Yoga: It should be fun and make you feel good
By Jana Eisenberg
Have you tried yoga?
Have you wanted to, but not known where or how to start? If so, you’re like many others who may find the idea intimidating, mysterious or even off-putting.
Yoga — the ancient Indian practice that includes mental, physical and spiritual elements — is for everyone. The physical practice, slow and steady, includes movements and positions to engage your entire body. They are called “asanas” but you don’t need to know that, or be fluent in the ancient Indian language of Sanskrit to participate.
The mental and spiritual aspects — like controlling your breathing, practicing quieting your mind and being in the moment — take some getting used to, and are as highly adaptable as the physical movements.
Yoga has been credited with many health benefits, including decreasing anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, and many types of pain. If you can’t or don’t want to get on the floor, there are many ways of modifying yoga so that it can be done using a chair and other props.
Modified yoga still offers all the benefits, and more studios, community centers and senior living facilities are offering classes tailored for seniors.
“There is a lot of misunderstanding about what yoga is, or who can do it. It is not only for skinny young girls twisted into pretzel poses,” said yoga teacher Kandy Krampitz, 61. She teaches at the Himalayan Institute in Buffalo, among other places. “You do not have to stand on your head or be incredibly flexible. People 50 and over may be looking for a sense of themselves, and perhaps a deeper connection to their bodies; whether they’re very healthy or perhaps recovering from surgery, an illness or living with a chronic condition or disease.”
“Your life is really your yoga practice,” Krampitz said. “As people get older, they sometimes lose that sense of purpose they had while building their family or career. Some people begin to contemplate how to redefine themselves, ask what will give them spirit and energy. Our minds and bodies are both changing, and we have to figure out what to do.”
Feeling the vibe
Candace Caprow, 65, has been practicing yoga herself for 25 years. In her classes at Buffalo’s West Side Community Center, she brings a laugh to every class, as well as trying to make sure that no one is experiencing any pain during or from the practice.
“Sitting and breathing are part of yoga; it’s meant to be a restorative experience. It can calm the mind and the nervous system,” said Caprow. “Many older people say that after practicing for a while, they notice they can breathe more easily. Having fun contributes to the feeling of well-being.”
“Yoga can connect you back to your body in a way that allows an awareness of what’s happening,” added Krampitz. “It can quiet the inner chatter in our minds, which is frequently critical and not resting. Yoga is about acceptance.”
“At every class, I say something like, ‘Yoga is not a competition, it’s a personal practice,’” she added. “We are not here to judge ourselves or others. It is a safe and supportive place. If the teacher asks the class to do something, and you can’t or don’t want to, don’t do it. You know yourself best.”
“The mat and chair yoga that I teach is an opportunity for access,” said Caprow. “With the stretching and strengthening, you’re still working with balance and developing core strength, flexibility and joint health.”
Other advice when starting yoga is to try a few different teachers because not everyone teaches the same way, and not everyone responds to each teacher the same way. There is no one right or wrong way to teach it or to do it.
At the end of every yoga class, the teacher says “namaste” and bows their head with their hands together at heart or head—it’s both an expression of gratitude and a gesture of respect.
If you go to a class, and when the phrase comes up, know that you have choices: You can repeat “namaste,” quietly or silently; you may bow your head to your own religious beliefs, to your own strength, to the power of nature, or you can not bow your head at all. It’s up to you.