Q&A: Key Words

Our Q&A posts are direct answers to your questions. Ask a question in the comments, or by writing agingathletes@gmail.com.

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.

Slower styles give us time to pay attention to detail.
Slower styles give us time to pay attention to detail.

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.