We may think of individuals rushing to class in their fashionable leggings and bright tank tops with their designer yoga mats in tow. We envision stunning displays of flexibility showcased on gorgeous beaches in magazines and on social media platforms.
But yoga is not an activity just for the young and already-in-shape. The practice of yoga is available to most everyone (men and women) and can be adapted for people of all ages and levels of physical ability. In fact, there are numerous benefits of yoga that are particularly relevant for supporting and maintaining healthy aging. Julie Rosenberg, MD – a pediatric oncologist and development asset lead at Pfizer, Inc., experienced yogi and author of the book Beyond the Mat – provides her take on why yoga can boost your health through the years:
- Mental and Physical Flexibility. The physical postures and deep stretches of yoga may increase flexibility, which may help reduce injury during falls and may even help to alleviate some of the symptoms of arthritis by helping to improve range of motion and joint mobility. But the benefits of yoga go well beyond the physical. Continued practice may lead you to become more resilient so that you are better able to adapt to environments with change and uncertainty — important traits as we age.
- Decreased Back Pain. Many of us suffer from poor posture from a lifetime of sitting all day hunched over our desks at work. Poor posture can be painful, causing tightness, aches, and soreness around the neck, shoulders, and upper and lower back. Worse, there can be long-term negative effects of poor posture such as a change in your spinal curve, poor digestion, increased chances of cardiovascular issues and chronic back pain. Simple yoga-inspired movements may be a great remedy for a stiff, sore neck and tight shoulders. Even something as simple as a seated twist may make a world of difference in relieving tension and supporting all-around good posture.
- Increased lung capacity. Did you know that poor posture can actually impact how much air your take into your lungs when you breathe? Also, as people age, their breathing rate tends to slow down. The good news is that you can do something about these health-related concerns. A yoga practice is typically accompanied by deeper breathing than normal, which expands the diaphragm and the air pockets within the lungs. This allows for more oxygen to move through the lungs and to penetrate the cells in the body. Rhythmic deep breathing (8-10 deep breaths in a row) can be both energizing and rejuvenating. So, don’t forget to breathe – it may be critical for your long-term health!
- Improved health metrics. When we are stressed, our breathing may become rapid, our blood sugar may be elevated, our heart rate may increase, and our blood pressure may be elevated. All of these things may normalize when we breathe deeply and begin to relax during a yoga practice. It may help improve mood by elevating serotonin, a chemical in the body that helps to maintain mood balance. Yoga may also help reduce stress by lowering cortisol, the primary stress hormone and may also help lower blood sugar, potentially lowering the risk of diabetes. Additionally, it can help reduce the acidity level of the body, which may in turn help reduce the risk for inflammation.
Before engaging in yoga practice be sure to work with an experienced yoga teacher when you’re starting out to ensure good alignment and avoid injury.
“My own yoga practice has helped me to stay in shape both mentally and physically and to successfully meet the challenges of my job,” Rosenberg shares. “I greatly value being a member of the Pfizer community – it’s a terrific company and colleagues are universally committed to serving patients.”
Rosenberg adds, “Despite the many demands of my career, yoga has helped to manage stress both on and off the mat, improving my mental clarity, building confidence, reducing stress, and bolstering creativity. Perhaps most importantly, my practice has helped me to realize more joy at work and in life — something I suspect we are all seeking!”
Have two minutes to spare? Try one of Rosenberg’s suggested yoga moves:
Sit in your chair with your spine tall and straight, keeping both feet on the floor and your knees facing forward. Take a deep inhale. On the exhale, twist to one side from the bottom of your spine, engaging your abdomen and rolling your shoulder blades back and down while gently grabbing the side of the chair that you’re twisted toward. Keep your chin lined up with the center of your chest. Breathe for five to eight breaths, seeing if you can grow your spine longer with each inhalation and deepen the twist with each exhalation. After five to eight breaths, return to center and do the other side.