As the body ages, joints become stiff, muscle strength decreases, joint health is lost, and bones and balance deteriorate. Here in the west we’ve come to expect and accept this to be the inevitable process human beings must endure on their way to the grave.
But what if there was a way to push back against aging? Yoga may be the answer. The anti-aging benefits of yoga are being studied by doctors and scientists and this ancient practice is showing us a way that doesn’t involve chemicals or surgery. Yoga is showing that the way we age is more about our life style and less about what is “normal.”
How Yoga Can Reverse Aging
During yogic practice, the practitioner (yogi) goes through a series of postures or asanas, which challenges joints, muscles, and ligaments to flex and stretch. These exercises don’t have to be rigorous to be effective.
With increased flexibility, tightness in the hips which can cause damage to knees can be relieved. Back pain, joint stiffness, and other aches and pains can be eased or alleviated with daily yoga practice. A daily yoga practice allows you to move joints in their full range of motion. Doing Mountain Pose, which simply involves reaching to the sky, will lengthen your spine, rotate your arms, and give your body a full stretch. As you do this, you are bringing fresh fluids into joints and encouraging your ligaments and muscles to lengthen. By being more flexible, simple everyday movements become easier to perform like they were when you were younger.
Not only can flexibility be improved, balance can be enhanced. Balance is something we take for granted until in our senior years, we find we are wobbly and even prone to falling. A bad fall can lead to the nursing home or worse. Asanas like Tree Pose can help to nurture and improve the body’s ability to maintain balance. Such exercises are more effective than strength training alone which can tighten muscle groups can then pull on the skeletal structure causing it to be bent out of alignment.
Greater flexibility and balance along with increased muscle strength will also prevent falls. Loss of muscle tone is common in the elderly due to lack of weight bearing activities. Yoga uses the body’s own weight to increase strength and improve muscle tone. An example of a weight bearing asana is Warrior Pose II which requires the practitioner to hold the body’s weight over extended legs in a balanced stance. Regular practice of poses like this will increase muscle strength and tone.
Yoga also improves bone density. It does this through weight bearing poses and increasing flexibility which improves posture. It also does this by reducing the stress hormone cortisol in the body. Cortisol causes damage to bones by keeping them from rebuilding and by pulling calcium away from them. Maintaining bone health is necessary for seniors to have heathy, strong bodies into their late years.
The anti-aging benefits of yoga go beyond this list. Doctors have been slow to recommend yoga to their patients. There are always possibilities of injury with any exercise, so please speak to your doctor before beginning a new exercise routine. Being careful not to injure parts of the body already damaged, gentle use of yoga can begin to reverse the effects of aging on the body.