Yoga for Seniors

December 1, 2011  


By Katie Simpson

Bryan Robbins, 65, might not fit the mold for the typical yoga goer but that’s what makes him so unique. As coach of the SMU diving team, Robbins started teaching yoga to his swimmers in 1971 because it was important for their flexibility and overall mindset.

“I’ve been doing yoga since 1969 and I practice five times a week, that has been consistent for over 40 years,” said Robbins, who is retired but still teaches yoga classes part-time at SMU.

Robbins is not alone in his quest for good health and wellbeing. While some may think yoga is only for the young and lithe, a 2008 study by Yoga Journal found that an estimated 15.8 million Americans practice yoga, and of those nearly 20 percent are over 55. Seniors all over Dallas have been jumping onboard, practicing yoga in their homes, churches, retirement communities and assisted living facilities.

Yoga has been around for more than 5000 years and experts agree that no matter how old you are it provides many benefits, both mentally and physically. However, as you age, older people struggle with issues that may not be relevant to a younger population, and practicing yoga may help prevent or even reverse certain diseases.
“You can’t ever stop aging, but with regular exercise and proper nutrition you can delay the progression,” says Kerry Stallo, CEO of Age Intercept, a Dallas company that specializes in fitness for people over 50.

Stallo, who has been taking yoga for 13 years, says she started focusing on senior fitness when she noticed a niche in the market.

When Stallo would visit her mother in the hospital, she saw many middle-aged people who were also there, getting treated for things like high blood pressure and diabetes.

“When I went to the hospital I noticed there were many people who didn’t need to be there,” said Stallo.

Yoga is highly recognized for its physical benefits, which include increasing flexibility and strengthening muscles.

“As you age you have a tendency to loss muscle mass and flexibility, so the older you get the more you have to keep moving,” said Robbins.

Janet Hennard, 65, also an avid yogi, started taking classes in 1977. Today she teaches lessons to seniors, which she refers to as “Gentle Yoga”, every Tuesday at the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany in Richardson.

Hennard says one of the most important aspects of yoga is that it helps a person’s balance, which can create a lot of stress and strain on the body if not taken care of.

“Increasing your balance is so important as you age because it helps to prevent falls among seniors,” says Hennard.

Experts say yoga can also help lower high blood pressure, reduce overall joint pain, improve posture, and prevent and even reverse osteoporosis. Along with the physical benefits, yoga can also be mentally valuable by helping people relax and calm down.

“I think the stress of today’s world is a major reason why people take yoga, just to get away and unwind,” says Robbins.

“Yoga is about a connection between your mind, body and spirit. It allows someone to be at peace with the troubles in their life,” says Hennard.

Indra Kaur, 61, who has been practicing yoga for 15 years, says not only does it set her mood for the day but it also makes her feel emotionally balanced.

Kaur’s initial interest in the art began when she was living and working in Southeast Asia.
“Down there yoga is a part of your lifestyle, it’s incorporated into every part of what you do during the day,” said Kaur, who now lives in Denton.

Not only does Kaur practice yoga seven days a week, starting every morning with a personal session, but she also teaches three group classes and 11 private lessons each week.

“I have students as old as 84 years old and trust me, they are darn good yogis,” says Kaur.

Another reason why so many seniors seem to enjoy yoga is that it can be self-paced and you can adjust the intensity level to where you feel comfortable.

“Yoga is not a no pain, no gain type of exercise,” says Hennard.

While some people pay up to $140 per month for a membership to a yoga studio, experts say it is just as easy to practice at home for very little cost. All you need is a mat and a DVD.

“Yoga is just wonderful, it makes me feel energized and relaxed at the same time,” says Hennard.

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