Could Yoga help you?
Jenny Howsam is a Gentle Years Yoga teacher trainer for the British Wheel of Yoga (BWY). As a specialist in yoga for older adults, Jenny was co-investigator of a recent research study conducted at the BWY Approved Centre, Yorkshire Yoga in Knaresborough.
“I could get my socks on this morning!” exclaimed one of my students as he burst through the door of Yorkshire Yoga one dreary Monday, with a big grin on his face.
So what? Big deal you may be thinking.
Well, I teach yoga to older adults, many of whom are dealing with long term illness, disability or simply the wear and tear of getting older. Being able to reach to put socks on is a big deal. So is getting a towel out of the airing cupboard or taking the lid off a jar of marmalade. These are the things my yoga classes are geared towards; getting by through the day. It’s not touching our toes, putting our feet behind our ears or looking good in lycra.
I teach yoga seated on chairs; students can remain there for the whole session or also use the chair for support during standing work. As well as physical practices (asana), we work on breathing (pranayama), concentration (dharana) and relaxation techniques. We aim to improve flexibility and joint movement, but also general strength, stamina and overall well-being. It’s a true body and mind practice that practically anyone can participate in.
In 2015-6 I was very lucky to be involved at Yorkshire Yoga with a British Wheel of Yoga/Big Lottery funded research project with Northumbria University. We looked at the feasibility of a ten week yoga programme for previously inactive older adults, measuring the effect of yoga on flexibility, strength, stamina and mental well-being. The research report, published in the June 2017 issue of BMC Geriatrics, confirmed what I think we already knew anecdotally, that yoga can benefit older students in many ways.
The most commonly cited physical benefit reported during the study was improved mobility; things like getting up from a chair more easily, walking, washing and, yes, putting socks on.
The mental benefits were equally important; improved mood, fewer panic attacks and a calmer mind were all reported by our students. In addition, almost all the students said that they liked the social interaction that the class provided. New friendships were formed and two students who had been friends years ago, but had lost touch, were reunited thanks to the project!
Why do I think this is important? Well, on a personal level I have been able to watch my students blossom. Some have gone from working on a posture while hanging onto the chair for dear life to tentatively letting go for a few moments, to moving into postures confidently and with a smile on their faces. It makes me feel good to know that I am helping them achieve things they didn’t think were possible.
More broadly, I think the project has shown that yoga can be for everyone. It has the potential to make measurable differences to your life. So, this begs the question, what can yoga do for you?
Have you ever tried yoga? Is it something you would like to try? What sports do you enjoy? Are their any barriers to you getting involved in fitness classes? Let us know your experences.