Yoga – You're Never Too Old To Start

Adrienne Fortey, UK

What does the word 'yoga' mean to you? Perhaps you associate it with an Indian mystic sitting in a trance high in the Himalayas, or with seemingly impossible contortions of the body. But, in fact, throughout the world millions of ordinary men and women have transformed their lives with the practice of this ancient science. Yoga is a system of postures, special breathing techniques and relaxation which act together to harmonize all aspects of the individual. It originated in India some 5,000 years ago and in our century a few forward thinking yoga masters have revised these teachings into the form we know today, making the benefits available to all humanity regardless of race, religion, nationality, occupation or age.

Twenty minutes of yoga is worth hours of ordinary exercise. It is the way to good health and longevity, and will lead you to feeling youthful in body, mind and spirit. Yoga is the natural way to free yourself from the pains and nervous tension which sap away the strength and vigour of body and mind. Everyone is capable of doing enough yoga to experience great benefits almost at once. This is true for those aged eighty and beyond as well as for people of all ages who have allowed their physical condition to deteriorate. Many yoga practices can be done in a comfortable sitting position, standing up or lying down. Yoga is not 'exercise' in the ordinary sense. With the slow, gentle movements of yoga you are able to stimulate and relax every part of the body from the toes to the scalp and from the muscles and tendons inwards to the deepest internal organs and glands. Yoga awakens the vital force within and, in addition, it is very enjoyable.

Definition of age

If we think we are too old to do something, what do we really mean by 'too old'? Is age really anything to do with the number of years that have passed since our birth into the world? What do we really see when we look at a person and decide whether they are young or old? Some of the characteristics normally associated with youth, on the one hand, and old age, on the other, are listed below:

Characteristics of youth Characteristics of age
suppleness stiffness
agility immobility
calmness tension
sound sleep insomnia
vitality fatigue
endurance weariness
proper blood circulation inadequate blood circulation
firm muscles flabby muscles
good skin tone poor skin tone
normal weight obesity
alert mind senility, poor memory
optimism depression
courage fearfulness

So really it is having many of the characteristics of youth which makes us 'young' or having many of the characteristics of age that makes us 'old', not chronological age. A properly planned yoga program, if followed with sincere and regular application, will reverse the characteristics of age and give you a new lease of life.

How yoga can turn back the clock

Yoga is a scientific method which deals with every aspect of an individual, that is, it is a holistic approach. The regular and dedicated application of yoga techniques removes the underlying cause of many ailments and diseases because it has the following effects:

  • balances energy
  • removes toxins from the body
  • improves blood flow
  • increases oxygen flow in the body
  • stretches and tones muscles
  • increases flexibility of the body
  • reduces physical, mental and emotional stress
  • improves sleep and mental outlook

In other words, yoga creates harmony between our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects. So we can say that the above effects would start to reverse the characteristics of age and gradually lead us back to having more of the characteristics of youth. If you meet an older person who seems to be aglow with health and vitality, there is every chance that a daily yoga session is their secret recipe.

Yoga and common diseases

More and more these days, health care is changing as the medical profession realizes that to cure illness and disease, just treating the symptoms is not enough; the underlying cause needs to be treated and remedied. What is disease? Dis-ease, the absence of ease, indicates we are unbalanced and must make some changes to become healthy and more joyful. Illness can be a springboard for change and evolution; nature is telling us we are transgressing her lanes.

To regain health and vitality you do not even need to know or understand the cause. Regular practice of yoga postures, breathing and relaxation techniques will effect the cure automatically. Let's look at some of the common ailments that trouble many people: headaches, obesity, poor eyesight, haemorrhoids, bronchitis, traumatic menopause, period pain. It may seem miraculous but all of these conditions can be improved or cured with yoga, and all those pills, ointments, lotions, potions, drops and drugs can be thrown away.

What about the more serious illnesses that cause severe distress, disability and even premature death; the modern lifestyle diseases such as hypertension, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, cancer, arteriosclerosis, asthma etc.? Yes, even these can be greatly improved and even cured with yoga. Of course yoga is much more effective when applied to a newly occurring condition rather than as a last resort when all other treatment methods have failed. Psychological disorders such as depression, phobias, anorexia nervosa, anxiety etc. can also be successfully treated with yoga. What about the 'inevitable' ageing process – loss of memory, failing eyesight and hearing, progressive stiffness, incontinence, general feebleness of the body? As already stated, these effects of advancing years are not inevitable and can be prevented or reversed with yoga practices. Yoga is the way out of the cycle of pain and illness.

The importance of relaxation

Many of the problems which people experience are caused by stress, anxiety and tension which eventually manifests as mental or physical illness. So by relaxing the body and the mind, the vital energy is brought back into balance, vitality is restored and a completely fresh and optimistic outlook on life is experienced.

What do we mean by relaxation? When you watch very young children at play, you will notice that they are totally absorbed in their games, oblivious to other events around them, and when they become tired, they simply lie down and sleep, flopping like rag dolls. However, when most adults say they are relaxing, they are usually just engaging in another activity which uses energy, either physical or mental. Think about how long ago it was that you last experienced true, deep relaxation. Was it a few hours ago, last week, last month or so long ago that you can't even remember?

The relaxation techniques used in yoga are extremely simple and yet the benefit is felt immediately. You do not have to 'try' to relax or 'believe' that the practices will work; you simply follow the procedures as instructed and all your tensions disappear as you learn to 'let go'. That childlike ability to completely relax will be yours again and the benefits will be with you twenty-four hours a day. When tension and anxiety melt away, the willpower becomes stronger, so you have the strength of mind to tackle other aspects which may be effecting your health, such as overeating, smoking, overindulgence in alcohol etc. Usually the yoga practitioner finds that the addiction to these habits just disappears by itself without any real effort.

How to get started

You should learn yoga in the beginning from a qualified, properly trained yoga teacher. While many books are available, these should only be used for reference and additional information, not to teach yourself yoga from. This is particularly important if you have any health problems. Yoga courses for beginners are often available at community health centres and adult education centres. Classes many be advertised in your local newspaper and some yoga teachers and yoga schools are listed in the yellow pages telephone directory.

Classes are normally conducted for small groups of mixed age and gender, but special classes for particular groups, i.e. women, retired people, or antenatal are often available also. If you are unable to get to a class or would prefer private tuition at home, this could probably be arranged with a teacher, but would naturally be a little more costly.

If you are being treated for a specific ailment or are on strong medication you should discuss your wish to commence yoga with your doctor, who will most likely be delighted at your decision and may even know a yoga teacher that he/she can recommend. If you are confined to a nursing home (or have a relative who is) and would like to learn yoga, discuss the possibility of a teacher visiting the home once or twice a week. They may even be able to organize a group class if enough residents are interested.

Once you start classes, make sure you keep that time slot free very week so you don't miss a class. Particularly at the beginning when everything is new, regular practice and attendance at class are essential. This is your special time for looking after yourself. Your teacher will advise you to do some of the practices that are being taught at home between classes, to get the full benefit, so you may need to alter your daily routine to fit this in. Usually just missing one hour of TV viewing each day gives the necessary time. When you start to feel the benefits, you will be very keen to do the practices at home anyway!

So whether you are twenty five, forty five, sixty five or eighty five, you are never too old to discover what yoga can do for you.