All the Good it Will Do
The gains of a regular practice—which can be as little as one class per week—don't take long to manifest. Teachers who specialize in seniors classes say that they quickly notice differences in their older students' flexibility, balance, and strength—perhaps even sooner than with younger people. "Yoga brings back flexibility," Francina says. "It never ceases to amaze me. Even very old people become flexible. Mental and physical flexibility is what we associate with being young."
These changes translate into substantial health benefits. The results of his twice-weekly Iyengar class and daily meditation and pranayama have amazed R.?A. "Bart" Bartholomew, 75, of New Braunfels, Texas. "I've been on blood-pressure medication since I was 34. Both my cardiologist and GP sat me down after taking blood tests and stress tests and said, 'What are you doing? These are the best results we've ever seen for a 75-year-old man.'"
Johnson says that her practice has given her greater body awareness; so she now knows how to head off, and treat, minor aches and pains herself. "If I'm having lower-back tightness, I do Child's Pose or Legs-up-the-Wall Pose," she says. Since starting yoga seven years ago, she hasn't had a single recurrence of the back-pain bouts that once laid her up for weeks. And Nell Taylor, 83, of Ojai, California, applies what she's learned in class to help her in everyday life: She watches her breathing when she's stressed, which is, she says, a kind of meditation. She's able to take care of her yard and home and work in an office twice a week. "When you get to my age, you get stiffer in the joints, and things like reaching for something on a high shelf are harder," she says. "But I can do that with great ease now."
Practitioners attest that the benefits go beyond the physical. Since Georgia Westervelt, 81, of Amherst, Massachusetts, first started practicing yoga, her routine of two classes a week has served her well, keeping her limber and strong, and speeding her recovery from a fall that left her in severe back pain. But yoga was also crucial in helping Westervelt survive the loss of her husband and her sister. "The practice has seen me through some really stressful times," she says. "When my husband was ill and died in 2000, I got through it by focusing on the breathing and awareness. All of those things have helped me so much in dealing with whatever's going on in my personal life."
The twilight years aren't always peaceful and stress free, of course, and many seniors say that learning to let go during Savasana (Corpse Pose) or a guided meditation has been yoga's biggest gift. "Yoga has actually trained me how to relax," says Johnson. "I get down on the mat and in a matter of seconds I'm already deeply calm. Now I don't even have to be on my mat to do this—I can do it in a car, stuck in a traffic jam." Craig notices a similar serenity among her students. "Stress reduction is what people notice most," she says. "They feel relaxed and peaceful, and they learn tools to stay calm. They begin to notice stress and where it is in their bodies and how it's impacting their lives."!--page-->