Finding Sanctuary in Yoga: How this Ancient Practice Can Help You Age Gracefully

Life Style, Uncategorized

by | May 9, 2024

How Yoga Can Help You Age Gracefully

In the vibrant and fast-paced lifestyle of Dubai, finding ways to maintain wellness and age gracefully is a priority for many elderly residents. Amidst the skyscrapers and bustling city life, Yoga offers a serene sanctuary that can help slow down the aging process. Whether you’re new to Yoga or returning after a long hiatus, this ancient practice provides invaluable support for both mind and body. In this article, discover how Yoga can seamlessly fit into your daily routine and promote flexibility, mobility, and inner peace, all crucial for enhancing your quality of life as a senior citizen in this dynamic city.

I am at that age in life when I’m no longer young.

And neither am I old … yet.

However, I know that the next 10-20 years of my life are going to be crucial in determining the quality of my life as a senior citizen.

I am also privileged to have my mother living with me. And, although I will be the first to declare that it is not easy to care for someone past 80, it nonetheless adds layer upon layer of meaning to our lives as expatriates here in Dubai.

Leisurely lunches and brunches at Dubai’s mindboggling range of restaurants and eateries, coffee mornings with friends; a trawl through the mall or rifling through 90 per cent mark downs of clothing and furniture are few and far between. Life has swiveled 180 degrees towards caring for someone who has given her best years caring for me as part of her family and is now at a stage when leave alone caring for the family, caring for herself is proving a tedious task.

Finding support in Yoga

It is against this backdrop that I keep falling back on Yoga.

In fact, I have my Mama to thank for introducing me to Yoga, first as a child when I would see her practising poses in her pale blue pyjamas, and later as a teenager when I began accompanying her. In the early morning stillness, with the light yet to filter in through the windows of our old tile-roofed home in Thrissur Kerala, we intently followed instructions from a tape that Indian actress Rekha, a Yoga afficionado, had just released. In her gently soothing voice she guided us through a set of Yoga poses. Even then I remember how rejuvenating it felt.

Much later in Dubai, I resumed my Yoga practice in fits and starts, until I met my Yoga guru Lalitha Viswanath of Pratimoksha. Back then, she had yet to set up the Pratimoksha Enlighten Yoga Center at its current location in Oud Metha, Dubai. However, her concept of Pratimoksha as a space where Lalitha welcomed all those seeking the myriad benefits of Yoga had already taken root.

After meeting Lalitha, learning the Pratimoksha way, and becoming part of the Pratimoksha family … Lalitha’s family … for me, there was no looking back.

Lalitha and Pratimoksha showed me how Yoga is not just the Asana practice but as much a tool to take care of our mental space. I have Lalitha to thank for explaining to me how our breath acts as a bridge connected our voluntary and involuntary body functions.

Today in the hustle and bustle of life, taking half-an-hour out for Yoga is often a luxury. I’ll admit that I am not always able to roll out my mat and indulge in those vital minutes of self-care. However, I know Pratimoksha Enlighten Yoga Center is just a call away. And I can easily enrol for refresher classes and Yoga therapy sessions as and when I need it.

More than anything, and the primary reason for my writing this blog almost as a personal testimonial, is that I know with certainty that every time I don’t practice Yoga, I am compromising on my health.

In the here and now …

… as well as in the way I age and live out the last years of my life.

With and without Yoga …

What is it about Yoga that makes me keep coming back to it?

I could list several factors, and I know I share these with a global community of Yoga lovers.

But the topmost would have to be the ease with which I can go about all my other tasks the day I have done Yoga.

There’s a lightness, a flexibility, a fluidity to my movements as I pull, push, reach, lift, sit and stand in the course of the day. It’s like physically I flow from one task to the next with hardly much effort.

That’s how I feel while engaged in physical tasks.

Turning to my mental state, the days I haven’t taken time out for Yoga, my mind feels sluggish and heavy.

And the days I have? It’s like my mind is no longer on a leash held back by mundane thoughts and anxieties. Rather it’s ready to soak in fresh information, process it and fuse it with personality. (Mine, just in case that isn’t clear.)

Aging is no fun!

My personal testimony regarding Yoga aside, my reading about this ancient Indian discipline and my constant conversations with my Yoga acharya Lalitha Viswanath, my experience doing Pratimoksha Enlighten Yoga Center Dubai’s signature Beyond courses — all this has given me a scientific understanding for why Yoga works so well for us humans. The ancient sages who came up with Yoga seem to have understood human biomechanics so well and also realized that a fit and healthy physical body is a basic necessity before the mind and spirit can be given full attention and a free rein.

Coming specifically to aging there are reasons aplenty why Yoga can help us go grey gracefully.

While there’s much about aging that’s beautiful — the wisdom of experience and the confidence it clothes you in — there’s a lot that’s just not nice.

While one must make peace with the undesirable aspects of aging, there’s still a lot we can do to make ourselves comfortable in this severely trying time.

Aging manifests in elderly minds that inexorably slow down, losing the speed and grasp of youth. Memories fade and are no longer retrievable except in disjointed bits and pieces. Age takes its toll on all the senses. Smell, taste, eyesight, hearing all take a hit for the elderly.

In fact our physicality bears the stamp of each passing year. The loss of muscle tone and flexibility, the creaking joints, the shrinking frame, the erosion of bone tissue, the slowness and imbalance in gait.

