Yoga is popular, it’s as simple as that, and today more and more older people are embracing the practice attracted by the wealth of health and self care benefits it offers.
However, as the number of yoga students has grown, so too have the number of yoga related injuries being treated. Bad news whichever way you try to spin it.
A recent article published on the leading website yoga journal.com has found that there has been a marked increase in yoga injuries, particularly for those in the age categories 40 and upwards. This could be seen as a reflection of the growing number of older students led to yoga on the advice of healthcare professionals. Or increasing numbers of students practicing yoga following many years of other exercise disciplines or very limited exercise habits.
Are physical injuries increasing with yoga’s popularity
The study by the Orthopedic Journal of Sports Medicine examines injuries over thirteen years starting in 2001. This is a period of time that also coincides with a large increase in yoga teacher trainings and the number of opportunities to study and teach yoga.
Although most trainings cover a spectrum of yoga topics, in many cases, only around 20 of those hours are dedicated to anatomy study.
This growth is great news for everyone as it increases choice and accessibility along with employment and experience for yoga teachers. However, currently, the only criteria that needs to be met in order to teach (in most cases) is the completion of a 200hour training. There are many 200hour yoga trainings around which, like most things in life, can differ in style and quality. Although most trainings will cover a spectrum of yoga topics, in many instances only around 20 of those 200 hours are dedicated to anatomy study.
Even for an experienced teacher, a class that provides safe sequencing for a large group of students with an array of physical & medical issues can be challenging.
It is unfair to suggest that any brand new teacher would intentionally cause anyone harm but it takes experience, study and understanding of the physical body and a broad range of conditions to safely and effectively lead a class.
With aging bodies comes the inevitable wear and tear of joints, weakening of connective tissues such as ligaments and other musculature changes as well as the range of physical conditions that spring up in later life. These are all important aspects to consider when teaching an older group of students.
Even for a very experienced yoga instructor, a class that provides safe sequencing for a large group of students with an array of physical & medical issues can be challenging.
This is not to say that a recently qualified teacher does not have the ability to teach a class well. It’s just that older students need to be mindful and responsible for their own self care too.
Listen to your own body and be selective about the classes you attend particularly when starting out. Yoga is all about losing the ego so don’t let your own ego dictate that you attend that fast moving, level 2 class. Take time to build up your practice with a well informed, experienced teacher making gradual progress to the faster, stronger classes if that appeals.
From a student’s perspective, the more yoga experience and study that a teacher has, the more it will also benefit their own learning. Doing some research to find a class that combines your choice of instructor with the appropriate level is important.
Inexperience or little knowledge about a condition could unintentionally cause injury.
Although it may be uncomfortable for you to ask an instructor directly, you can research online or chat with other staff and students at the location where you attend class. Most yoga teachers, regardless of experience, welcome questions as no teacher would want to knowingly hurt a student. However, inexperience or limited knowledge about a condition could unintentionally cause injury.
The benefit of continuing yoga study for experienced yoga instructors
Depending upon the yoga school or tradition the teacher follows, many 200hour graduates may continue in their studies with an additional 300hour teacher training. Others may diversify and focus on a particular school of yoga or facet of practice. These trainings provide practicing teachers with an opportunity to study yoga in more depth including aspects of injury management and yoga therapy.
So take a little time to research further and consider experience, qualifications and ongoing study to find your perfect yoga match.
The time leading up to the menopause, known as the perimenopause, can be challenging and full of physical and mental changes but news flash – or should I say hot flash – yoga can help!
There is a long list of symptoms that may be associated with the perimenopause – ‘yippee!’ I hear you cry. Three of the most common are hot flashes, mood swings and sleep disruption but don’t lose heart as yoga can help.
Starting with the whole heating issue. Some research estimates that almost 80% or women are affected by hot flashes thought to be caused by the combination of unbalanced over and under active hormones bouncing about. However, there are a number of yoga poses that can support you and inversions can be particularly helpful.
Useful yoga poses for the perimenopause
A great reference book with detailed yoga sequences for perimenopausal symptoms is ‘The Woman’s Book of Yoga & Health’ by Linda Sparrowe & Patricia Walden. Patricia is an experienced and respected Iyengar yoga teacher. She recommends inversions as they can ‘jump start a sluggish system or calm an overly excited one by allowing fresh, oxygenated blood to flow into the head and neck’.
There is a long list of symptoms that may be associated with the perimenopause – ‘yippee!’ I hear you cry.
Whether in the full form of the pose i.e. headstand or shoulderstand, or in supported versions using props and the wall, inverted poses will help as they are calming and soothing for the nervous system. You may already have a strong inversion practice. If you are completely new to yoga or have neck and back issues there are many alternative supported inversion poses to try. (Although be mindful, it is not recommended that you do inverted poses when menstruating).
Mood swings are another aspect of the whole perimenopause journey. Seated forward bends can be good for mood as they are soothing in anxious moments. However, as they are ‘enclosed’ poses with the forward folding torso they will not be suitable if you suffer with depression.
A slower paced restorative practice can help
Supported restorative poses are good alternatives as a practice lying over bolsters and blankets offers the opportunity to quieten the mind and body at stressful, moody moments. A great resource for restorative yoga is Judith Hanson Lasater’s book ‘Relax and Renew’.
Another symptom is sleep disruption which can be impacted by the effects of the previous two symptoms. Hot flashes become the night sweats and the root of insomnia can be the stress and irritation that comes from mood swings.
With a little time spent quietening the chatter of the mind and negative self talk the perimenopause can become an opportunity to embrace change.
