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Practicing Yoga After 50: Where to Start?

in YD News

Molly Shannon as Sally O’Malley. She’s 50! 50 years old.


This Yoga After 50 New York Times piece that’s been floating around the past few days had us immediately thinking, Yoga after 50? Was there ever a question? In fact, the very image of Sally O’Malley’s springy, “I’m 50! 50 years old!” came to mind. Because, of course, that’s what fit and lively 50+ yogis look like, right?

But (as you may have guessed) we’re not over 50. And when you think about the general lack of information, representation and immediate options out there for the midlife types, we’re glad they’re getting some attention. After all, we can’t let the nonagenarians have all the fun!

The whole Times article is worth a read, if you haven’t done so already, but what we really loved about it was this last paragraph and what NY-based senior Iyengar teacher Carrie Owerko had to say about “advanced” practitioners.

“In my experience, older students often bring a mature wisdom to the practice,” said Ms. Owerko, who turned 51 this week and has for many years attended an advanced yoga retreated for women over 40. “They have lived long enough to have a sense of humor about themselves. And they are often more compassionate toward themselves and other students.”

It’s like a nice way of saying, you crazy kids can keep your Pink Floyd hangover yoga, we’re cool.

Keeping the conversation going NYT editors invited readers to send in questions for backcare and yoga therapy specialist Dr. Loren Fishman. Round one of the answers is up and it’s all great info but here are the bare bone basics you should know.

Is yoga good for the aging population? My answer is yes.

Are there any aspects to yoga practice that the over-50 practitioner should give up if she/he is healthy and otherwise feeling well?

Yes, there are things you may need to give up in your yoga practice as you get older.

Dr. Fishman goes on to answer readers’ questions about joint pain, back pain and Sciatica, but we found his response to several people asking the simple question of where do we start? to be a valuable one:

Besides these readers, Big Bird from NYC and SH and Pinotman from Chicago wrote in wanting to know the best place and the best way to begin or resume yoga when you are over 50. The absolute best way is to find out what your liabilities are, and this is an individual matter, requiring a medical visit or summary. The next step is an appointment with an experienced and smart yoga teacher, one on one. Group classes are an artifact of urban economics: the teacher cannot afford to live in the city in which she teaches any other way. But chronic conditions are cumulative, by definition: when you’re older you need the individual attention that yoga has traditionally offered.

Individual attention and knowing your own body. When we talk about yoga practice and injuries at any age, these two little gems keep popping up. We’re think they’re useful for anyone looking to KICK and STRETCH annnnd KICK well past your 50s.

Part two of the questions will be up at the NYT Well blog next week.



23 comments… add one
  • Ladies and Gentleman, my name is Maria Santoferraro and I’m proud to say I’m not one of those gals who like to hide their age…oh no, I like to KICK, STRETCH, and DO YOGA!! I’m 50! 50 Years Young!!
    I’m here to tell you that yoga after 50 is sweet and I plan to keep doing it for a long, long time to keep me flexible, vibrant, and alive! No hip replacements for this yogini mama!

    • neshobayoga

      I have had 70 year olds practice Ashtanga next to me….Om shanti!

  • Most of my clients are over 45, and they do just fine in group classes — but it’s true, knowing the potential liabilities that they have is extremely helpful in guiding them through the practice.

    I have only one student over 50 who comes to my gentle classes. She’s actually 65 and quite tight. The gentle classes are the best for her to develop some flexibility and strength — all supported with props and mostly floor work. But my other students who are around the same age (between 60 and 70) love to rock out to the power yoga.

    They’re also quite conscientious. I have them all on a rotation to get a 1x month half-hour private lesson so that we can go over specific things according to their interest or their liabilities.

    My oldest student is over 80 now. She does astanga now because she loves it. She’s working on the advanced series now. So, I have no idea if you have to give things up as you age or not.

    • Hi Jenifer, this is really interesting my mum is in her mid 70’s and did yoga after the birth of each of her children and was interested in the meditation side too. She has had to have a hip operation which jilted her fitness and also has to take medication due to a cancer scare that leaves her with low energy levels.

      My mum (Erica) is very aware of the benefits of yoga, I’ve recently started a business selling yoga swings and id really like to explore how my yoga swings would benefit the over 50s and more importantly the over 60’s 70’s 80’s and dare i say it 90’s.

      My yoga swing can fully support the weight of an adult and has adjustable handles ect. Id really your opinion on how useful it could be. would you mind having a look at my website http://www.swing-fitness.com and letting me know what you think.

  • Carol

    Amusing. Crazy kids, the over 50’s ARE the Pink Floyd generation.

  • Emma

    C’mon, already! I turn 57 this June and I rock handstand, most standard arm balances and flow easily through any regular yoga class. I have been active all my life and have NO plans to slow down. Each person is an individual, and some 23 year olds need to take it slower than some 55 year olds. Many yogis in India practice well into their 90’s…. off to yoga ;-0

  • Semper Fi

    50 is the new 20

  • Cathy Geier

    I am 64. Ive been practicing regularly the last 3 years. I do wheel, handstand preps, hold plank a minute, flow through any hard or easy flow easily and will get that handstand by fall. I do NOT need private individual secret observance, tho any private class will benefit any practitioner if their mind is open.
    I do practice in a studio with skilled teachers whose philosophy is ” know your body’ and show modifications often not to target people but to encourage all levels from any age.
    We are blessed.

    • Vision_Quest2

      Not necessarily on those privates/workshops/retreats. I HAD been that 38 year old, slower than the 68 year old. I also had been obese at that time.

