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The Benefits of Yoga for Seniors: A Guide On Getting Started

The Benefits of Yoga for Seniors: A Guide On Getting Started.
Guest Post by Harry Cline.

image1Photo via Pixabay by Brenkee

Of all the different types of exercises out there, yoga has become one of the most popular in recent years, partly because of its inherent flexibility. It can be done just about anywhere, by people of many different ages and abilities, and can be adapted for those who have mobility issues. For seniors, yoga is one of the best workouts around for those very reasons, but there are other benefits, as well, including a boost to mental health that can help ease the symptoms of depression and prevent stress and anxiety.

Fortunately, there are several simple ways you can get started with a yoga routine of your own, but it’s important to start slowly to avoid injury and to get adjusted to the movements. It’s also a good idea to make sure you adapt the poses to meet your specific needs, especially if you have a disability or limited mobility.

Keep reading for some great tips on how to get started with yoga and to learn more about the benefits.

Improve your overall health

The many benefits of yoga are evident in the way they help seniors improve balance and coordination–which helps prevent falls and other injuries–and builds up muscle tone, aids in joint health, and reduces stress and anxiety for better mental health. By combining physical exercise with a mental health boost, you can ensure that your overall health is well taken care of.

Aid in your recovery

Yoga can be hugely beneficial for individuals who are in recovery because it combines physical activity with meditation. Learning to look inward and connect with your spiritual self can help speed up your recovery and will allow you to learn how to cope with stressors and the effects of depression and other mood disorders in a healthy way.

Adapt

If you’re living with a disability or have limited mobility, it’s important to find a workout that you can adapt to your needs so you can stay safe. Yoga can be done in the water or with the assistance of a chair, so you don’t have to get down on the floor if doing so would be painful or awkward. Consider taking a class with an instructor who understands how to adapt yoga poses for different needs. You can even do yoga and meditation at home. Set up a calm, relaxing space away from noisy areas of your home.

Make sure it feels right

It’s important to make sure that as you’re practicing yoga, you learn to emphasize feeling over the poses. If something doesn’t feel right, move out of the pose immediately and get into a comfortable position. While yoga is a mostly safe exercise for seniors, there are still ways to become injured if you aren’t careful. Take things slowly and consult a doctor immediately if you feel pain.

Start with a class

If you’ve never experienced yoga before, it might be best to start with a class so that you can see how the poses are supposed to be done. There are likely several local classes to choose from, but if you aren’t comfortable with attending one in person–or if you have limited mobility–look for a tutorial online that you can follow at home.

Getting started with your own yoga routine doesn’t have to be stressful or difficult; start slowly and remember that these exercises can be adapted to fit your needs, whatever they may be. If you have existing health issues, consult with your doctor before starting any new routine. Having a good plan and keeping your own safety in mind will help you create an exercise plan that will keep you healthy for a long time.

We Are Not What We Think

Being Present: Cultivate a Peaceful Mind through Spiritual Practice
by Darren Cockburn. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

51RSwi0BKVL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_This work is extensive, well-formatted, referenced, nuanced, and easy to understand and put into practice. Being Present explores the ways mindfulness, awareness, yoga, and religious practice, can become the bedrock of our daily lives to create simplicity and insight. Mr. Cockburn says, “Simplifying our life helps us to cultivate Presence and Presence equips us to manage complexity.”

The material provides a close look at “Presence”. What it is, and what it is not? Where it comes from and where it goes, and how to have frequent access to its benefits. The introduction thoroughly outlines all of the areas to be examined within. These include our bodies, people, meditation, hindrances, the ego, simplicity, acceptance, addictions, stillness, nature, work, service, and how to structure one’s practice.

The author’s “three approaches to cultivating Presence” were especially helpful. “The first is through structured practice. This covers activities practiced on a regular basis, including meditation, yoga, and studying spiritual teachings. The second approach is through everyday activities where we are striving to be Present. For example, we may be making a conscious effort to be more Present whilst walking or brushing our teeth. The third approach is to change our conditions so that our life becomes more conducive to being Present. Examples here may include changing our job, letting go of certain relationships, working to release addictions, taking regular exercise, letting go of unhelpful habits and connecting with nature.”

