When I first began my yoga practice years ago, flexibility and joint health were not at the top of my list of motivators. I was merely looking for a way to reduce stress and find some peace in an otherwise hectic schedule.
What I was surprised to find was that as my practice progressed over the years, my aging body became more pliable and flexible than when I was in my 20s or 30s.
For anyone who wants to maintain a modicum of mobility after 50, attention to flexibility and joint health should be high on the healthy aging checklist.
Exploring a yoga practice either as a replacement for – or a supplement to – an existing fitness routine can bring a plethora of benefits.
1.Having better flexibility increases range of motion, endurance and stability, and can prevent falls and injuries.
2. Because yoga is a low impact activity that focuses on all joints in the body, including those that you may not use or think about on a regular basis, the entire system of joints will be more effectively lubricated, which supports joint comfort and ease of motion.
3. Yoga also builds strength and flexibility in the muscles surrounding the bones and joints, allowing for even weight distribution and greater impact absorption that helps protect the skeletal structure overall.
4. Yoga postures move all fluids through the body, including blood and synovial fluid, or joint lubricant. This keeps muscles fed with oxygen and joints well lubed.
5. Yoga can even help improve symptoms in joints affected by arthritis. A 2009 study conducted at the Dubai Bone and Joint Center looked at the effects of twice-weekly yoga for people with rheumatoid arthritis. Twenty-six of 47 people participated in 12 yoga sessions and reported significant improvements.
STRETCHING & FLEXIBILITY CONNECTION
There are two prevailing scientific opinions on what most limits flexibility.
The first school of thought focuses not on stretching muscle fiber itself but on increasing the elasticity of connective tissues, the cells that bind muscle fibers together, surround them, and connect them with other organs.
The second focuses the stretch reflex and other functions of the involuntary nervous system. Yoga works on both. That’s why it’s such an effective method for increasing flexibility.
The connective tissue known as muscle fascia controls much of the elasticity in the tissues. David Coulter, author of Anatomy of Hatha Yoga, describes yoga poses, or asanas, as “a careful tending to your internal knitting.”
Regularly practicing yoga postures helps to open and stretch the fascia, facilitating greater flexibility throughout the entire body.
Whether you decide to join a studio and practice yoga for several hours a week or simply learn a few basic poses and go through a sequence for 10 minutes a day at home, your flexibility and joint health can benefit from yoga.
Depending on how you typically spend your time, you may wish to focus on specific areas. If you’re parked at a desk from nine to five, for example, you may want to give extra attention to your lower back and shoulders.
If the poses are difficult at first, don’t give up. Your body may be quite rigid at the beginning, and with consistent pratice, you will begin to experience a remarkable flexibility.
Correct yogic stretching develops your entire body and this benefits the muscles and joints, developing a sense of harmony and balance to support your active lifestyle.
BASIC YOGA POSTURES FOR STRONGER JOINTS & GREATER FLEXIBILITY
Veerbhadrasana (Warrior Pose)
The Warrior pose is a knee strengthening yoga pose that also helps people suffering from frozen shoulders. It also releases stress from the shoulders and brings balance in the body. Keep the hips level and position the bent front knee over the ankle and tracking over the middle toe to maintain alignment
Setu Bandhasana (Bridge Pose)
The Bridge pose helps strengthen muscles in the knee joint and is also helpful for those suffering from osteoporosis. It also calms the brain and reduces anxiety and stress in the body. Work the shoulder blades under the body, hands can press into the floor or bind together if the hands can’t reach the ankles. Another option is supported bridge, placing a yoga block under the low back at the sacral area near the tailbone.
Trikonasana (Triangle Pose)
The Triangle pose strengthens the legs, knees and ankles. It also stretches and opens the hamstrings, groin and hips. This yoga pose also relieves the body of sciatica and back pain. If reaching the shin is difficult, placing the hand on a yoga block can help.
Ustrana (Camel Pose)
An effective exercise to relieve back pain and support shoulder strength, Camel Pose also improves flexibility of the spine, improves posture and relieves the body of lower back ache. This pose can also be done with the arms extending upward or hands on the hips or backs of the thighs, it is not necessary to touch the heels to benefit. Focus on lifting the sternum while pressing the hips forward; pressing the hips against a wall in front of you can help keep proper alignment.
Makara Adho Mukha Svanasana (Dolphin Plank Pose)
The Dolphin Plank pose helps stretches the shoulders and hamstrings. It also strengthens the wrists, arms and legs while relieving the body of fatigue and back ache. This yoga posture also helps prevent osteoporosis. Draw the hip bones toward the elbows and extend through the heels to avoid pressure on the low back.
A WORD OF CAUTION
Make use of yoga blocks, cushions and support while practicing these poses to avoid aggravation of pain. Respect your body’s limit and do only as much as you comfortably can. If you experience consistent pain, discontinue the practice and seek medical consultation before resuming.