Our “Just One Pose” posts answer the question: “If I have time to do just one pose, what should it be?” If your time to do just one pose is right before or just after your workout, Warrior III is your answer.
This pose strengthens your lower leg, thighs, hips, and core, while stretching your hamstrings. Practicing it dynamically—pulsing in and out with the breath—will warm up and loosen your hip and thigh, a good preparation for movement. (Such warmups are increasingly important as we age.) And holding the pose for several breaths after your workout will improve your balance and core strength, setting you up to perform even better in the next workout.
Shift your weight into one foot, lifting the other foot behind you while holding your body in a long line from your raised foot through your head. Work to keep your hips square—don’t let your top hip lift—and your spine long and supported by your core. If you’re feeling stiffer or wobbly, keep your back foot near or on the ground. If you’re feeling loose or steady, lower your chest and lift your back leg toward parallel with the floor.
For a dynamic warmup: connect the movement with your breath. Exhale to lift your leg and lower your chest; inhale to lift your chest and lower your leg. Repeat for 10–20 breaths on one side before doing the other.
For a core/balance challenge: come to Warrior III and hold for 5–15 breaths. To sweeten the pose, rest your hands on your hips or in prayer position. To add spice, spread your arms to a T, or stretch them overhead, creating a long line from your raised foot to your fingers. Switch sides.
Bone health begins to decline as we age. This is true for men and women although osteoporosis, and its precursor osteopenia, are more prevalent in women. Living an active, healthy lifestyle can help prevent bone density loss, but there are risk factors that we can’t control, like genetics. According the the National Osteoporosis Foundation, 54 million people have low bone density. They estimate that after age 50, half of all women and a fourth of all men deal with bone issues—like fractures—due to osteoporosis.
So where does yoga come in? Yoga is a useful tool for maintaining healthy bones and staying agile in aging. A recent study lends credibility to the assertion that yoga can even improve bone density, reversing some bone density loss. Yoga also builds muscle and strengthens balance, so you’re more secure on your feet, lowering the risk of falling.
Some poses that may be especially useful for bone health are balance poses, like tree; lunge poses like the warrior poses; extension poses like locust and camel, and supine leg-stretching poses (on-your-back poses that involve moving your legs in various directions).
It’s important to know, too, that there are some yoga poses and movements that are contraindicated for osteoporosis. If you have received a diagnosis of osteoporosis or osteopenia, there are some poses that you’ll want to be careful practicing. There are also poses you’ll want to abstain from doing altogether. Here’s a quick primer to help you modify for safety when you’re practicing in a group class.
What might be offered: Traditional sun salutations, which are typical in a lot of yoga classes, include standing forward folds. Many classes also include a round of seated forward folds toward the end of the practice.
What to do instead: Instead of folding forward from standing, squat to move downward. Or keep a long, straight spine and lean forward, but don’t fold. When sitting, work to sit tall and maintain a long spine, but opt out of moving your heart toward your legs. Instead, sit, engage your core, and work on building your posture.
What might be offered: Twists might be offered throughout a yoga practice in seated poses, supine poses, and in lunge poses.
What to do instead: There’s conflicting information about whether twists help or harm spinal bones. Err on the side of caution and twist very lightly. Don’t “force” a twist and stop at the first sign of discomfort. Come out of any twist very carefully, and avoid jerky or rapid movements.
Jumping or kicking movements
What might be offered: Jumping from one pose to another (like downward-facing dog to standing) or kicking up to a handstand.
What to do instead: Walk forward, don’t jump. Opt out of handstand; instead, explore downward-facing dog, and add challenge by lifting one leg at a time. If doing full downward-facing dog isn’t in your practice, explore variations at the wall or using a chair.
What might be offered: Poses like shoulderstand, plow, and headstand might be offered in a class. These poses are contraindicated because they can compress the bones of the cervical spine.
What to do instead: Try a gentler, but similar, pose. Choose bridge pose instead of shoulderstand and plow. Instead of headstand, try rabbit pose or rest in child’s pose.
(Some) core poses
What might be offered: Boat pose is a commonly-offered core pose in yoga. Building core strength is important for preventing falls, so you’ll want to include core-strengthening poses in your practice. Boat is contraindicated for osteoporosis, though, as this pose places your body weight on just your tailbone and sitting bones.
Yoga is good medicine for our bones as we age. Choosing the right poses for your practice takes knowledge, but doing yoga offers big results. You can expect to find future posts on this blog focused on sequences, poses, and routines for bone health.
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Tamsin, a yoga teacher in Ottawa, writes:
I am often confronted with masters athletes who attend yoga classes, seemingly randomly, and complain of getting injured. Or they may have been injured or are nursing injuries and are not sure if they can even do yoga or if they should. Is there generic guidance we can give them about the type of classes to attend? For example, maybe avoid hot or warm classes or anything with the word power in it.