There is an excellent summation at the end of each chapter called Points For Reflection, shared personal experiences in each section, and some well-designed diagrams throughout Being Present. Mr. Cockburn has presented a well-balanced, practical, and insightful book that is applicable for the novice or seasoned practitioner of Presence and mindfulness. I recommend reading it cover to cover, or as a quick reference.

Strange Bodily Happenings

My Terrible Book of Happiness… Love, Anxiety and Everything
by Margaret Lesh. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

51DM674eXbL._SY346_One of the things I greatly appreciate about My Terrible Book of Happiness, is that Ms. Lesh doesn’t claim to be an “expert”, or have all the answers, but simply shares what she has experienced, and what has helped her in her life, when anxiety, hopelessness, and depression are present. The very first line says, “There is no one-size-fits-all cure to sadness, but it helps when we share our life experiences – the stumbling parts, the dark places – so we know we are not alone. The end of 2016 and first half of 2017 found me mired in a trap of anxiety, worry, and depression: three things I happen to be good at.”

These essays, antidotes, stories, and trivia, includes four sections (Anxiety, Peace, Love, and Hope). One of suggestions is to take a break from social media and the news, and only take it in in small amounts. There is also a chapter with a great title “Swiss Cake Rolls, Other Strange Bodily Happenings, and Walking”, where she shares the affects that having a child and going through menopause have had on her belly and health, and the benefits of exercise to not only make one fit, but to also ease anxiety. This essay is called “Move It, Baby”. The author speaks frankly, and insightfully, about the benefits of meditation in her section called “Meditation for the Meditatively Challenged (Like Me)”.

After a number of entertaining, and enlightening stories and events, Ms. Lesh summarizes what she has learned by saying, “Unplugging, turning inward, reassessing, and refocusing on my mental and physical health were what I needed to do to pull myself out of my long slump. Walking, yoga, meditation, prayer, active gratitude, mindfulness, music, laughter, and spending time in nature are all things that helped me through the dark times.” The postscript includes a list of what has helped her the most, resources available to readers’ and numbers to call for help. My Terrible Book of Happiness isn’t sad, or depressing, but hopeful, honest, and perhaps a lifeline for someone reading the words within.

What Might Be

51+1RXtBEpLspirits at the dawn of day by simon boylan.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Spirits at the Dawn of Day isn’t a light happy romance, or straight up suspense. It’s more like a search for meaning in an internal mystery. If you want fluff, or continued conditioning for an unconscious life, don’t read this. If, on the other hand (or two), you don’t mind looking inside and at the world, with new perspectives and insights, then climb aboard. The story literally crashes itself into existence and takes readers’ on an inner journey, by following the external travels of Josh, an Australian company CEO, who is leaving Japan after a business trip.

All Josh is thinking about is his usual drink, sex, money, and status. After a tragic incident turns his world inside out, Josh seeks out his old friend from college (Alex), and travels around the world looking for answers. He meets up with a philosophy professor on a New England farm (who is reminiscent of Dr. Richard Alpert, who left academia and became Baba Ram Dass); a Kundalini yoga teacher, at a retreat center in Sedona, Arizona; a doctor in Dalian, China; the doctor’s martial arts instructing wife; and a man in Japan; whom he had a connection with from the beginning of the story.

There are in-depth and far-reaching conversations and debates that take place between Josh, and each of those he meets, which include science, philosophy, spirituality, suffering, meaning, love, the environment, business, society, and how they all do, or don’t, intersect and effect one another. The dialogue is not stuffy, or the least bit boring. They contain many of the elements that exist within our lives when we talk personally with a friend, therapist, clergy, teacher, or relative. In many ways, these conversations remind me of the film My Dinner With Andre, in which two men sit down for dinner at a New York restaurant and talk about everything under the sun (and moon).

In Spirits at the Dawn of Day, Mr. Boylan has taken an honest and striking look at what might (or can) happen when the world (and our perceptions of it) becomes something different than we have previously known, or allowed ourselves to see. Perhaps, he may be asking, is it possible to awaken to our inner and outer environment without having to fall from the sky in order to do so? If so, how do we do that? If so, how can we use this story about Josh and his awakening in our own lives? The final question in this story says, “We are all creating the world of tomorrow… Are you consciously creating your part?”

