are considering joining this number, it’s important to consider how best to approach a new yoga practice at and after middle age.

Although no single type of practice will ever be appropriate for everyone in any demographic, a yoga practice for those 50 and up is one that understands and works with the differences between younger bodies and older bodies, rather than one that pretends those differences do not exist.

In particular, a safety-focused approach to yoga may be especially valuable for older practitioners, who seem to run a higher risk of in-class injury than their younger counterparts. Yoga, like all forms of exercise, can both cause and exacerbate injuries, and while the rate of yoga injuries for all demographics rose between 2001 and 2014, injuries were most frequent among those 65 and up (57.9 injuries/100,000 practitioners), followed by those 45 and up (17.7/100,000). This may result from the way normal, age-related changes and preexisting wear and tear on our bodies interact with a yoga practice.

Although all bodies are different, in general, our bodies become less resilient as we age. To varying degrees, we experience decreases in muscle strength, connective tissue elasticity, and bone density, the combination of which may make us more vulnerable to injury than our younger counterparts. Older adults may also find that their injuries don’t heal as quickly as they did a decade or two ago.

By the time we reach middle age, it’s also likely that we bring to yoga conditions or injuries—diagnosed or undiagnosed—that affect our practice and can make injury more likely. Kyphosis, frozen shoulder, osteoporosis, and back pain (discussed further here) are among the common conditions experienced by older adults that may necessitate changes in our yoga practice.

Fortunately, by making careful decisions about what type of yoga to practice, and how to practice it, we can decrease the odds of injury. While much of the advice below applies to yoga practitioners of all ages and levels, it is especially crucial for those starting yoga at or after age 50, when safety must take center stage.

1. Seek out the type of yoga class that’s right for you.

There are many types of yoga. A high-intensity practice like ashtanga, vinyasa, or power yoga (in which students often “flow” quickly through poses) usually requires the hands to bear weight. These practices may work for some beginning practitioners, especially those who are athletic and free from competitive urges, and who can easily make adaptations within a group class when needed.

But if you are newer to exercise and/or working with injuries or pre- existing conditions (especially of the shoulders, elbows, or wrists), the fast pace of a vinyasa or power yoga class and the emphasis on weight-bearing with the hands may not suit you. Instead, you might consider choosing a class that moves slowly and focuses on alignment. Hatha classes, Iyengar classes, classes geared specifically toward older adults or billed as “alignment-focused,” and introductory, basic, or foundational classes could all be appropriate. Kundalini classes, which often emphasize seated poses, chanting, and working with the breath, may also be beneficial. Yin yoga and restorative yoga (both floor-based practices emphasizing long holds), and chair yoga, in which many poses are practiced with the help of a chair, are of value to many practitioners, but may be especially valuable for older students who are newer to exercise, find balancing to be a challenge, or have difficulty coming down to and up from the floor.

Teachers of all of these different styles are often happy to teach you privately. A private yoga session is considerably more expensive than a group class, but often far less expensive than an appointment with a physical therapist or doctor.

During one-on-one sessions, a teacher can check your form and help you make adjustments to poses that haven’t been feeling quite right, or about which you may be uncertain.

Yoga International and other yoga sites will give you many of the tools you need to be your own teacher and embark on a home practice. There, you’ll find online yoga videos that offer classes for a variety of different levels that you can practice at your convenience. However, even those who prefer practicing at home often find participating in group classes helpful—both for the instruction from a “live” teacher, and the encouragement from a community of other students.

2. Find the right teacher for you.

Even within each type of yoga mentioned above, classes often vary tremendously depending on the instructor. Some say there are as many styles of yoga as there are yoga teachers. For instance, some vinyasa teachers may move slowly, while some hatha teachers pick up the pace. Shop around. Try different teachers. It is not necessarily important that your teacher be the same age as you, but it is important that younger teachers know how to work with students older than themselves.

