If you wish to try a new workout, let your body guide you, writes Yoga trainer Fatema Rajkotwala in the first of a three-part series
We are an old culture, rich and brimming with traditions and ancient wisdoms that have attracted and enamoured people from far corners of the globe. In today’s globalised India, we are pleasantly walking hand-in-hand with westernisation as well as finally embracing and respecting Yoga practices as a form of healthy living.
But while more of the youth and children are than kfully getting drawn to Yoga, either through the lure of Instagram-worthy pictures or school-enforced curriculum, I sometimes watch bystanding seniors in gardens and parks, wondering: Is Yoga meant for me at this age? Can’t I just meditate and do pranayams and powerful breathing exercises? This is my age to take it easy, spend time with my grandchildren, vacation… should I even be doing the very strenuous Surya Namaskars and Headstands?
These are all valid doubts. What adds to these justifications and the confusion is when conflicting information on social media and through our overzealous WhatsApp groups tells our senior population to give in to their weaknesses and onsetting pains. Our government is working hard to set an example and encourage Yoga for all. Remember, elsewhere in the world, people don’t easily consider themselves old until well over 70. There are many shining examples of families where grandparents are living ailment-free, with a sharp memory because they live basically disciplined lives where routine and light daily physical work is part of their schedule.
The upsetting reality is that a majority of our seniors are sliding down holes of depression caused due to possible family neglect, loneliness, retirement or a loss of sense of purpose, productivity, identity and therefore stress induced depression and anxiety.
Being born and raised in the old part of South Mumbai, I’ve grown up with more senior citizens around me as neighbours than people my age and I would enjoy spending time with them, listening to their gem-like experiences. As life would have it, after I trained in teaching Yoga, many of my clients have been seniors and this helped me understand their requirements and attitudes better. While there is much to admire and respect about our elders, I did feel that at times our society tends to lay too much emphasis on ‘knowing’ things and focuses less on application.
It is horrifying how hospitals are now giving package deals on knee replacement surgeries, diabetes is starting earlier in youth and yet our elders get trapped in the Gyaan and Bhakti part of our tradition while ignoring that an uncomfortable body can only reside an uncomfortable mind. The most harmful decisions seniors make is to stop socialising and being part of their community events. This leads them to stop taking basic necessary physical efforts required in grooming, walking etc. which spirals into sedentary lifestyles, anxiety, memory loss and joint pain.
All religions indirectly enforce abstinence or some effort to reach holy places to help strengthen our will power. So, one way or another, our rigidity in mental attitudes to resist or not prioritise exercise, reflects in the rigidity that sets in the body.
Is exercise needed as I age?
Exercise is needed at every stage of our lives. The type, intensity and duration changes. In fact, the more we advance in age, the more necessary it becomes to keep ourselves moving to avoid muscle atrophy (deterioration of muscles due to lack of use).
Does age matter or can we all be young at heart?
I’m the first to advocate to my age group when I hear laments like “Oh, we’re old now” that age is just a number. But after 60 there are some realities about the physical body that should be honoured. The joints needn’t be unnecessarily taxed unless you have been active all your life, followed a healthy diet and have strong surrounding muscles. So, unless you have marathoning goals as a challenge for yourself, running, weight training etc could be avoided. If you wish to try a new workout, let your body guide you. If it feels more painful than pleasant, may be it’s not what you need.
I tried Yoga and didn’t like it. What alternatives are safe and beneficial for me?
Firstly, not everyone has to enjoy Yoga instantly or ever. It is perfectly natural to have a personal preference that motivates you to exercise.
Having said that, ask yourself why you didn’t like Yoga when you tried it. Was the teacher not customising it enough for your level and body capacity? Was it too slow or too discouraging to ever attempt again? Were you in receptive enough to make a lifestyle change at that point? Was it too ‘spiritual’ for a logical mind like you? Did you simply not like or understand the teacher’s instructions or felt their knowledge was lacking?
Whatever your reasons to discontinue were, Yoga needs patience, effort, willingness, and consistency. If any of this was missing from your end, it would have felt like tasting a bite from a buffet and deciding the catering is not up to the mark.
Beyond this, Yoga may still not be your choice of movement. There are lovely, safer options such as Walking, Qigong Tai Chi, Aqua therapy, Laughter Clubs, Dance, Heritage and Religious Walks, Pilgrimages, Errands to the bank, Grocery Shopping, Household Chores, Gardening, right active sports such as Table Tennis, Golf, Swimming or anything that makes your body move and makes you sleep with a sense of accomplishment and sweet exhaustion.
Here’s hoping more seniors look forward to their mornings and find their post-Yoga-class smile.
Next issue: Pranayams and Yoga Basics