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What advice do you have for someone beginning yoga in her 50s? I am an avid walker and do weight training about twice a week. I struggle to maintain a healthy weight and have a hereditary predisposition to diabetes and osteoarthritis.
Esther Myers’ reply:
It’s wonderful that you are starting yoga now. Yoga is a practice that continues to grow and deepen as we age. My teacher, Vanda Scaravelli, was an extraordinary role model who taught and did advanced poses well into her 80s.
If you live in a large urban area, you will have a wide selection of yoga classes and styles to choose from. They range from very strong, dynamic, and physically demanding styles to slow, gentle, relaxing approaches.
The first question to ask yourself is what you are looking for in a yoga class. What style of class are you drawn to? Try answering the following questions:
- Do you want an active class to complement your current fitness program as a form of cross-training? Or are you looking for a slower, more relaxing class?
- How much breathing practice or meditation would you like?
- Do you want a class with a strong spiritual focus like chanting or inspirational readings?
In addition to being comfortable with the style of the class, you should feel at ease with the other students. If you call a studio to inquire about a class, you may want to ask about the student population. The more strenuous classes tend to attract younger students who are more fit. Would you be at ease in a group like this, or would your concerns about your weight interfere with your enjoyment of the practice? Are you likely to overexert yourself in order to keep up? It’s important to answer these questions honestly.
Yoga teachers vary tremendously in background, training, and experience. Since you have concerns about osteoarthritis, look for a teacher with a strong background in anatomy who can ensure that you’re protecting your joints. Find someone who can adapt poses to your needs and abilities.
A predisposition to diabetes should not limit your practice at this stage. But if you develop the disease (which can affect the small capillaries of the vascular system), be cautious about inversions, especially Salamba Sirsasana (headstand), and any practices, like breath retention, that can increase blood pressure.
Last, but certainly not least, the class should just feel right. The key to continuing any practice over the years is to thoroughly enjoy it.
The late Esther Myers’ 10 years as a student of Vanda Scaravelli inspired her to find her own unique, organic approach to yoga. Esther taught classes across Canada, Europe, and the United States before her death from cancer in 2004. She left behind a practice manual for beginners and a book titled Yoga and You, as well as two videos, Vanda Scaravelli on Yoga and Gentle Yoga for Breast Cancer Survivors.