Go to class early enough to talk to the instructor, or visit with the studio manager to inquire about various teachers’ styles. Ask about their philosophy and goals. Consider steering clear of teachers who think all poses are uniformly attainable and beneficial for all bodies. Instead, seek out a teacher who seems to care about any needs and pre-existing injuries or conditions you might have, and is interested in making your practice productive for you.
Find someone who gives careful instruction, teaches poses that seem valuable and possible, and who offers directions you can easily interpret. Above all, look for a teacher whose emphasis is not on the “what” but the “how”—a teacher who is more interested in teaching students how to move safely and with awareness, than in achieving a particular pose.

3. Be clear about your goals.

If, instead of accomplishment—like achieving handstand or lotus pose, you see the goal of your yoga practice as improved physical and mental well-being, the poses themselves become less important, a means rather than an end. You will then be less inclined to do anything in the short term that puts you at risk for injury, which would interfere with your long-term goal.

Yoga’s benefits for your well-being do not hinge on the attainment of particularly adventurous or dramatic poses, keeping pace with the person next to you, or practicing a pose just the way your teacher does. Rather, the benefits derive from a consistent and mindful practice of poses that challenge your range of motion and strength to a sustainable degree.

4. If you have any injuries or pre-existing conditions, tell your teacher about them, and share any advice you’ve received from your doctor.

A discussion with your teachers regarding any injuries and conditions you may have is essential, so that they avoid encouraging you to make movements that are risky for you. Sometimes, your teachers can help you modify potentially problematic poses or suggest alternatives. Even if you aren’t seeking advice (because you know exactly which changes you’ll make to your practice to keep yourself safe), it’s also important to communicate with your teachers to avoid hands-on adjustments that could place pressure on a place of injury or vulnerability.

Past injuries and surgeries matter, too, since the area of a previous injury is often the area that’s most likely to be injured again.

Any information your doctor has given you about which movements to do and which not to do can be invaluable to your yoga teacher. Though many experienced teachers will know how to work with practitioners who have certain common injuries and conditions, it’s simply not possible for them to know the particulars of every diagnosis. So if, for example, your doctor has given you instructions not to twist or forward-fold, pass that information on.

5. Take charge of your own well-being throughout your practice.
It can be tempting to assume that whatever poses the teacher suggests will be a good idea for you, especially if you’ve communicated with them about any injuries or conditions you have.

But it’s important not to surrender responsibility for either your own safety or your own good judgment. Sometimes classes are so large that teachers don’t feel they can attend to the particular needs of any one individual. Sometimes your teachers may not know how best to accommodate your needs.

But perhaps most critically, there will be times when only you will know what your needs are. For instance, only you can know when you are on the verge of losing your balance in a standing balance pose. But since, according to one study, falls from standing height are the most common cause of injuries in older athletes, it’s critical that you don’t wait for the teacher’s invitation: Exit the pose before your shaking destabilizes you.

Continually register what you are doing and how it feels. Stay attuned to warning signs like tingling, numbness, lightheadedness, and, of course, pain. These are cues telling you that it’s time to come out of a pose.

6. Move Slowly.

Moving slowly from pose to pose gives you time to both get your footing and to notice sensations in your body. And if you’re not in a rush during transitions, it may be easier to stay mindful of your alignment, as well as of any advice your yoga teacher or your doctor may have given you.

Slow movement can also help build strength. Slow doesn’t mean easy—quite the opposite. Try taking a few steps as slowly as possible. You’ll likely feel that moving slower requires more control and effort, rather than less. Moving slowly can also require mental strength to stick with the challenges it presents, as well as to keep a slow pace even when others are moving faster.

7. Give yourself permission to skip and alter poses as necessary.

Respect your feelings of hesitation. If you look at a pose and think, That looks like a bad idea, don’t do it.

Err on the side of caution. Take all directions as suggestions rather than mandates, and do only the poses you can do without strain and while breathing deep, comfortable breaths. Whenever you wish, take a break in child’s pose or any seated pose that is comfortable for you.

