Yoga may be the fountain of youth, but it’s definitely not just for youth. Some yogis come to yoga when they’re young, fit, and healthy. But as our bodies change with injury and the passing of time, yoga can serve us even more and help us maintain health and vitality into our golden years. Our practice should change and evolve with our body’s needs. So what poses and movements are best as we age?
If you started practicing in your 20s, you were probably drawn to faster-paced flow-style yoga. Vinyasa or flow yoga is the most common yoga practiced in America. This type of yoga moves quickly, and it’s as much of a cardio workout as it is a yoga practice. It’s a fun practice that offers community, challenging asana, and sweat.
As we move into our late 20s and 30s, it becomes crucial to build strength in the glutes and core. Poses like high and low lunge, chair pose, bridge pose, and boat pose are excellent for conditioning muscles of the torso and hips. In your 30s, years of sitting at a desk for work or school may start to take a toll. In fact, back pain may begin around this time. A focus on strong glutes and a strong core can help support the back; indeed, exercise can be more effective at treating back pain than other interventions. Adding in a Pilates class or core-focused yoga practice during these years might be wise.
In our 30s and 40s, major life changes occur. Some of us will balance families, elderly parents, and increasing job pressure. It’s important that we focus on relaxation during these often-stressful years. Adding in restorative yoga poses can create balance. Your 40s are a perfect time to start a more focused meditation practice. Research shows that in addition to lowering stress levels, a regular meditation practice can offering anti-aging properties. Women in their late 40s will begin to have hormone shifts: gentle yoga and meditation can be the antidote to changing moods and energy levels.
Our 50s are all about balance, and a focus on balance poses is especially helpful. Every year, over 2 million older Americans go to the ER because of injuries from falling. Poses that strengthen the abductors and outer hips are crucial. Side plank is one helpful pose for this kind of hip strength. It can be modified with the bottom knee down on the earth for more support and it can be made more challenging if the top leg is raised up. Traditional standing balance poses, like tree pose and warrior III should be regularly practiced, too, since the only way to get better at balance is to practice. Psychologically, turning 50 can feel like a major life milestone. Pranayama, or breath work practices, can help with anxiety at this point in mid-life.
As we move into our 60s and beyond, health concerns take precedence when deciding what yoga practice to do. About 44 million Americans over age 50 have various levels of bone density loss—a precursor to osteoporosis. It becomes important at this age to make decisions that limit injury. Because of bone density concerns, forward folds should be minimized or omitted. As we age, getting our head lower than our heart may no longer be helpful. Blood pressure concerns, glaucoma, and vertigo might mean that more self-care is required. Some of the traditional poses in a Sun Salutation—like downward-facing dog—may be more accessible if practiced at the wall. Our later years can offer spare time to devote to looking deeper at yoga philosophy, which may offer solace and a healthy approach to life’s savasana.
Alexandra DeSiato offers yoga for healthy aging and thinks of yoga as a tool for illness, aging, and injury. Her most common in-class cue is “just squirm around on your mat,” which follows from her belief that the best yoga practice is the one that follows from deep self-listening. You can find tips and sequences—and a fresh approach to yoga for healthy aging—at Yoga for Aging Athletes, the blog she co-writes with Yoga for Athletes expert Sage Rountree. Connect with her at alexandradesiato.com.