      There is nothing about power yoga that good aerobic cross training and sticking to a low carb diet can’t work wonders with. The fallacy is that yoga is enough for we who are over 50. For many people it isn’t. Some of us were born to succumb to entropy early. At 58 now, though, I weigh less than I did at 27. But I move faster.

      I also am not looking to do inversions. Never really was. And my age group, more than any other, should be okay with that. Yoga is not about the poses.

    • C Quintal

      totally agree!

  • C Quintal

    I am 57.
    I take 3-4 classes a week and do home practice when not in class. I take advanced classes and love scorpion, side crow, elephant and on and on with advanced poses. i float back to chaturunga via handstand. I think it is nonsense that you have to give up poses as you get older. Unlike running, where i got slower and slower as i aged – with yoga, I continually get better, stronger with improved balance and flexibility as I practice. Absolutely the best thing in the world you can do as you get older.

  • I began practicing yoga in 2004, at age 65, when I was ill with fibromyalgia, TMJ, RA, candida, sleep apnea, and overweight. I started with a lot of Restorative Yoga classes, 3 x a week, then added basic Hatha Yoga. Now, at 74, I’m stronger and healthier than I’ve ever been. I teach 6 – 10 classes a week as well as give and attend workshops and trainings. I wish I had started my practice earlier, like in my 50s. Do what you can when you can. Every Body is Different, Every Soul an Individual.

  • Sandy J K

    I am 56 & I have been doing yoga for 30-plus yrs, teaching yoga for 6 years (in rural WI) – my students are all older than me. In fact, when a youngster attends, they never seem to last very long saying, “it’s harder than I thought.” My students are artists, MBAs, athletes, farmers, etc. and know what yoga does for them and what it will always do . . . Peace, mobility, strength.

    • Sandy J K

      I am 56 & I have been doing yoga for 30-plus yrs, teaching yoga for 6 years (in rural WI) – my students are all older than me. In fact, when a youngster attends, they never seem to last very long saying, “it’s harder than I thought.” My students are artists, MBAs, athletes, farmers, etc. and know what yoga does for them and what it will always do . . . Peace, mobility, strength.
      Oh, in a class setting — no individual/private sessions. We pose together.

  • cris

    Is it me or was there a tone to this article that 50 plus people are to be pitied a little, wondered at, and accommodated or excused because they at least bring a sense of humor about themselves?

    I think it was kind in spirit, but revealed or betrayed that mentality that “under 30” is the center of the known universe and that being an under-30 yogini is the very creamy nougat within that enviable center.. “We can’t let the nonagenarians have all the fun!”?????? Huh?

    Not offended, but amused.

    • Vision_Quest2

      BE amused. The best thing I can say about this article is that – just like in the 1970’s before the yoga boom, yoga is finding its traditional demographic again.

      Another sign of the backlash against commercialized yoga.

      Keep ’em coming.

      Salivating at every piece like this!

  • Jason

    I was reading a book of Krichnamacharya’s teachings a couple years ago where he mentioned that as one ages one should devote a greater proportion of one’s practice to pranayam. I’m confused by these NYTimes pieces because there is absolutely no mention of the rest of the ashtanga limbs. I mean, I have a student who is 68 and she is quite physically capable/aware, but when we began to really move more into yin holds and deeper investigation of pratyahara and dharana the sense of ease and lightness in her practice–and experience off the mat–unfolded so beautifully. I guess I don’t understand, fundamentally, why asana (at least more yang style, as is highlighted in the pieces under discussion) should be promoted as sadhana for someone over 50 . –Jason

    • Vision_Quest2

      So, what about “acting your age” do some people not understand?

      Although I can get down and dirty in a non-yoga, cardio dance class …

      Figuring that yoga is my unwind time, my spiritual time …

      Also, some of us DO have limitations, as well.

      [Visions of tiny, spry, birdlike women doing AcroYoga and some breaking bones, notwithstanding–reductio ad absurdum of some of these older person, badass tropes seem quite funny …. AND disturbing …]

  • Cathy Geier

    It is not about getting down and dirty. I use yoga for health maintenance, strength maintenance, spine flexibility and overall good feeling. I am allowed to do that at my age as are people of all ages. I suggest you find another place to poke and prod our personal honest comments about ourselves.

    Remaining healthy as our bodies age is a choice, nto always easy with cultural discriminations, aging aches and occasional pains, loss of income and some freedoms. Staying strong in body, mind and soul comes from practice.

    • Vision_Quest2

      Well, okay–there is sister vinyasa practitioner Tao Porchon-Lynch … giving her THAT.

      Tending to think she is the exception, as you could be, too. Exceptions do not prove the rule … because that’s just a saying …

      Comorbidities like high blood pressure and diabetes after a certain age; and general weaknesses and imbalances paint a different picture. I,myself, have been uninsured for too long to risk any broken bones… and from – of all things – YOGA?

      I had done yoga here and there in the 1970s. I know the difference. I know what yoga COULD be … I’m not particularly favoring the old school now, because I am getting a forgiving, mindful, yoga therapy-infused introduction to what’s new … FINALLY

  • Lin Ostler

    At 67 now, I’ve been practicing a n d teaching Yoga for over 42 years now. I still teach 14 classes a week at various venues–been at a college teaching beginning & Intermediate Yoga for 23 years ongoing. I find I don’t do as many wheels (chakrasana) as I used to but pretty much everything else except shoulder stand (I have some gnarly neck injuries).
    Yoga is being fed as a way to get the Yoga butt or the sweaty workout, but I teach many special populations (specialize in the Childbearing Year) and know Yoga has no age limit!!

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