Losing A Pet

They say cats have nine lives. I wish that were true, but the facts contradict such myths. Everything dies, including the felines, dogs and other creatures we choose to care for and have in our lives. Most animals tend to have a shorter life span than humans, thereby increasing the chances that our beloved friend will stop breathing long before we leave our mortal bodies behind.

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An excerpt from Good Grief: Love, Loss & Laughter.

To add insult to injury; is the often callous or dismissive attitude and comments of others when we’ve lost a non-human friend. People don’t always understand the emotional impact losing a pet can have. They disregard our pain when we try to talk about the cat or dog we’ve had for fifteen years getting sick and needing constant attention. They scoff at our tears, when our affectionate tabby is lost or killed by a car. They belittle our sense of shock and disbelief when the dog we loved and cared for tenderly for the last eight years suddenly dies.

Yet, for some, pets, animals, and companions (which ever you prefer to use as a label for non-human creatures) are some of the closest and endearing connections we experience in life. Being responsible for any of the varied creatures placed in our care takes time, attention and devotion. And, just like people, such continued time and attention creates attachment, bonding and lasting imprints.

The love and commitment we give and receive from our animal friends, in some respects, are quite unique from that of other relationships. Sometimes, they are the only living beings that love us unconditionally and don’t argue, judge or hurt us in any way. They also provide forms of communication beyond words. There desire to be touched, patted, combed, and talked to, provide warmth, softness, connection, meaning and continual reminders of enjoying the present moment.

A lady I recently met was shocked when told by her veterinarian that their beloved kitten had cancer and should be euthanized. She refused and is currently seeking a vet that will give Hospice-type services for her cat, and provide whatever is needed to make sure her family friend dies comfortably at home enjoying as many precious moments that remain. Like human beings, there should be an alternative for animals beyond that of further treatments or mercy killing.

Losing a pet also awakens other losses we’ve experienced; whether recent or long ago. When a cat of ours, named Sushi, was killed by a dog a couple of years ago, I unexpectedly found myself remembering my childhood collie, named Pinky and the grandmother I used to visit when Pinky was still alive.

The loss of your animal friend should be treated the same as that of a human. Talk about the loss; share your pictures, memories, tears and grief. Walk, run, swim, workout, hike, bicycle, dance, play or listen to music a couple of times s a week by yourself or with a friend.

Breathing exercises, visualizations, relaxation, stretching, meditation, affirmations and yoga have all been shown to relieve stress, anxiety and positive endorphins to help the body heal.

Relax in a hot tub, hot bath, shower, sauna or sweat lodge and let the emotions seep from your pores and evaporate with the steam.

Put together a collage, altar, memory book, picture frame, treasure box, video or CD of your cat, dog, bird, horse or rabbit.

Have a service or gathering. Memorials and/or funerals; provide validation of your relationship with that being; acknowledgment that their life was of value; and societal affirmation that all living creatures are to be honored and respected.

If you’ve lost an animal friend, at any time in your life and would like some additional support (outside your circle of family and friends) contact the SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty Against Animals), an empathetic therapist or your local grief-counseling center.

Further reading at: Good Grief: Love, Loss and Laughter.

Children’s Yoga In Rwanda

“They were piled together like kittens in a box,” says photographer Tim Botsko, referring to the early morning yoga session that took place at the ROP Center for Street Children in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.

Paula Herring, a newly certified teacher from Yoga One in San Diego, was putting her skills to the test with vulnerable children who are survivors of the 1994 genocide and the AIDS pandemic. Class was held before school started on the cement floor of the abandoned warehouse that the children, until recently, called home. With the help of Celestine, for translation, Paula presented the ancient movements, breath and sounds of yoga to people who had never heard the word, let alone knew what it meant. They called it a game and said, “Let’s play yoga”.

“I began by explaining that there is no competition to this game,” says Paula. “It is three-pronged and involves your spirit, heart and body. I told them that yoga respects plants and animals.” As she spoke, the young people created a circle around her and kept inching forward, squishing their bodies together. No matter how often she showed them how to make space by opening their legs and stretching, they kept clumping together like pick-up sticks which had been randomly dropped in the middle of the floor. “If we were in The States,” Paula thought, “nobody would infringe upon another’s space like this, let alone be touching each other.” She realized that, “There is a deeper sense of ‘we’ and ‘community’ here, than ‘I and thou’.”

