As we age, our bodies change. The older we get, the farther away from optimal functioning we move. Things that we used to do with ease can become more difficult and things that we could rebound from quickly have more lasting effects. But, for those who practice Hatha yoga, this shift can happen differently. Though the voice of our body still changes as we age, the practice of yoga allows us to continue the conversation of mobility and activity with less fear and an increased quality of life. Now, this knowledge that yoga practitioners have touted for ages is being validated by western medical science in a recent study at Indiana University.
More than one-third of adults over 65 experience a fall, which sometimes results in serious injury and even death. Why are older adults more prone to falling? A number of reasons, first, as we age, some muscles in the body become weak and our structure (bones) become more brittle, this makes movement which was once effortless more challenging. Reaction time slows, so simple tasks like getting in and out of bed or a chair, though our minds still move at a normal speed, require a longer period of time to be implemented by our bodies. The quality of our vision can also shift in such a way that our surroundings are no longer as clear to us as they once were. And, often, to deal with one of these issues or others, we take medications whose side-effects like dizziness, fatigue, or slowed reaction times can lead to instability in our bodies and minds.
Though many older adults never experience a fall, and as many of those who do fall do not experience serious injury, a single fall or a close call can develop into a life-long fear. Fear of things like falling can have a negative effect on quality of life, which in turn increases the fear associated with activities that can result in falling. The more fearful we become, the more we will withdraw from normal activity, and the less active we become, the more the effects of aging compound.
The IU study, led by a certified Yoga Therapist, implemented a 12-week hatha yoga regimen which included asanas that could be practiced seated. Of the 14 men and women that participated, the attendance was steady and the drop-out rate was exceptionally low. The results of the study showed a 6 percent reduction in the fear of falling and a 34 percent increase in lower body flexibility. In addition, participants reported benefits ranging from increased range of motion to improved balance. With the average age of the group at 78 years old, the results show much benefit to the older adult population. Simply by increasing physical potential through accessible and gentle movement with additional principles of a hatha yoga practice, like pranayama and meditation, these aging participants not only found their bodies to be more responsive but also their fear (which is sometimes the biggest obstacle) diminished.
Has the practice of yoga helped you as you grow older? We would love to hear about it.