By Rachel Lankester, Mutton Club editor and founder, Magnificent Midlife Movement
As we age, aches and pains can become a fact of life. How we live now means we often spend far too much time sitting on our backsides and not moving around as we were designed to. This can lead to pain and stiffness in places we never even imagined. Heck it can even hurt after just sleeping. Stiffness leads to pain which can lead to more inactivity. A vicious circle can ensue. But there is a way to limit that, remain flexible and get a regular dose of both calm stillness and uplifting energy. We sincerely believe that yoga in midlife is the best answer to aches and pains.
A regular yoga practice can be transformative in so many ways. Getting down regularly on your yoga mat is an investment in your overall health, strength, balance, flexibility and sanity. Yoga is known to reduce blood pressure, increase bone density and reduce anxiety. And the earlier you start, the more of those tricky poses you’ll be able to accomplish. But if you’ve previously found yoga boring and uninspiring in your younger years, don’t let that put you off trying it again in your forties.
Yoga is the perfect exercise regime for anyone over forty because it keeps you in shape without putting unnecessary strain on joints and muscles – if you do it properly that is. It’s also the perfect way to maintain flexibility so you can continue to do more vigorous forms of exercise such as running and cycling, for example.
If you need more persuading, check out our feature on the world’s oldest yoga teacher, Tao Porchon-Lynch (below) who was still able to sit in lotus position after three hip replacements!
So which is the best style of yoga for you? There is a class to suit you whatever your body type, level of fitness and aspirations. If you’re going to stick with a regular practice, it’s good to find the right one for you so you can reap the myriad of benefits. Having the right teacher is also crucial. Once you’ve decided on your favourite form of yoga, you might want to try out several teachers and studios. Each will have a different vibe and finding the one for you can have a dramatic impact on your progress.
Some of the more common forms of yoga
Hatha yoga is a great place to start your yoga practice because it is slower and can be more achievable than other forms. Hatha focuses on the asanas (poses) which are common to all types of yoga, but without the more aerobic flowing practice that you find with other forms such as Astanga. It is often a gentle class to get you going and teach you the rudiments of the practice before you may want to progress onto something more challenging.
Ashtanga takes the main standard poses you learn in Hatha and integrates them with a rigorous vinyasa (sun salutation) sequence. Focusing on your breath is key to all forms of yoga but particularly so in Ashtanga which uses the deep controlled ujjayi breath to guide you through the sequence which remains the same each time. Most Ashtanga classes are only long enough to cover the first series of postures and there are more advanced poses in the second, third and fourth series. Google those if you want to make your eyes water!
Once you know the sequence there is something deeply meditational about counting the breaths as you move though the poses. Also, once familiar with the sequence, you can attend Mysore classes. These are the Ashtanga sequence but done at your own speed with the guidance and assistance of a teacher. You can turn up at any time within a three hour window and start at your own pace. If you come early enough, this is the time when you can explore more advanced postures. Expect a seriously good workout and to sweat in an Ashtanga or Mysore class.
These are also more dynamic classes based on Ashtanga but with more flexibility for the teacher to design there own sequence. You may see scheduled classes called flow yoga or dynamic yoga or vinyas flow and they are all similar in style.
Iyengar yoga uses similar postures to other forms of yoga but focuses more intensely on correct alignment, making more use of props, bolsters, block and belts to help perfect that. It is a slower form of yoga than Ashtanga or Vinyasa but done properly can provide just as intense a stretching experience.
This is another set sequence class but this time done in a room heated to approximately 40°C which will really make you sweat. It was created by Bikram Choudhury in the 1970s and all classes consist of 26 poses and run for 90 minutes. The poses are designed to “work out every muscle, tendon, joint, ligament, organ and gland while systematically moving oxygenated blood to every cell of the body”
Some of our favorite sites for yoga in midlife inspiration
A community site for all types of yoga people with courses, tips, and some great videos.
The Pink of yoga – feisty and badass, Sadie mixes yoga tips and inspiration with a healthy hedonistic outlook complete with wine tasting retreats.
For all your yoga necessities – mats, blocks, belts, bolsters, clothing etc.