She opened with an Om, telling them about its significance, as the vibration of the universe and a way to receive blessings. Instead of resting their hands on their knees, as instructed, the children held them up in the air as if in praise. Being raised in a predominantly Christian country and a like minded orphanage, they interpreted the word “blessings” as “praise” and thus lifted their hands towards heaven.

“The first 2 poses were mountain and tree,” Paula explains. “I asked them when they heard the word mountain what they thought about. One child said, ‘Home’. Others pointed out the window at the nearby hills. I said the mountain and tree pose are strong, like those hills and they never move or change. I squeezed my way around the congested kids, made some adjustments and poked a few to show them that they wouldn’t fall over and could stand strong. We then practiced the tree. I said ‘these are your branches, which rest on the trunk. They hold life, the birds, leaves and fruits, but are strong and move.’ Again, no matter how much I tried to have them put their arms straight up against the side of their heads, they would turn their palms up as if praying in church.”

Next up was the camel. Paula asked if they knew what a camel was and they said yes, it was an animal in the desert, but they didn’t have deserts in Rwanda, so there were none there. She demonstrated the camel and talked about reaching back and opening the chest. “It can help you when your shoulders and neck are tight from studying and you’ve been bent over all day,” she said. After camel she showed them down-dog, gave some adjustments and spoke about lifting the hips and focusing on their core, where their heart is. She said that everything in yoga is led by the heart and then comes the mind and body. One-legged dog came next, with children sliding, losing balance and laughing as they fell.

Miss Herring, the muzungu (white person) from America, followed up with Dolphin and Child’s Pose, informing them that it can help ease pain, if their head or stomach was hurting. Then she told them about the Pigeon and talked about puffing out their chest to expand their lungs and that to be a balanced pigeon they had to do both sides. Before she could finish demonstrating, they were at it, falling left and right. One of the children said they had seen an eagle, which was her prompt to talk about the eagle and show the pose. “To be a really good eagle,” she said, you cross your legs and crouch down and are very quiet, so you can look for food. It takes a lot of concentration.” She finished up the bird section with the crow.

As soon as she asked the orphaned children if they had ever heard of a cobra, they said it was “sneaky” and all started hissing and then proceeded to effectively learn the position. She did the warrior pose and told them that this kind of warrior wasn’t about hurting anyone, but about being strong and protecting your self.

“At the end of the session, we went into Shavasana (corpse pose),” Paula recalls. “I said that this type of pose was not about being sad, but about your body releasing everything and letting go. It is different than sleeping. I went around and started putting my palm on their foreheads, on their temples and gently pulling their ears a little, one at a time. Because of the labyrinth and disorder, it was hard to tell who I had done and who I hadn’t. When I asked if there was anybody I hadn’t touched and if so, to put their hand on their stomach, everyone put their hand on their stomach! They craved being touched.”

At the end of the class, Celestin interpreted Paula’s closing words into Kinyarwanda (the native language of Rwanda). “Put your hands like this.” She put her hands together with her thumb on her heart. “Say, ‘Namaste’. It’s a way to show respect for you, your neighbor, your spirit and your infinite potential.” At once, they all repeated, “Namaste”.

“The most beautiful part of the experience for me,” grins Paula, “Was that not one of the children ever said, ‘I can’t do it’. They didn’t care if they were doing it ‘right’, they just wanted to try. That used to be my personal fear in class, that I wasn’t ‘doing it right’. It helped me realize that it’s not about being perfect, but being willing to try and embracing whatever arises. I was also afraid that they’d get bored, especially the older boys, but it never happened. That was just another one of my needless fears to release.”

There was no sound system, cushy mats, designer clothes, candles or incense, but the yoga being taught on the cement floor at the ROP Center for Street Children in Rwanda was pure yoga. It was cut down to its essence and accepted in the cultural context within which its participants lived. It wasn’t fancy or advanced and didn’t come at a price. Offered freely, with love and respect, it was accepted with the same grace and spirit. The children demonstrated that yoga can be done without ego, self-consciousness or need to “claim” one’s territory. “The progression from them not knowing anything about what was happening,” says Paula, “to being totally caught up in it, was dramatic. I’ll never hesitate to ‘play yoga’ anywhere and anytime.”

