The Power of Poses: Yoga helps seniors gain strength and flexibility while relieving stress

By Catherine Godbey | Living 50 Plus

Across north Alabama, inside gyms, church buildings and an arts center, people gather to practice breathing, stretching and balance. Some come to relieve stress and increase core strength. Others come out of curiosity.

“Simple curiosity and an invitation from a friend were my introduction to yoga. I was actually kind of amazed when I found it to be a perfect fit for me, and I’ve been hooked ever since,” said 55-year-old Teresa Duffey, of Eva, who leads classes at the Carnegie Visual Arts Center.

With its physical and mental benefits, yoga currently ranks as one of the most popular exercise regimens in the United States. In the past 12 years, the number of Americans practicing yoga grew from 18 million in 2009 to more than 50

million today. According to the Yoga Alliance, of those doing yoga, more than 35% are 50 and older.

“The health benefits of yoga are immense. We gain strength and flexibility in our practice and, in turn, decrease those aches and pains we gather in our daily routines, improve mobility and balance, and help maintain a general sense of well-being. It doesn’t require any specialized equipment — even a mat is optional, honestly — or a lot of space, so it is very accessible,” Duffey said.

Stress led Rebecca Lackey to start practicing yoga under Duffey — her “yoga guru” — in 2010.

“The spiritual aspect and focus on breath really resonated with me, and I’ve never stopped going. It keeps me emotionally balanced,” the 60-year-old Lackey said. “Flexibility is the greatest benefit for my aging body, and the deep, intentional breathing helps with my asthma. Our slow meditative movements and strong poses increase my balance and strength.”

Chair yoga

To reach individuals of different levels of fitness, variations of yoga, such as chair yoga, exist.

With the lights dimmed and calming music filling the RedX Fitness room, members of the chair yoga class practiced stretching and relaxation techniques.

“I need the exercise to keep myself going,” said Elizabeth Vandiver, 77, of Decatur. “I can’t sit down and just let my bones and muscles tense up. I need to be able to do activities. I can really tell a difference when I don’t do yoga.”

Before the pandemic, the gym’s weekly chair yoga class attracted more than 15 people.

“We have people of all ages come to the class. It is great for older people trying to stay limber and for people going through rehabilitation. You learn basic stretches that help the entire body,” said RedX Fitness owner Amanda Vachon.

For the past three years, Dick Williams, whose weekly routine includes walking two miles every day and working out Monday, Wednesday and Friday, has been a staple of the chair yoga class.

“It’s a great way to stay active,” the 81-year-old Williams said. “It helps stretch my muscles and loosens me up so I can keep working out.”

Along with the Carnegie, which offers classes on Mondays and Wednesdays at 6:15 p.m., and RedX Fitness, which holds chair yoga classes on Tuesdays at 10:30 a.m., other yoga classes take place at Decatur Athletic Club, SportsFit Decatur, Planet Fitness and Church at Stone River.

Advice

Duffey offered these tips for first-timers to yoga:

• Yoga is a very personal experience. Observing others in practice can be informative, but we aren’t all attempting to look exactly alike in a pose.

• Listen to your body and if a pose doesn’t feel right, don’t hold it.

• In the end, the breath is the most important element of a practice. Even if you can’t hold poses, just keep breathing.

Lackey said, “Some of the poses can be challenging, but the message is always to do what your body allows today. I try to get in two classes a week and if I miss a week, my body knows.

“I hope I can do yoga the rest of my life.”

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