People midlife and beyond often begin or return to yoga to improve flexibility, strength and balance. These are important aspects that allow us to move through life, doing the activities we enjoy and to remain independent. Furthermore, starting an appropriate yoga practice at an older age has potential to improve body confidence and safely ease our bodies, to prepare for other forms of physical activity. When we consider the full spectrum of what yoga can offer, there are equally valuable benefits as yoga is a mind body practice to support the whole person.
Historically, the essence of yogic philosophy refers to yoga as a practice to settle the mind. Relieving our busy minds to find a sense of peace can feel unobtainable in a world full of distractions – however it is possible. It takes practice and is best approached with an attitude without expectation. In yoga the breath is used as an anchor to help steady the mind. There are other methods to explore, as practice continues. Quietening the mind gives ‘voice’ to our body and emotions, to observe how we feel, our thoughts and our lifestyle.
In a practical sense, increased awareness of physical and emotional states, can lead to question a body ache, changes to energy levels, appetite or prolonged period of sadness. We might notice a tendency to make poor dietary or other negative lifestyle choices. Increased awareness can lead to being proactive with regards to seeking medical advice or other support, instead of letting a situation or condition become worse.
A natural progression of developing skills in self-awareness is the ability to cultivate equanimity. Equanimity is the ability to stay in an even minded mental state, whether an experience is pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. There’s no denying this is not simple, and personally what I find in a situation such as this is that I might still go through the cycle of becoming stressed, however I do not maintain it, as I have the tools to assist myself to calm and become less reactive. This aligns with the fact that equanimity provides us with the ability to recover more rapidly from difficult emotions or stressful situations – or not even respond to day to day annoyances.
Can you imagine how this is a valuable resource to support the resilience of older people, as they adapt to many changes they may not have experienced before? A change to identity when moving or transitioning out of the conventional workforce, loss of life long partners and friends, concerns about financial affairs, their own health and mortality or reinventing themselves, making new friends and connections or making changes to living arrangements. Both positive and negative experiences can impact our resilience.
Subtle yet powerful, yoga as a mind body practice has potential to change the way we think and take care of ourselves. All ingredients towards enhancing the quality of our lives as we move into midlife and beyond. It is never too late to start.