What is the importance of breathing? Maybe your quality of life.

By Renee’ Fulkerson

What is the importance of breathing?

Every system of the body relies on oxygen. From cognitive to digestion, effective breathing cannot only provide you with a great sense of mental clarity, it can also help you sleep better, digest food more efficiently, improve your body’s immune response, and reduce stress levels.

Let us sink a bit deeper into what is the importance of breathing and I would like to share with you the moments that provided the evidence that made the above statement true for me.

In the year 2010 I received a phone call from my uncle that my dad had been hospitalized, he was unconscious, and unstable. At the time of admitting my dad the doctors had no idea what was going on with him. Later that same day when I arrived to see him he was still in what they now were calling a coma and a machine was breathing for him.

Flash forward to days which turned into weeks of endless testing and near death moments the diagnosis was my dad had the West Nile Virus. About 1 in 5 people who are infected develop a fever and other symptoms. About 1 in 150 people who are infected develop a severe illness affecting the central nervous system such as encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord) unfortunately my dad ended up being 1 of those 150 people. His symptoms included:

  • high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis and being over 60 years of age put him at a greater risk for complications and death.

After several months of laying in a hospital bed, paralyzed and unable to talk or breath on his own he was stable enough to be moved to a rehabilitation facility. This marked the beginning of what the rest of his quality of life would look like. To the naked eye the scene appeared bleak when a machine was breathing for him.

A reminder – what is the importance of breathing? Every system of the body relies on oxygen. From cognitive to digestion, effective breathing cannot only provide you with a great sense of mental clarity, it can also help you sleep better, digest food more efficiently, improve your body’s immune response, and reduce stress levels and my dad struggled daily with all of this.

Fast forward – after many months of rehabilitation my dad was finally able to breath on his own. It felt like from the first breath he took on his own it jump started his body. With the tube out of his throat and vigorous breath he was eating and digesting food which in turn gave him sustenance and strength. The ability for him to breath on his own relieved a great deal of stress for him and allowed him to get the healing rest/ sleep the body needs for recovery of any sort of trauma. Every time I came to visit him his mental clarity was sharper and his ability to talk, communicate and laugh yes laugh was amazing.

The biggest gift he received after literally getting his breath back was his immune system. When the machine was breathing for him he constantly had pneumonia and was always coughing and fighting for breath it was like he was in a never ending loop of despair. However, once his own breath kicked on the immune system his cough ended and he never again got pneumonia in the rehabilitation facility.

With his own breath flowing freely through his body the next step was getting him out of bed and walking on his own again and over time this too happened. Standing in front of my dad cheering him on when he took his first steps I thought my heart would burst with pride and joy for him. With the sweat on his brow and the racing beat of his heart I knew the ability for him to breathe on his own was his turning point to a quality life. The moment that happened all systems were ago and he had everything he needed on his side to succeed with his OWN breath.

After a year in the rehabilitation facility my dad was ready to go home to a quality of life he could be happy with. He started out in a wheel chair, could not feed himself as his whole right arm was still paralyzed and needed help with bed and bath. Over time with breath and movement he fully walks on his own, has learned to do most everything with his left arm/ hand and gets out as much as he can. Although his left arm does remain paralyzed to this day, he is unable to drive and does get frustrated and down sometimes he is a beautiful alive human being with a heart of gold. Getting his own breath his life force back gave him the ability to beat the odds.

See you on the mat

Is your yoga practice sustainable? If we are moving through a yoga practice that is harming or damaging our human body what would be the point?

