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How Yoga Helps You Age Gracefully

Aging | Health

As someone in her late thirties who hopes she’s still at the front end of mid-life, you may be wondering why I am writing about aging. But the truth is, I am kind of excited about getting older. In fact, I have a remarkable head of graying hair that I am NOT coloring and it makes me feel like I’ve earned something in some way.

I could look at aging with resignation and dread, but my yoga practice has encouraged me to see it differently. Here’s how yoga can impact our capacity to age with grace and ease.

Yoga Will Help Maintain Your Body’s Intelligent Design

Think about this – you breathe approximately 23,000 times a day without even thinking about it, and the lining of your stomach gets replaced every four days to provide a fresh environment for your digestion. Your body has been designed intelligently, however, it needs maintenance the longer it’s carrying you around.

After reviewing the Mayo clinic’s list of physical changes you can expect from aging and what to do about it, I was encouraged to see how many of the recommendations dovetail with maintaining physical activity across our lifespan.

Regular practice of yoga postures can aid in cardiovascular function, increase your circulation, tone weakening muscles, increase density for thinning bones, boost metabolism, aid in digestion, and boost immune response. We are our bodies’ mechanics.

Meditation Will Keep Your Mind Awake and Healthy

Common changes to the brain associated with normal aging include: difficulty learning something new, inability to effectively multitask, trouble recalling details, and issues with remembering appointments.

Studies on the impact of meditation on our minds as we age associate a regular practice with structural changes in areas of the brain that are important for sensory, cognitive and emotional processing. Recent research also shows that our brain’s frontal lobes (responsible for executive functions like impulse control, planning, and working memory) do not finish maturing until we are in our mid 30’s.

All this is to say, I’m elated that my mind is more awake than it was in my teens (thank God!) and I’ve got no plans on letting it go downhill. My meditation practice isn’t going anywhere.

Yoga Will Help You Accept, and Actually Feel, Your Emotions

According to the National Institutes of Health, “Emotion is relatively unaffected by aging or even improves with age…Aging is associated with improved emotional problem-solving and increased frequency of positive feelings.”

This is a wonderful revelation IF you are comfortable with accepting and expressing your feelings. Yoga helped me in this department—it taught me how to do something to my body (asana) while FEELING my body (mindfulness). This kind of practice translated beautifully to learning how to feel and resolve my emotions.

I began to realize how my stomach clenched when I was anxious, and I learned how taking deep breaths can resolve it. I felt how my throat tightened when I was holding back my feelings, so I learned to open up and speak mindfully. Yoga also helped me see my emotions as passing and temporary, just like a breath. This has had a tremendous impact on my mood and how I react to others who are experiencing strong emotions.

Yoga Can Help You Make Peace With Change and Impermanence

Earlier this month, we had to put my sister’s dog down—it was the first time I had ever been in the room to see the end of a life in which I’d played a role. I experienced all the emotions that you would expect: the sadness of losing a friend, the fear of not knowing what that friend would experience at the end, the attachment and not wanting to let go.

But within those emotions, there was another one that I didn’t expect—gratitude.

I don’t think I would have experienced this feeling without my yoga practice, and here’s why: yoga continues to teach me to make peace with change and endings.

Every time I lay down at the end of a practice in Savasana, I experience the deep peace in learning to let go of effort and to relinquish control of my body and breath. If the gratitude that follows this peace could speak, it would say, “I’m so thankful to have this life, especially because I see that it won’t last forever.”

Legendary yoga teacher Pattabhi Jois said, “Practice and all is coming.” I believe these words. Age is a gift…especially with my yoga practice here to support me.

Image Credit: Cetin Cetintas

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