English Tea & High Sierras

There was a little girl of six, who emigrated from England to New England over thirty five years ago and fell in love with nature and the great outdoors. Now a grown woman, she is still madly in love with the wilderness and is leading other women on adventures that combine yoga, hiking, white-water rafting, cross-country skiing and/or snow-shoeing at Yosemite National Park, Big Sur, Sequoia National Park, Gold Mountain, Idaho and Todos Santos, Mexico. Her name is Belinda Ordonez and her company is aptly called Wild Moon Yoga.

Belinda says, “I remember roaming the woods surrounding our home in Connecticut and the small wonders happening all around me; the sounds of bird’s chirping, deer graciously leaping through the trees and the beautiful chorus of crickets. Something magical happens every time I step into the wilderness. It is the place where my heart expands. There is an immense sense of freedom and potential.”

Intertwined with her pull towards nature was Ms. Ordonez attraction to yoga, which she also started at a young age. She was 15 years old when she recalls coming across a book titled “Richard Hittleman’s Yoga: 28 Day Exercise Plan”. She used that book to develop a daily practice as a teenager and as an adult has trained in the Ashtanga style of yoga as taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. She has studied under some of his top students and sought out many yoga teachers around the world.

Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word “yuj” which means to yoke or bind and is often translated in English as “union”. Ashtanga Yoga is an ancient form of yoga which uses vinyasas (movements) to link postures (poses) and breath, to form sequences. Ashtanga is a Sanskrit term which means “eight limbed” or “eightfold path” to self-understanding.

Her trips combing wilderness travel and yoga usually fill up quickly, as she only takes a small number per outing, but only women need apply. “Women need an outlet to help them break free of their daily routines to nurture themselves,” Belinda explains. “Many women I meet are overworked, overloaded and exhausted from work, responsibilities and caring for others. Something very precious and nurturing happens when women get together. I remember witnessing one woman being moved to tears by the beauty of an incredible rainbow in Yosemite National Park and many others reconnecting with mother earth and feeling her magic.” Anga Gonzales, who has taken several trip with Ms. Ordonez adds, “Belinda is very reassuring and grounded. She allowed a person like me to relax and play.”

Lucy McCullough went on a Wild Moon Yoga trip to Yosemite National Park that included snowshoeing, yoga and meditation. She says, “The memory of that full moon lighting up the snow on those granite peaks took my breath away.” Another participant, Donna Burr, exclaims, “It was an amazing weekend trekking into the heart of Big Sur. Belinda’s knowledge and confidence on the trail helped to make the trip enjoyable and memorable. Her love and enthusiasm for nature and all its splendor is certainly contagious.”

The trips that Ms. Ordonez arranges often involve transportation and always include accommodations, park entrance and equipment fees, guide, yoga/mediation classes, gourmet meals and snacks. The majority are 2 to 4 day excursions that are planned throughout the year. The costs are reasonable and everything possible is done to accommodate special needs and circumstances. She says her yoga and meditation instruction are fit for any level of experience and none of the excursions are overly strenuous or designed for advanced hikers. A few of the professions represented by her travelers are teachers, therapists, business owners and nurses from every age group.

When it comes to life experience, Ms. Ordonez has been around the block a few times. She is not a new babe in the woods who suddenly decided to take women into the wilderness and bay at the moon. She holds a degree in psychology from the University of California, Santa Cruz; has advanced training in wilderness first aid and is a certified yoga instructor. Her background includes her work as a massage therapist, sports medicine, high school coach, career counselor and human resources. For over six years she worked with people living with life-threatening illness at a local hospice.

It appears that there is nothing that Belinda loves more (besides her dogs Max and Maya) than leading women up mountain tops, through valleys, down rivers and in meadows to practice yoga, mediation and even the occasional English High Tea. You can take a little girl out of Yorkshire England, but evidently not entirely remove her British sensibilities. Belinda laughs, “Even though I’ve lived and traveled throughout the world and lived in America most of my adult life, I still enjoy a spot of tea”.

Another former Brit, Stephanie Sandish, who joined in one of Belinda’s retreats in Sandpoint, Idaho, sums up her experience stating, “I found peace in the wilderness, healing in the holiness of nature and new found friends.”

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