By Renee’ Fulkerson

SUSTAINABLE | definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary
https://dictionary.cambridge.org › dictionary › english › sustainable
sustainable meaning: 1. able to continue over a period of time: 2. causing little or no damage to the environment and therefore able to continue for a long time.
We could exchange the word environment for human body.  By the above definition the question could be re-worded to – Is your yoga practice causing little to no damage to your human body? Will you be able to continue this yoga practice for along time?
The answer for me is yes at this current time as my yoga practice is The Yoga Align Method – pain-free yoga from your inner core focuses on proper body alignment and real life movement.
I have found whether young or mature of age we all want to feel good and be happy in our mind, body and spirit.
In my teaching and personal experience most of use can connect to the physical body easily we can touch it, see it and feel it. Where as the mind takes time to connect with with in regard to meditation and stillness. The spirit for some is altogether unattainable in the tangible sense and they cannot find the connection. So doing some physical movement seems like a rational place to find some joy and happiness.
For some yoga practice means only physical movement (asana) for others it is only meditation they seek and actually in this day and age yoga can come in many forms. For this blog lets stick with yoga practice in the physical sense.
When you are in your next yoga practice/ class ask your self some important questions:
  • Am I able to take a full deep breath in this posture?
  • Does my spine and sacrum maintain their curves and integrity?
  • Does this posture simulate functional movement, am I comfortable and stable?

We have been exploring in my public YogAlign practice that some folks do not and have not ever felt comfortable and stable in a forward lunge. A lunge is a lower-body exercise that works several muscle groups at once. The targeted muscles include the glutes in your hips and butt along with the hamstrings and quadriceps in your thighs. The calf muscles in your lower legs, your abdominal muscles and your back muscles act as stabilizers during this exercise.

Not feeling stable in the forward lunge restricts deep breath, alignment and there for is not comfortable or stable. The solution is simple we have placed a yoga block under the back foot which has a double duty purpose. One it allows the student to get alignment from the foot to the hip, raises the heel to a comfortable level and creates the stability the student was lacking and once they are in a stable lunge everything else falls into place.

Inner Breath Yoga Yogalign kauai hawaii

I have also had students lunge with the assist of the wall. Placing their right foot forward big toe close to the wall be not touching, left foot back on a block or heel lifted once they feel stable (foot in alignment with hip) I have them check to see if the back of the head the Occipital bone and the sacrum are in alignment creating even more stability and bonus proper alignment. Next when alignment and stability are solid we sink into the front knee and place the pads of our fingers (fingers open to turn on the arm muscles) against the wall upper chest height and start our SIP breath (structurally Informed Posture- informs our body of how to be in good posture by aligning from the inside out). Allowing this core breath to stabilize the body along with drawing the shoulder blades together creating even more stability.

When properly aligned in a posture with effective breathing and feeling stable and comfortable then and only then will we reap all the benefits the posture has to offer. I would say the above described YogAlign Power Lunge is sustainable for the human body as it ticks all our boxes.

If we are moving through a yoga practice that is harming or damaging our human body what would be the point? Although sometimes this may happen and we do not even realize it is happening. Be careful when an instructor cues a posture is supposed to be painful and to breath through the pain. That may be somewhat true for a person who has had a debilitating accident and is in recovery (physical therapy) and even then I would question the motive and benefits.

We can create a happy healthy mind, body and spirit well into a mature age by putting our body in breathable, aligned, functional, comfortable and stable yoga postures.

Now go out and use your sustainable body for good!

See you on the mat.

Is my YogAlign practice enough?

By Renee’ Fulkerson

The answer to this question is my YogAlign practice all I need to stay healthy and in shape is no and that is what my opinion/ answer would be in regard to any yoga practice.

I will say that my personal YogAlign practice is the foundation that enables me to continue to enjoy all the everyday activities I have participated in as a youth now into my fifties.

I started practicing yoga when I was pregnant with my now fifteen year old son to alleviate some of my back pain and it worked. I continued to practice Hatha Yoga and went on to a five hundred hour teacher training certification in Hatha Yoga.

In my thirties practicing and teaching Hatha Yoga worked with my lifestyle at that time. My regular physical activities complimented my Hatha Yoga practice with hiking, rock climbing, snowshoeing, mountain biking and chasing a toddler. That synergy enabled me to live at a high physical level with great health and mental clarity.

In my forties I transition into a different lifestyle and began co-hosting a yearly yoga festival and retreat. In this new ventures infancy I spent endless hours sitting in a chair on the computer. Although I continued my regular Hatha Yoga practice the synergy I once had was no longer there. The regular activities I was participating in at this time (when I could fit them in) were swimming, kayaking, hiking and walking. I felt I was operating at a lower physical level with poor physical clarity.

