According to a recent study by the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, yoga injuries are on the rise, especially among older adults. Over the past 13 years or so, the rate of yoga injuries among adults 65+ has increased more than eightfold.
But isn’t yoga supposed to be good for you?
Yes. But you have to be informed.
Thousands of yoga teachers are being certified each year, and many of them simply don’t have the experience or skill to keep their students safe. And, while it’s convenient to blame the instructor for an injury, you, the student, are ultimately responsible.
If you practice aggressively, with a no-pain-no-gain approach, you’re more likely to get hurt than if you take it easy and listen to your body. And if your instructor is inexperienced, that’s the choice you made. Remember the Latin warning, caveat emptor? Let the buyer beware.
Here are some questions commonly asked by yoga newbies, along with responses to help you practice safely and intelligently.
What if I’m not flexible enough?
That’s like saying your car isn’t clean enough to go through the car wash. It doesn’t matter how flexible you are. Yoga is about your mind, not your hamstrings. While the physical benefits can be dramatic, the primary purpose of the postures is to focus on your body and the sensations you’re feeling. It’s impossible to think and feel at the same time, so you can use the postures to quiet your mind.
Which class should I start with?
A private lesson from a master instructor would be ideal. If that’s cost-prohibitive, do your research and find a gentle or beginner’s class taught by someone experienced with students aged 50+.
What about videos?
Avoid them. There’s no way for the instructor to offer modifications for any issues or challenges you might have.
What if I have medical issues?
Consult your doctor. If you get the go-ahead, inform the instructor, before class, of your health challenges.
How many days a week should I practice?
Start with three and see how you feel.
What about chair yoga?
That’s a great way to start. It’s generally safer than other kinds of yoga, although sometimes more challenging than you’d expect.
Doesn’t yoga get religious?
Some traditions offer chanting, or teachings involving deities, but it’s highly unlikely that anyone is trying to convert you. If those aspects distract you, find a secular teacher or venue.
What makes yoga different than just stretching?
The intent is different. Yoga, as defined in the original instruction manual from thousands of years ago, is the quieting of the mind. The postures, the breathing—all the techniques—are for this purpose. The physical benefits are secondary.
What about hot yoga?
It can be beneficial—or hazardous—depending on your health and how you approach the practice. Clear it with your doctor, and if you decide to try it, go easy, stay hydrated, and replenish your electrolytes.
What about meditation? What kind should I start with?
The options are endless. Find a master instructor who can offer a technique that works for you.
Should I meditate alone or in a group?
Both. The group energy can help, but you also want to be able to meditate alone.
Any books I should read?
Browse around and see what sparks your interest. In the end, however, practice is more important. Yoga is experiential. Doing yoga and reading about it are two different things. Don’t overthink it; if possible, stop thinking altogether!
Sounds like a lot of effort. Isn’t there an easier way to find peace of mind?
Supplemental health insurance can provide peace of mind. Medicare doesn’t cover everything, so ask about Medicare Supplement Insurance from your association and AMBA. They might not be yoga masters, but they can definitely help you spend less time worrying about your retirement and more time enjoying it.