Typically, I talk to them about how the practice of yoga can lead them to greater awareness of their body’s needs. However, many go to classes that I feel may be inappropriate and that are not geared to older athletes.
Many athletes come to yoga because they are injured and unable to enjoy their regular workouts. If you drop a tight masters athlete with an excess of energy and a type-A mentality into a fast-moving class that doesn’t spend time on alignment, you’re asking for trouble!
Every athlete should advocate for her- or himself when choosing a class. Alexandra’s Styles of Yoga: A Primer will get you started. As Tamsin says, the word power should set off alarm bells if you are injured or newer to yoga. Aging athletes who find themselves in a heated or fast-paced class can get swept up in the intensity, caving to a sense of competition, and creating all kinds of problems.
Just as you’d add cayenne pepper to a dish slowly, tasting as you go, it’s always best to start with a more mellow approach and add intensity sparingly. Overdoing your work on the mat can aggravate an existing injury or create a new one.
If you are new to yoga, look for the key words gentle, beginner, restorative, and alignment when choosing a class. While these classes may be physically less vigorous, they offer you a range of challenges to keep your mind present and your breath flowing. Developing these skills will ensure your longevity as an athlete, whatever your body is capable of doing.
Sometimes students complain that a gentler class is boring. “Not so,” I correct them. “You were bored in the class.” One of the many benefits of aging is developing the powers of discernment and attention, which help you stay mindful in every situation. Try a gentler approach and you may find yourself doing better in your next workout—and enjoying it more.
A few weeks back, Sage posted about consistency and variety. It’s important to establish a regular yoga practice, and it’s equally as important to make sure your yoga practice doesn’t get so routine that it stops helping you grow. Sometimes the yoga we need in order to grow is the kind that is physically challenging—we find ourselves a little sore a couple of days later. Just as important, though, is relaxing, restoring, and using yoga as a tool for recovery (whether that recovery is from a hard training session or from a weekend with grandchildren.)
There are many restorative yoga poses. Sage offered one last week: Legs up the Wall. My other favorite restorative poses are the ones offered below. They allow you to passively open your chest and shoulders (supported fish), gently support your body in a twist (supported twist), sweetly open the side body (supported side stretch) and turn on your parasympathetic nervous system (supported bridge pose—or really all of them!)
As we move into warmer spring weather and get more active, it’s important to take time to unwind, relax, and get quiet. Your body needs it to continue to get stronger and your mind (and spirit) needs it, too.
To explore these poses, gather a bolster, block, and a mat. If you have an eye pillow handy, even better!
Supported fish pose: Lie on your back. Position the bolster raised on an incline on a block. Place the small of your back against a bolster and lie back on it. An eye pillow on the eyes may feel nice, too. Want more options? Check out this post on supported fish, too.
Supported twist: Sit with legs curled to one side. Place bolster with the short-side to your hips. Twist body and drape your belly and chest over the bolster. Your head can turn the opposite direction of your knees for more twisting, as I’m showing here. It may also feel nice to place a block between your knees. (Repeat this on the other side.)
Supported side stretch: Sit with legs curled to one side. Place your bolster with the short-side to your hip. Stretch the side of your body onto the bolster. Your top arm should drape alongside your ear. It may be nice to hold on to the bolster with that hand. Your bottom arm can settle under your head or drop in front of the bolster, if that is comfortable. (Repeat this on other side.)
Supported bridge pose: This version of bridge offers support for the hips. Place a bolster or a block underneath your pelvis. Stretch arms out to the sides and relax. An eye pillow over the eyes might be nice, too. For a deeper release at the front of your hips, try straightening your legs.
Our Just One Pose posts answer the question, “If I have time for just one pose, what should it be?” If your goal is to relax, Legs up the Wall may be a good candidate—or it may not, so please read on.
Elevating your legs helps relieve interstitial swelling in your ankles and feet—the puffiness that comes after a long, hot day or workout. The weight of your legs helps settle your pelvis and back, and spreading your arms yields a passive stretch for your chest. Staying in the pose for several minutes while watching your breath engages your parasympathetic nervous system, inviting the relaxation response.
Sit close to a wall or a closed and locked door. Swivel onto one hip and swing your feet up the wall. If your hamstrings are tight, you may need to keep your rear end farther from the wall. Keep your neck long, spread your arms to a comfortable position, and stay a while—five to fifteen minutes.
For less pressure on your back and hamstrings: take your calves to a sofa cushion, chair seat, or coffee table instead.
For deeper inversion: add a block or bolster under your pelvis, bringing it slightly higher than your chest.
The elevation of your legs can increase your blood pressure, so if you have high blood pressure, please speak to your health care provider before inverting, even gently. The same thing goes for folks with a history of blood clots. While legs up the wall keeps your heart and head on the same plane, deeper inversions aren’t appropriate for people with glaucoma; again, speak to your health care provider before turning upside down.