Hal Currey of Sullivan’s Island described yoga as the “most relaxing thing I’ve ever done.” He’s 82, and, although he said yoga is relaxing, it can also be quite powerful. “It has become a very important part of my life, both physically and mentally,” he said.
Currey attends a one-on-one class with Tricia Hughey, co-owner and instructor at Yoga Daily on Riviera Drive in Mount Pleasant. He admits that his wife “dragged” him to the first class three years ago, but now he loves it and recommends it to all his friends.
Janis St. Onge of Mount Pleasant is 67 and attends weekly yoga classes at Yoga Daily as well. “I’ve been taking a yoga class every Wednesday night for the past 18 years,” she said. She echoed Currey’s praise of this healthy activity, “It helps me with balance, which demands concentration. The stretching keeps me flexible. The meditation helps me take control of my blood pressure, and the breathing exercises help me to sleep.”
Yoga, with its gentle movements, yet focus on strength and stretching, seems to be the perfect way to stay fit as we age. In fact, the National Institute on Aging reported that yoga was found to help reduce chronic low-back pain and improve function in older individuals.
Hughey suggested yoga as a form of exercise for seniors due to its slower pace and its effectiveness with improving joint stability, mobility and strength.
“It can build bone density and improve posture and balance,” she explained. “All are important to prevent falls.”
She has found that if a senior does fall, when they practice yoga, they fall, perhaps, less hard, have the strength to get back up and recover quicker.
Bonnie Friedman teaches yoga at the Mount Pleasant Senior Center on Von Kolnitz Road. She has worked with seniors in many fitness modalities for the past 12 years. She suggested that seniors look for either a gentle yoga class, yin or a chair yoga class.
“One of the most common misconceptions with starting a yoga practice is that you have to be able to touch your toes,” Friedman said. “You do not have to be flexible to reap incredible benefits from a yoga class.”
She said that one of the most important aspects of yoga is just breathing and being present. She stresses breathing in all her classes. “It brings the stress down. I remind my students to breathe throughout the class.”
In fact, Hughey said that breathing exercises improve respiratory function and reduce stress. “That controlled breathing can improve sleep, digestion and help increase energy, which can decrease depression.”
Another misconception with yoga is that you can’t practice it if you have an ailment of some sort. “Not true,” Friedman said. “I have students with arthritis and limited cognitive function. You can still do it.”
She said that yoga can actually improve cognitive function over time because it exercises the brain as well as the body.
The benefits are endless. It has even been known to aid in pain management and decrease healing time. “Movement is so important, and yoga offers a gentle movement, so it is perfect for pain management,” Friedman reiterated.
And, not to mention the social benefits. “People who practice yoga are a friendly group,” St. Onge said of her Yoga Daily classes. “I have made some wonderful, longtime friends in my yoga class.”
Friedman said that a group class gives some of her seniors a reason to get out of the house. “It’s a sense of belonging and a connection to others.”
Of the many different types of yoga classes available, chair yoga is one form that might seem less intimidating to a senior practicing yoga for the first time. Friedman teaches a chair yoga class at the senior center.
She said that it is more accessible to all skill levels. She suggested it for people who may have trouble getting up and down or people who have knee issues or a more severe case of arthritis. “The chair can be used for stability,” Friedman said. “We can get some pretty good stretches in on the chair, and people can easily practice it at home or in the office.”
She admitted that chair yoga can be a “pretty good workout” and that the chair is just another prop to use, like the strap. “It can be quite reenergizing to practice chair yoga.”
Most importantly, both Friedman and Hughey agree that anyone starting a yoga practice at a later age in life should not be intimidated. “Yoga will meet you where you are,” Hughey said. “There are many different types. Let the instructor know you are there for the first time. You can start slow. You do not have to master it overnight.”
Hughey quoted George Bernard Shaw when speaking about yoga for the aging population (comparing yoga to playing) — “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”
By Theresa Stratford