It all seems inevitable. And it seems just a question of time for the elderly before either the mind or the body gives up.

However, through Yoga one can fight back. One can arrest the slow deterioration. Through Yoga one can address the mind and spirit, and also help strengthen the aging body.

The science behind Yoga 

I have mentioned that there is a science behind why Yoga suits us human beings. Studies have shown that its positive impact goes right down to the cellular level.

First consider, why do we start turning grey and lose muscle mass, skin tone etc with every passing year?

There is a genetic explanation. For instance, our DNA has something called telomeres, and their gradual fraying is understood to determine the rate at which we age. Scientists engaged in a field of study known as epigenetics have more or less established through research that the fraying of telomeres is influenced by a variety of factors internal and external. What’s more we can control these factors to some extent through our lifestyle, the way we eat and keep fit and how we handle and channel stress.

Yoga gives us tools and techniques to positively influence each and every one of these factors. And studies have proved that when a group of elderly people was put through a 12-week geriatric Yoga programme, that included classical Yoga poses, breathing exercises and meditation, there were positive changes at the cellular level. In other words, there was a corresponding slowing down of the fraying of telomeres.

Among other benefits noticed were better brain function, evidenced by corresponding changes in brain anatomy. Those changes for the better were seen outwardly in slower cognitive decline. This means those elderly people who practised Yoga consistently had in all likelihood better memory, reasoning, grasp of new concepts and skills etc.

Yet another benefit was seen in a decrease in stress, anxiety and levels of depression — all conditions that affect the elderly in varying degrees. This must have manifested in increased happiness and better spirits.

Physically, the benefits were seen in improved balance, posture, mobility, flexibility — resulting in fewer falls and related injuries — and a reduction in chronic pain and better quality of sleep.

Consistency is key in determining how much of change is noticeable in time. Better range of motion, more core and back strength come with steady committed practice. Yet another benefit is in a decrease of the body’s inflammatory response — which is linked to disease and aging — and also better immune response.

Reservations about Yoga 

Despite all the positives that Yoga offers, it may come as a surprise that the elderly, in particular those new to the discipline, are not very open to trying it.

In fact, they see it as challenging and likely to cause injury. Allopathic doctors treating them, especially orthopedic doctors, also caution against doing Yoga. In Dubai, I have time and again been offered advice by my orthopedic doctor to avoid Yoga. My mother too has been cautioned not to try Yoga at her age.

However, the truth is that under highly qualified Yoga teachers, Yoga can be customized to suit anyone anywhere, whatever the age and condition. Coming specifically to Yoga for the elderly, depending on what one wants out of a Yoga practice, one can either opt for a gentle sequence that helps in reducing stress and thus improve cognitive function, or a slightly faster routine that will help in flexibility, mobility and general all-round fitness.

Sukhshma Vyayama — a very gentle sequence of joint mobility exercises — are highly recommended as a daily practice to ensure one’s aging joints remain flexible. Irrespective of one’s condition, the routine can be done on its own or as a warm up before a set of more challenging poses. Hence it forms an integral part of Yoga programmes for the elderly. In fact, students joining Pratimoksha Enlighten Yoga Center Dubai’s Beyond courses, will first comprehensively learn the Sukhshma Vyayama sequence.

Similarly Yoga Nidra or psychic sleep can be deeply restorative. The instructor guides the practitioner —  resting in Shavasana or corpse pose — stage by stage, directing their attention to each part of the body so he or she can consciously relax the part before moving on to the next. Yoga Nidra too thus can be part of any and every Yoga programme for the elderly.

Then there are gentle deep breathing exercises that can slowly improve lung elasticity, improve the tone and condition of the muscles supporting the thoracic cavity, and ensure that one is breathing optimally. This itself will go a long way towards increasing a practitioner’s energy levels.

Then there is chair Yoga that form an essential part of geriatric Yoga. These are poses that can be done while seated securely in one’s chair, or in any comfortable position of one’s choice.

One can also use Yoga props, such as Yoga blocks and straps and cushions, for enhanced safety and ease.

As you can see we can enjoy the benefits of Yoga all our lives, because of the high degree of customization possible. And precisely because of this one cannot overstate how important it is to practice under a professional, qualified Yoga instructor, who knows Yoga anatomy and physiology thoroughly and can guide a student accordingly.

Let me conclude by emphasizing, as much for myself as for anyone reading this: we owe it to ourselves to take charge of our fitness and set aside the time for it. Our present and future selves will thank us for it.

Embracing Yoga amidst Dubai’s luxurious yet demanding lifestyle can transform the aging process, fostering a healthier, happier, and more balanced life. The diverse range of Yoga styles and their adaptability make them suitable for any fitness level or physical limitation. By incorporating Yoga into your daily routine, you can enjoy a more active lifestyle, improved mental clarity, and a renewed sense of vitality. In a city where wellness is highly valued, giving yourself the gift of time and attention on the mat can pave the way for graceful aging and well-being, today and in the years to come. 

If you live in Dubai and would like to experience the amazing benefits of Yoga, then call us at Pratimoksha Enlighten Yoga Center Dubai at 050-395-5613.

We are located in Suite 206, Safina Towers, Malaysia Trade Center Building, Oud Metha Dubai

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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