Often, there may be another way of approaching a pose to make it more accessible. Ask for help from the teacher in creating another version of the pose, perhaps using props. Having a wall to touch or lean against can help you with balance, and blocks or straps can arrest the depth to which you go in a pose, lessening strain and lowering the probability of injury.

8. Pay attention to how you feel, both after practice and the next day.

It’s important to take into account how you feel, not only during but also after your practice. Do you feel nothing at all? Do you feel you exerted yourself in a productive way? Maybe you’re sore in a “good way”?

Do you have a lightness in your step and a buoyancy in your mood? Or do you feel exhausted? Or maybe you even feel new pain somewhere?

If you feel nothing at all after the class you took, you might consider upping the intensity of your practice. If you feel absolutely exhausted or in pain, you may conclude that you did a little too much, and tone things down next time.

9. Give up comparisons.

You may or may not have something in common with the person practicing vigorously next to you. Do not expect your poses to look exactly the same way that other students’ poses look. Besides, impressive as some of those demonstrations may be, you don’t know what is going on inside any of those other bodies. For all you know, those yogis have rotator cuff tears, repetitive motion injuries, or pain they are ignoring (and perhaps exacerbating by practicing that seemingly advanced pose). Who knows, some of them may have managed to get into their pose only by compromising their alignment or stability in some way. They may even be holding their breath!

Trust that the more advanced student is one who recognizes their own limitations, and practices the version of a pose that is appropriate for their body while maintaining their personal optimal alignment and breathing deeply. Be that student.

It may also be tempting to compare yourself with the person you were twenty years ago, who could have done the suggested adventurous pose with abandon. You can no longer do anything to help or hinder the person you used to be, but your actions today will have a direct impact on the person you will be tomorrow. Do your future self a service by respecting your limits as they are today.

10. Men: Patience and persistence will pay off.

Researchers have long-noted that women tend to be more flexible than men, a gender gap that is slight in preadolescence but increases toward seniority (when older women maintain greater range of motion in many joints than older men do). This difference may be due to a combination of muscle size, tendon elasticity, hormones, and the kinds of activities that men or women are more likely to engage in.

The fact that aging-related declines in flexibility appear to be joint-specific, with, for instance, the shoulder and trunk experiencing greater losses in range of motion than the elbows and knees, indicates that habitual joint usage patterns play a role in these losses.
Statistically, men tend to participate in more vigorous physical activities than women, do more strength-training activities, and play sports twice as much (or more) than women do. But muscle bulk, the wear-and-tear of repetitive movements, and the scar tissue that results from injuries may contribute to losses in flexibility.

Men’s comparative inflexibility is not a reason for them not to do yoga; rather, it makes yoga even more important. And the good news is that, when embarking on a program of stretching, men seem to make gains in range of motion at a similar rate to that of their female counterparts.

However, it’s important that they take things more slowly than they might be inclined to, and that they don’t expect themselves to be able to do everything their female neighbors in class are doing—at least not right away.

Reflections

What all these tips encourage is viveka: a Sanskrit term for the prized quality of discernment and discrimination. Although certain physical aspects of yoga may be more challenging as we age, discernment may also be easier to come by.

At middle age and beyond, we may have an easier time discerning our goals, the kind of practices and teachers that are right for us, and the speed at which we may safely proceed. We may be able to better discriminate between the poses and movements that are of benefit to us and those we would be better off skipping, between what is right for another and what is right for us, and even between what was right for us 20 years ago and what is right for us now.

If we apply this earned wisdom to our yoga practices, it will not only help to keep us safe, but it will also serve as a signal to others.

Every time we stay in a less extreme version of a pose, or take a break when we need it, we model to younger, more ambitious practitioners a kinder way of practicing. We tell another story about what yoga can be. Through the self-awareness and self-care that infuses our actions—and at times our inaction—we become arrows that point inward instead of outward.