By Claire Yezbak Fadden
I had all I could take. The empty tubes of muscle relaxing heat rub were mounting. My husband wasn’t happy that part of our nightly routine included him slathering analgesic heat cream on my aching joints. Instead of my age, I felt more like 80. Every bone, joint, and tendon in my body ached from doing the simplest activities. Even an extended drive in the car left me with stiff hips that moved like a rusty gate.
I toyed with yoga for about a year with DVD’s and television shows. But it wasn’t until I signed up at the local gym and became serious about improving my health that I started reaping the benefits.
The physical and emotional improvements came slowly, but within six months, the nightly joint and muscle pain rubdowns were a thing of the past. I discovered that my posture and balance improved, my attitude became more positive and my body moved with more flexibility. And all because of 75 minutes of yoga, three times a week.
It’s a fact that as we age, we become more sedentary. “We carry around a few extra pounds, have joints that creak and ache at times, have muscles that haven’t been used forever,” said Felice Rhiannon, experienced registered yoga teacher and author of A Vibrant Life: Yoga in the Middle Years and Beyond. Inactivity causes our muscles to shorten, tighten and weaken. Our lack of weight-bearing activities contributes to osteoporosis. Because we move and stretch less than we used to, our joints deteriorate and become less flexible.
Yoga practices “can empower us to engage in new projects, rekindling our dreams and taking us to some uncharted territory,” Rhiannon said. A regular yoga practice directly improves our thinking and sharpens our perceptions and understanding. The activity can be an effective treatment technique for conditions such as arthritis/bursitis, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, low back pain, breathing difficulties, poor blood circulation, digestive issues, chronic pain, stress and sleep disorders.
According to the National Institutes of Health, more than one-third of adults try yoga or other non-traditional forms of medicine to help eliminate pain. “I’ve treated an enormous amount of people who have been able to avoid back surgery by using yoga therapy,” said Michael Sinel, orthopedic surgeon and UCLA assistant professor. However, he cautions patients to be evaluated by a medical specialist first.
Kim Matsko, owner of Yoga Bliss in Baton Rouge, has been practicing yoga for 14 years and teaching for more than eight years. “Anyone can do yoga, from infants to the elderly, and it is especially beneficial for those over the age of 30,” she said. Yoga is a whole mind, body and soul connection. While there is a physical workout ranging from gentle to highly advanced, she said it’s more about concentrating on breathing, which helps bring peace to a person’s life.
Many yoga places, including Yoga Bliss, offer prenatal, infant, child, teen and adult classes for all levels. Matsko said prenatal yoga helps relax expectant mothers, keep their core strong, prepare for birth and assists in building a strong bond of peace and love even before the birth of the child. After birth, mothers can attend “baby and me” classes where they learn gentle stretches for the infant that can help with digestion and help to avoid colic and gas as well as relaxation to keep the baby calm.
According to Matsko yoga can be valuable for children and teens who struggle with body image, ability to pay attention and bad behavior. “In addition to teaching them how to focus, yoga gives them tools to appreciate and love who they are and live happy balanced lives,” she said.
Reaping the benefits
Yoga has been shown to help alleviate many health challenges, making it an increasingly popular exercise choice. Matsko said people who practice develop a better awareness of their body and gain confidence as well as an inner glow. If people stay consistent, she said they will really start to see all of the benefits. Specifically, she said it can physically help to avoid injuries because people are balancing and building strength from the inside. She said she has also seen people stop using medication as a remedy for illnesses.
“The poses and the breathing are designed to remove toxins, diseases and discomfort from your body and to help put it back into a healthy natural state,” she said.
She said yoga is designed to help people grow old more comfortably in their bodies and minds, in a sense, reversing the aging process.
Yoga practitioners know that it is more than an exercise program. It is a holistic experience that rejuvenates the mind, body and spirit. Even among those who practice the westernized, more fitness-focused yoga know that its payoffs are more than physically beneficial. There are various programs available in our area that offer discounted sessions or classes, so the fear of commitment is no excuse.