An alternative online publication, CounterPunch, gives a new spin to the momentum building around yoga in mainstream North American culture by pointing out that the greatest potential for growth and benefit lies in the age group above 50 years old because of yoga’s ability to address many of the health issues confronting that group.
CounterPunch – Are Seniors the Vanguard of American Yoga?
“Francina seems to take delight in defying conventional wisdom by insisting that older practitioners are often more flexible than students in their 20s and usually more patient and consistent in their practice of the poses. She insists, in fact, that seniors, not shy away from demanding and vigorous practice for fear of getting injured, and should embrace yoga’s “advanced” inversion poses — the headstand and shoulder stand, among them – because these poses, in addition to their spiritual majesty, have unique anti-aging benefits, including their ability to “detoxify” the internal organs and to improve blood circulation to the brain – a key challenge as gravity and age naturally take hold.”
“What I’ve found, no matter what age we are, we can build healthy muscle tissue [and neurons / MLS] or we can rot. And the choice is always ours. And I’m not into rot.”
This quote (and personal annotation) comes from Ana Forest, the inspiring yoga teacher and practitioner, and used to be the tag line on my e-mail signature and I highlighted it on this blog’s sidebar. Forest’s comment caught my attention more than five years ago, but its intrinsic truth has really been driven into me the past few months as I sweated and grunted to get my yoga groove back, at least the more physically demanding vinyasa practice. Yoga requires you use your whole body in the dynamic sequences of asanas. It’s not something that you can turn on or off. The practice has to be sustained steadily and persistently over an extended period of time.
Thrive Yoga’s 40-day renewal program is not enough to whip me back into shape. It’s not meant for that. It did allow me to sense how much work I have ahead of me. Maybe I should just add another zero to the time frame.
How did I get so out of sync in my practice?
My parents’ death two years ago probably was a turning point because it completely disrupted my normal routines of work, yoga practice, family duties and other commitments. Then, my body started to tell me that it was breaking down under the stress. I found myself in a downward spiral: my peripheral neuropathy interfered with my sleep, leading to insomnia and sleep deprivation. While I was trying to deal with the neuropathy, I fell into a pattern of start-and-stop practice. When I tried to rekindle my yoga practice, I developed problems with my core (iliopsoas and SI joint), which added another layer of complexity to my physical conditioning. Then, I bruised my thigh bone, which felt like a knee issue. I sought out treatment from my body worker, chiropractor, personal physician, acupuncturist, neurologist, and lots of research into what might lie behind my symptoms.
During this whole period, I never stopped doing yoga: I have my evening practice of restorative yoga, hip openers and hamstring stretches, which allows me to manage the sleep-impeding symptoms of neuropathy (pin pricks on my feet and restless legs). I still do pranayama and meditation. This tool kit has allowed me to get through these two years, but it can’t replace a hatha practice.
I am 63 years old so Forest’s options (build health muscles or rot) are almost black and white. There’s no “holding pattern” or “maintenance mode” that allow a minimum practice to balance the effects of aging, disease, injury, wear, health and well being. On the other hand, I can’t overexert myself because that can be just as damaging, as I speak from experience. I have to let my body lead the way and become my teacher.
Newsweek: Common Yoga Injuries, and How to Avoid Them (no longer available online):
But to reap the benefits, you have to do it right—as all too many people are now discovering. Do it wrong, and you could end up as one of the growing number of casualties. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were more than 5,000 yoga-related injuries in 2005 that resulted in visits to doctors’ offices, clinics and emergency rooms—up from 3,700 in 2004. Those numbers are largely a function of more people, especially aging boomers, taking up yoga.
Newsweek interviews Dr. Johnny Benjamin, chief of orthopedic surgery and a spinal specialist at Indian River Medical Center in Vero Beach, Fla. Most of the patients seeing Dr. Benjamin are novices who are overexerting themselves. The most dangerous pose is lotus because people think it’s easy and they’d done it when children.