There are various lifestyle changes that can be made such as improved eating habits and avoiding stimulants such as smoking, alcohol and caffeine. Exercise is still important but if you are dealing with sleep issues then consider a more energizing and active yoga practice at the beginning of the day to avoid being too ‘wired’ closer to bedtime.
Quietening the mind can help
Besides the physical practice, mindfulness and the meditative practices of yoga are a great help when dealing with perimenopause symptoms.
Being able to embrace physical changes with a more positive mindset will make these inevitable changes more manageable. As Christiane Northrup, MD author of ‘The Wisdom of Menopause’ says ‘when all is said and done it is your attitude, your beliefs and your daily thought patterns that have the most profound effect on your health’.
With a little time spent quietening the chatter of the mind and negative self talk the perimenopause can become an opportunity to embrace change and benefit from a healthy and positive transition to the next life chapter.
As with all health related issues researched on the internet be sure to seek medical advice for any symptoms you experience.
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How you doing with those resolutions? Still cutting out sugar? On track to finish that book this month? Stopped checking your email every time the phone pings?
Admittedly, we’re only a couple of weeks in so you’re probably still doing well on your New Year resolutions but how do you keep it consistent? How do you really make a change to your routine that stays part of your routine going forward?
Research shows that it takes around 30 days to build a habit. That is just one month. Committing to a daily yoga practice whether it be in a class environment or home practice helps to reinforce the yoga habit which will hopefully stick around for life!
Here are a few tips for keeping your yoga going…
At first, try and commit to just one class a week. If you can’t set a regular day/time examine the class schedule and figure out the handful of classes that may work so that you can mix and match each week.
If you’re lucky enough to find the teacher you love to practice with early on find out where else he or she teaches. You may be able to combine locations to better suit your own schedule.
If budget allows consider private one on one classes.
Avoid the mindset of having to attend a full, extended 90minute session of yoga every single day creating unreasonable expectations on yourself. Work on the idea of a manageable smaller, bite size daily practice to maintain your yoga habit.
If the studio, gym or location doesn’t give you that warm fuzzy feeling and you don’t feel inspired, try somewhere else. A lot of the obstacles in attending class arise from the lack of connection you feel to the teachers and the teaching environment. If it doesn’t speak to you, go elsewhere.
Once you’ve attended a few classes, make a mental note of some of the poses or part of a sequence. Even if it is only two poses or a ten minute sequences down it forms the beginnings of a home practice.
Avoid the mindset of having to attend a full, extended 90minute session of yoga every single day creating unreasonable expectations.
Consider the idea of a more manageable, bite size daily practice to maintain your yoga habit.
If it is impossible to get to classes during the week consider signing up for weekend workshops that interest you.
If you have a yoga mat, lay it out somewhere at home. When you are about to sit in front of the TV try stepping on to the mat instead.
Lastly, be mindful of other habits in your life that distract your time and attention. Sometimes, to make space for new habits we need to lose some of the old ones. I know, easier said than done but, for example, consider how much time you spend online. You may just discover an extra 30 minutes in your day!
Keep your resolution alive by keeping your yoga practice growing. As described in the classic yoga text The Yoga Sutras, ‘when it is harder not to practice than to practice then yoga becomes firmly grounded and an integral part of life’.
It’s not the most uplifting piece of information you’re ever going to receive but as we get older there are, potentially, a few conditions and diseases coming our way. However, on a much more positive note, by practicing yoga as part of our self care routine in some cases we can slow or prevent the onset of some of these.
Heart – High Cholesterol & Heart Disease
How yoga can help. It has long been known that exercise plays an important role in keeping ourselves heart healthy. Staying mobile and incorporating physical exercise into our daily routine is critical to our long term health. Incorporating a yoga practice of asanas (physical poses) in to our daily routine can help. A moderate vinyasa (flowing) class practiced a few times a week will keep the heart rate up for a cardiovascular workout but even a slower paced practice also has its benefits as it encourages physical activity. The meditation element of a yoga practice can also reduce the effects of stress and anxiety and its impact on heart health.
Lungs – Chronic Respiratory Diseases
How yoga can help. The breathing exercises which form part of a well rounded yoga practice can help to improve lung capacity. With yoga’s attention to breath techniques and posture the ribcage becomes more expansive and the diaphragm moves more freely enabling the lungs to work more efficiently.
With a regular yoga practice we can support ourselves and, in some cases, slow or prevent the onset of some conditions and diseases.
Mind – Stress & Depression
How yoga can help.Through the practices of mindfulness and meditation the mind can quieten and negative thought patterns that can fuel stress and anxiety may be managed more effectively. Many yoga instructors will incorporate an element of mindfulness or guided meditation into a class or, alternatively, it’s well worth giving a dedicated meditation class a try.
Bones – Osteoporosis & Arthritis
How yoga can help. There are many conditions that affect the bones as we age, the more common ones being osteoporosis and arthritis. The weight bearing poses of a regular yoga practice can help reduce the risks of bone degeneration caused by osteoporosis. Moving fluidly through physical poses helps keeps the body moving and maintains the range of motion in the joints which is beneficial for those who may be affected by arthritis.
Although this is just a small sample of the benefits of yoga and age related conditions it does illustrate the value of a yoga practice as a worthwhile health care investment.
Make this the year you discover the life enhancing affects of yoga by giving your local class or yoga studio a try.
As with all online health related research, be sure to get the ok from your doctor before embarking upon any new fitness regime 🙂