If you're looking for a new way to exercise that will benefit your mind as well as your body, yoga might be the best practice for you.
Not only are you able to do it anytime and anywhere, but yoga is also one of those physical practices that’s great for any age or fitness level. You can dial-up or down the effort depending on how you feel.
And speaking of how you feel, yoga is scientifically proven to make you feel happier and more energized. So, what are you waiting for?
Why Do Yoga?
People tend to view yoga in two ways. For some, it seems spiritual, touchy-feely. For others, the idea of a yoga class seems too intensive or challenging.
But yoga has something for everyone. It isn't just a good full-body workout. It's an effective way to improve mobility and flexibility at any age—and research has shown that doing yoga can actually help prevent falls in women over 65 years old. That same study also found regular yoga practice helped the women in the program speed up their walks.
Yoga can also be used to help treat back pain and lead to better sleep, according to a study done in 2019. A 2012 study found it actually helped decrease inflammation in the body. Picking the right type of class for you can make trying yoga much more enjoyable at any level!
Choose Your Class Wisely
There are three main ways to practice yoga. In class, in a live virtual session or by using a pre-recorded video.
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, almost every yoga studio now offers virtual options in addition to in-person classes.
For most beginners, taking an in-person class is a great place to start, since a good instructor can offer tips on form and explain poses in an easy-to-understand way for you.
A private session to get started is even better since you can ask any questions and learn poses at your own pace—and some instructors are happy to do a one-on-one session virtually.
Of course, if you're on a budget, there are millions of free options available online. Many studios offer a free or highly-discounted first week of classes, so don't let price get in your way of trying yoga.
Some Standard Classes You Might Encounter, From Easiest to Toughest
For older adults, especially those dealing with chronic conditions or recovering from an injury, chair yoga might be a great place to start. Researchers have found that even older adults with dementia were able to do chair yoga and those who did reported a higher quality of life score, including physical condition, mood, functional abilities and interpersonal relationships.
Restorative / Gentle / Yin Yoga
These classes are also a great starting place since they're focused on slow movements and longer holds. They prioritize relaxation and lowering your heart rate rather than feeling any kind of burn.
These classes are not ideal if you're hoping for an aerobic workout, but they're a sensible way to begin a yoga practice and learn different poses in a low-stress setting—all while maximizing the mental benefits.
Vinyasa / Flow Yoga
Vinyasa classes are movement-focused, so you're in motion throughout most of the session, flowing between poses versus holding them for long periods of time. They tend to follow a fairly standard progression of poses that includes plenty of planks, downward dogs, lunges and warriors.
These classes may feel fast-paced to beginners, but they also generally are made up of easier poses, so they're fast but easy to follow along with.
Power Yoga classes are typically similar to a Vinyasa class but will happen at a much faster pace. The focus is to add a strength element to the flow.
Expect to get sweaty, and don't start with a Power Yoga class if you're new to yoga. It will be quick and can be difficult to keep up with if you’re unfamiliar with poses.
Bikram / Hot Yoga
Any class labeled Bikram or Hot Yoga will take place in a room that's typically heated to more than 95 degrees. Like Power Yoga, these classes are best for intermediate or advanced yogis and will feel much more intense than almost any other practice.
If you decide to try a hot yoga class, bring your own towel and water bottle, and don't be afraid to leave the room for fresh air if it gets overwhelming.
What to Wear & Bring
If possible, bring a mat along with a towel and water bottle. Right now, studios tend to prefer for you to bring your own yoga mat to class to help minimize the spread of germs.
If you're practicing at home, a mat is helpful to protect your knees and to provide better traction than a carpet or hard floor can give.
In terms of clothing, wear something that makes you feel comfortable that you can also move well in. Sweatpants and a T-shirt are perfectly fine, as are gym shorts and a tank top.
Consider dressing in layers, since some classes may warm you up as you go. The sweatshirt you wore at the beginning of class might feel stuffy halfway through.
You can keep your socks on if you're more comfortable doing so, but most yogis go barefoot. If you decide to wear socks, consider getting a pair of yoga-specific socks with rubberized soles. They’ll help provide stability and prevent slipping on your mat.
Don't Try to Compete
Not only is yoga designed to be a non-competitive sport, but competition in class can be dangerous. If you're trying to copy exactly what the person next to you is doing, you may end up with strains and pulls rather than increased flexibility.
The occasional injuries reported from yoga practices often stem from a participant who pushed themself into a posture that they weren’t ready for.
Focus on Form
Rather than focusing on how “deep” you can get into a stretch, focus on having proper form and following the instructor’s cues.
In a seated forward fold, for instance, it's tempting to let your upper back curve so you can get closer to touching your toes. However, keeping a straight spine while reaching forward is the proper form for the pose, and curving your spine actually defeats the purpose of the posture.
So, don't stress if you can't touch your toes. Focus on proper, safe form and the flexibility will come eventually.
Remember: Child's Pose
Sometimes a pose is challenging or that last series of planks has you winded. In every yoga class, it's considered completely acceptable—and highly recommended—to drop down into a child's pose if you're feeling tired or need a break.
Child’s pose is simple: sink down onto all fours, on your hands and knees, and let your butt drop back toward your heels. Straighten your arms out in front of you on the mat, letting your body relax and feel heavy. Hang out here for as long as you need, then rejoin the class when you're ready.
Embrace the Mental Aspects As Well
The mental benefits of yoga are well-studied, especially in older populations. A 2014 study looking at older adults who started a three-times-a-week yoga practice found that their cognitive function improved significantly.
Regardless of age, yoga has been found to improve memory. It's also been shown to help decrease levels of stress and anxiety. What's not to love?