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What Yoga Can Do for You

Yoga can relieve back pain, improve sleep quality, and boost overall fitness.

Although yoga classes are offered in many health clubs and specialized studios, beginner classes for older adults are also offered through adult education programs, YMCAs, libraries and other community organizations.

What to Expect

No matter where you practice, your typical 60- to 90-minute yoga classes have some common elements. Most will include a series of asanas (poses) designed to stretch and strengthen your body, some deep breathing and relaxation exercises, and a few balance poses.

What really makes a difference from class to class is the instructor.

Yoga is truly teacher-driven, and Stanforth believes you can tell from your first class whether the teacher is right for you. “I would say that if an instructor is not actively walking around and providing hands-on instruction and specific direction, I would not go back to that class,” she says. “That means either they don’t know how to do that or are not willing to do it.”

Teacher Is Key

Unlike in other exercise classes, a yoga teacher shouldn’t simply be the one to follow. In other words, he or she should not be moving through the poses on his or her own at the front of the room, while you try to follow along. “A good teacher teaches, a bad teacher leads,” says Jeff Logan, co-owner of Body & Soul Fitness & Yoga Center in Huntington, N.Y. At age 62, after teaching yoga for 18 years, Logan welcomes the influx of fellow boomers in his classes. In the right class and with the right instructors, he says, older adults can make tremendous progress. “Most don’t have real limiting conditions,” he said. “Understandably, they might be a little stiff in legs, groin, shoulders. But level-1 poses, especially when you use props, are available to them.”

The number of older adults in yoga has definitely increased, Logan says. “I would say half of our level-1 students are 55 and over. Just five years ago that wouldn’t have been the case … maybe 10 percent would have been in that age group.”

Adapted to Your Level

The adaptable nature of yoga is one of its great advantages: Through the use of blocks, blankets, belts, bolsters and even chairs, practitioners who are older and less flexible can help extend their range of motion in a pose, thus “opening up” the body and “creating space.”

There are those who find the exotic nature of yoga troubling, and its foreign origins may have raised suspicions among older audiences. A few religious groups have even questioned whether yoga is a form of Eastern mysticism, incompatible with Christian beliefs. If that’s a concern, you probably need not worry: As practiced in most American studios, yoga is stripped of its religious trappings. While there is an emphasis on clearing the mind, relaxation and being in the moment, it’s far more workout than worship.

“The way I try and explain this to people is that salsa dancing is strange and weird, too,” Stanforth says. “Just because this is culturally not something we grew up doing, doesn’t mean we can’t benefit.”

John Hanc, who writes about fitness and health, added yoga to his fitness regimen in 2003.

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