If you can breathe, you can practice yoga and meditation. You may think yoga is only for people who can stand on their heads — though in reality, that is a small minority. From increased flexibility to sturdier balance, yoga has countless benefits for people of all ages and fitness levels.
The same is true for meditation. Studies show a daily meditation practice can help ease stress and reduce anxiety. With many yoga poses focused on being in the present moment, the physical practice becomes a moving meditation. For example, ending your yoga work out with the posture savasana, or final relaxation pose, gives your mind time to settle and body a chance to relax. When combined, a regular yoga and meditation practice can mend both physical and mental health.
Before you start a yoga and meditation practice, you might have some questions. It’s important to have a conversation with your healthcare provider before you start. For other questions, we’re here to help.
Am I too old or out of shape to start yoga?
Yoga is for everyone. There are many different styles of yoga, from vinyasa, where you connect the poses with a flow, to yin, where you stay seated and work on stretching connective tissues. Every type of practice has a starting point, a place for all kinds of beginners, from young and old to athletes to people recovering from injury. Of course, you have to start simple and listen to your body. If a pose is uncomfortable but not painful, use your breath to stick with it. The more you practice, the easier it will get. However, if a pose is painful, then back out of it and take your time. Remember, yoga is about progress, not perfection.
How can I sit still to meditate?
To put it quite simply, meditation is about quieting the mind. But how can we still the mind when our bodies are constantly moving? We live in a culture that values busyness and momentum — meditation seems the antithesis of that. In reality, however, that stillness takes us to a deeper place of calm, helping us be more productive, intentional and understanding. Like yoga, take meditation in steps. Don’t expect to sit on a cushion, thoughtless for an hour your first time. You can work your way toward that by:
Counting your breath. As you are sitting, inhale to the count of three, and then exhale to the count of three. Focusing on your breath will distract you from moving your body.
Trying guided meditation. There are several apps, YouTube videos and CDs that will walk you through meditation by helping you relax the muscles in your body, focus by repeating a phrase or feeling a sense of happiness and lightness.
Exploring walking meditation. If movement is more comfortable, meditate while you walk. Inhale as you put one foot on the ground, feeling the pressure of the earth from your heel to your toe, and then exhale as you do the same with the other foot.
Do I have to go to a studio to learn how to practice yoga?
Yoga classes are a great way to get one-on-one help from a certified yoga instructor. They can help you move in and out of poses safely and adjust your body so you are in proper alignment. However, you can practice yoga from the comfort of your home. As with meditation, there are many fitness mobile apps and YouTube videos that guide you through a yoga practice tailored to your age or fitness level. You can even get subscriptions to online yoga classes. When practicing yoga and meditation, create a space in your home where it’s quiet and you can relax.
When will I see the results of a regular meditation practice?
At first, meditation will be challenging and maybe even a little uncomfortable. We aren’t used to slowing down our overactive minds. Seeing the benefits of meditation is different for everyone. In the beginning, some people feel calm and less anxious right away, but only until the next crisis stresses them out. For others, when they first start meditating they feel nothing, except maybe a little sleepy. It takes 21 days to create a habit, so many practitioners recommend giving daily meditation a try for four weeks. You may see some benefits sooner, but others may take more time. Short-term benefits include lower blood pressure, improved self-esteem and greater ability to handle critical situations with less stress. Long-term benefits include improved memory, easier and more confident decision-making and enhanced cardiovascular health.
Yoga and meditation are a blend of art and science. You will need to be faithful to your practice to reap the rewards of a happier, healthier mind and body.
About the Author
Harry Cline is creator of NewCaregiver.org and author of the upcoming book, The A-Z Home Care Handbook: Health Management How-Tos for Senior Caregivers. As a retired nursing home administrator, father of three, and caregiver to his ninety-year-old uncle, Harry knows how challenging and rewarding caregiving can be. He also understands that caregiving is often overwhelming for those just starting out. He created his website and is writing his new book to offer new caregivers everywhere help and support.