28 velj.

Safe yoga for the ageing

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Photo from https://www.groundup.org.za/article/lenasia-celebrates-international-day-yoga/

Roughly 300 million people practice yoga in the world today and it seems those over 50 are especially drawn to it, their numbers tripling from 2014 to 2018. Yoga has entered mainstream long ago, so people have learned about it even if they didn’t have time for practice. With kids leaving home and/or parents’ retirement, huge numbers of not-so-young show(ed) up in classes. Benefits are many: I’ll just point out increased mobility, bone density, better proprioception which could mean a difference between life and death in unintentional falls, the leading cause of injury death among those 65 years and older.

Hatha Yoga Pradipika 1.64. says one can succeed in all yogas through energetic practice, even if one is old and very old. What would be energetic practice for someone 65+? Clearly there are many approaches, not all of them successful. Take a look at this graph first, taken from “Yoga-Related Injuries in the United States From 2001 to 2014” paper.

injuryOrange line paints a bleak picture. Injuries in 65+ population went up 8,4 times in just thirteen years. If you go to the original paper, there’s another graphic tracking injury by site. Trunk and shoulders. Trunk and shoulders will get you (“doors and corners” if you’re an Expanse fan, too).

One explanation could be lack of competent teachers. The other could be practitioners’ unrealistic expectations, but those should be recognized and checked by teacher, so back to one. Third, could be systemic. If asanas with ancient patina, like those from Hatha Yoga Pradipika, are perceived within the given “traditional” system as cure-all, novice teacher could find himself teaching older people with the best of intentions, and yet lead them into injury.

Imagine 65+ novice yoga student’s spine and joints after lifetime of wild (long uninterrupted) sitting  in this classic asana series. By the way, this was my first yoga practice, still love the effects, but I teach none of those postures to resemble what is shown here, no matter the age (with the exception of headstand if one can transfer almost all weight from head to the forearms).

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I don’t have the resources to make fair comparison of styles and their understanding of postural yoga effects on ageing body, so I’ll  offer some thoughts that served me well so far.

* Question everything
Be critical to claims, even if they come from studies. Learn how to spot the bad study.
Then repeat.

* If possible, aim for stable leg balances
Help your older students maintain or regain strength. One of my 70+ students got hit by bike. Guess who was left standing?

* Dont load the spine unless it is actively stabilized
Shoulderstand, plough, fish, passive twist without resistance are inferior to viparita karani, flexed knees forward fold, bird-dog and all actively resisted twists.

*If in doubt, let them rest
Only benefits here.

* Constantly upgrade your knowledge and adapt your teaching
And diversify your sources, too!

* Break out of the tradition
Reading and learning about physical rehabilitation, sports recreation, anything about avoiding injuries has greatly helped me teach mixed classes, from giving more exact verbal cues to eliminating postures that are done just for aesthetics or challenge.

Would be happy to hear your thoughts!

26 velj.

Importance of silence in hatha yoga

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Hatha Yoga Pradipika 1.12. ( Translation by Brian Dana Akers ) states “the hatha yogi should live in a secluded hut…”. In 1.15. one of the reasons for failing in yoga is socializing, which by the standards of every society means talking and noise (apart from the one Jules Verne imagined where people in conversation thought about their replies for hours).

Recent findings in neurobiology suggest that regenerated brain cells may just be a matter of silence. If our brains act similar to mices’, two hours of silence would be enough to boost the growth of new cells in hippocampus, region of brain associated with memory, learning and emotion.

In a resting state brain is integrating new experiences and information. This is called “default state”. Quote from Frontiers in Human Neuroscience : “the brain’s default mode network “is observed most closely during the psychological task of reflecting on one’s personalities and characteristics (self-reflection), rather than during self-recognition, thinking of the self-concept, or thinking about self-esteem”.

Which could mean that without a quite place and time we lose the ability of reflecting upon ourselves, left to worries about self-concept, self-esteem, problems so visible and amplified on social networks. Which filter should I choose to look the best? Which pose to perform? Wonder if this will be my most liked post?

If we compare noise pollution of 15th century India with today’s city rumble, we can ask ourselves, how many benefits of solitary practice in a secluded, quiet place are we missing, even if yoga studio or our home are somewhat silent?

If you read to here, I recommend you search for other benefits of silence. I have no time to list them all and I guess you will remember them better if you invest some time in discovering.

What can we do?

I find relief in long silent nature walks. In woods, there is more than silence: Japanese scientists have coined the term forest baths, shinrin-yoku. Special chemicals released by flora fight off bacteria and lift the mood. Supposably three hours in the woods will keep the mood elevated for six to seven days.

Even if going with friends refrain from talking. Choose roads less walked. In most countries hikers greet each other. Hundreds of years ago woods were more dangerous, even a simple fall might have endanger life, so there was good logic in greeting everyone. Today, on popular track to Puntijarka which I visit less and less, come Saturday or Sunday at least 50 passers-by will greet you if you start early, over 100 otherwise. Would be rude not to say anything back, plus with their greeting silence is already gone.

Photo by Markus Spiske temporausch.com from Pexels