I became aware of YogAlign and the method having been birthed on the very Hawaiian Island I was currently residing on Kauai. I enrolled in a two hundred hour teacher training with the founder and started feeling the synergy building between my lifestyle and physical activities once again. The positive benefits were the same however, I was moving my body in my yoga practice a completely different way.

The first thing I noticed when I started my YogAlign practice was the ability to get length and fullness in my frontline with the diaphragm (SIP breath). Which of course felt amazing after sitting at a computer with a collapsed chest and rounded shoulders. This breathing method alone supported bringing back my mental clarity. I then began to learn how to move from my core which immediately created this feeling of full body strength in a solid foundation. My posture shifted quickly and I could start to feel the muscles in my back getting stronger and a feeling of buoyancy when I walked.

After many successful years with the festival and retreat I stepped away and began teaching YogAlign regularly on island when I was not traveling. I began adding some running and a lot of snorkeling into my regular activities and I have noticed I have more breath capacity, stamina and muscle strength. I could feel a huge difference in my bodies performance in every day life as well. Traveling can be exhausting with flying, camping, sightseeing, rails and buses however I did a two week snowboard trip to Japan this last winter and a two week Grand Tetons, Yellowstone adventure this summer and never felt better.

I will be fifty years old in a couple of months and I feel the best I think I have ever felt. What I say to new students and existing students in my YogAlign Classes keep doing all the activities you enjoy doing and let your YogAlign practice be your foundation for life.

http://www.innerbreathyoga.com

Walking Might Be the Best Exercise There Is

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 HEALTHIEST PEOPLE IN THE WORLD DON’T GO TO THE GYM

By Andrew Merle

If you want to be as healthy as possible, there are no treadmills or weight machines required. Don’t just take my word for it—look to the longest-lived people in the world for proof.

People in the world’s Blue Zones—the places around the world with the highest life expectancy—don’t pump iron, run marathons or join gyms.

Instead, they live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving without even thinking about it. This means that they grow gardens, walk throughout the day, and minimize mechanical conveniences for house and yard work.

In fact, Blue Zones researchers determined that routine natural movement is one of the most impactful ways to increase your life span, and a common habit among the world’s longest-lived populations.

Of course this might not seem realistic in our current knowledge economy, where we’re often tied to a desk and in front of a computer screen all day.

Moving naturally throughout the day might sound pleasant and romantic, but the reality is that 100 years ago only 10% of us had sedentary jobs, whereas today it’s 90%.

However, there are still easy ways to add more movement into your busy lifestyle.

One of the best ways to do this is to use an active mode of transportation. This could mean walking your kids to school, walking or biking to the grocery store, to a friend’s house, or out to dinner. Ideally you could walk or bike to work as well (or walk/bike to the bus or train station, if that’s more feasible).

Research shows that the best work commute you can have is a 15-minute walk each way, but any physical activity built in along your commute is a plus. On the flip side, the daily car commute is the number two thing Americans hate the most on a daily basis, behind only housework (but maybe housework would be more enjoyable if you reminded yourself of the life-extending natural movement involved!).

If active transportation isn’t possible in your community, you can still find time to go out for a walk.

A recent study from the American Cancer Society revealed that walking for six hours per week resulted in a lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, and cancer than not being active at all. But the research also showed that walking even as little as two hours per week could reduce the risk of disease and help you live longer.

Walking is also great medicine for your mind. A daily walk could reduce the risk of dementia by 40%, according to Anders Hansen, a physician and psychiatry specialist from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.

If long walks aren’t your thing, break it up by taking several smaller walks per day instead (five minutes per hour). Make it a point to stand at your desk, or at least get up and move around regularly throughout the day. Get outside at lunch for some fresh air.

The bottom line is that our bodies were designed to move. And that doesn’t necessarily mean going to the gym. You don’t need to lift heavy weights or grind through high intensity interval workouts to live a long and healthy life.

Simple, natural movement can be even more impactful. Do as the world’s centenarians do—move naturally.

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.