The New Yoga for People Over 50: A Comprehensive Guide for Midlife & Older Beginners

The New Yoga for People Over 50: A Comprehensive Guide for Midlife & Older Beginners

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by Suza Francina

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Many seniors are searching for ways to improve their quality of life and remain active as they enter midlife and later years. Nationwide, people are recognizing yoga for its ability to slow down and reverse the aging process. A complete health system, yoga not only restores vitality to the body, but also expands the mind and soul. Yoga transforms the years after 50


Many seniors are searching for ways to improve their quality of life and remain active as they enter midlife and later years. Nationwide, people are recognizing yoga for its ability to slow down and reverse the aging process. A complete health system, yoga not only restores vitality to the body, but also expands the mind and soul. Yoga transforms the years after 50 from a time of deterioration to one of increased perspective and illumination.

In The New Yoga for People Over 50, readers will learn how the health of the spine and posture affect every sustem of the body, and how yoga positions and breathing exercises benefit the circulatory system, the heart and other vital organs, relieve menopausal symptoms, and remove stiffness and inertia from the body. In this comprehensive guide, Iyengar yoga expert Suza Francina describes and illustrates how to begin and maintain a yoga program through personal stories and over 100 easy-to-follow instructional photos of older teachers and students.

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Chapter One

Our Changing View of Aging:

How Expectations Determine Outcome

We need to change our idea of what aging is. If I know my biological potential is 130 years, then I donÆt consider myself middle-aged until IÆm 65. . . . One of the great principles of mind/body medicine is that expectancies determine outcome. If you expect to remain strong in old age, you will.

—Deepak Chopra M.D., Ageless Body, Timeless Mind

As a society and as individuals, we can expect that our notions of aging will continue to change dramatically in the years ahead. Leading pioneers in the field of mind/body medicine such as Deepak Chopra, M.D., an endocrinologist, bestselling author and internationally recognized authority on how our consciousness affects our health, urge us to consider the power that our beliefs about aging have over us. The latest research shows that how we age has more to do with our belief system and mindset about aging than any other factor.

In the last several decades, gerontologists have proved that remaining active throughout life halts the loss of muscle and skeletal tissue. The news is spreading among older people that they should continue all the activities they enjoyed in earlier years—walking, hiking, bicycling, gardening, golf, tennis, karate, swimming, dancing, yoga—you name it. Not long ago, a wild, 100-year-old daredevil named S.L. Potter, defying age, common sense and the fears of his physician and children, made his first bungee jump from a 210-foot tower. Further evidence that we are redefining what is appropriate in old age were photographs in the news of two of AmericaÆs oldest sisters, Sarah and Elizabeth Delany, then ages 102 and 104—one practicing Shoulderstand, the other stretching in a yoga pose with one foot behind her head.

What happens when we change our old expectations about aging? Gerontologists from Tufts University found out when they put a group of the frailest nursing home residents, ages 87 to 96, on a weight-training regimen. Traditionally doctors believed that this type of elderly person belonged in bed, in a rocker or wheelchair out on the porch or in front of the television. Exercise would exhaust or kill these fragile people. Instead, they thrived. Within eight weeks muscle tone improved by 300 percent. Coordination and balance improved as well. Most important, these elderly peopleÆs confidence in being active returned. Some of them who had not been able to walk unassisted could now get up and go to the bathroom by themselves—an act of reclaimed dignity and independence that cannot be underestimated.

With Yoga, the Body Remains
Open and Flexible

The accepted view of the aging process has been one of stiffening, rigidity and closing down. Without proper exercise, the body contracts and we lose height, strength and flexibility. As a result, our natural free range of motion is restricted so daily activities become difficult and in some cases impossible. Yoga exercises reverse the aging process by moving each joint in the body through its full range of motion—stretching, strengthening and balancing each part. Most popular forms of weight bearing exercise contract muscles and tighten the musculoskeletal system, adding to the stiffness that normally settles into the body with the passage of time. In our youth-oriented culture, obsessed with thinness, we tighten the muscles to make the body look firmer. What is much more important, however, especially as we grow older, is opening and expanding the body so that the aging process is tempered. Insurance companies, gerontologists, cardiologists, senior exercise physiologists and other health care professionals interested in preventing chronic illness and disability in the older population are becoming increasingly interested in what yoga has to offer older people.

Chronological vs. Biological Age

According to Age Wave authors Ken Dychtwald and Joe Flowers, 100 million Americans are changing what we think about aging. Today, there are more older people alive than ever before, and increasing numbers of them are over 85. As the population grows older, we are discovering that chronological age is only one way to measure aging, and perhaps the least accurate one. Chronological age matches what physiologists refer to as our ôbiological ageö only when we are very young. As the years pass by, biological time slows down; the older you are the more slowly you age. By the time we enter midlife, biological age becomes less significant than qualities like zest, energy, enthusiasm, confidence and contentment. In over 20 years of teaching yoga to people of all ages, shapes, sizes and temperaments, IÆve seen wide variations in the ways human beings change.

In the 1970s, the American Medical AssociationÆs Committee on Aging concluded a 10-year study by declaring that it had not found a single physical or mental condition that could be directly attributed to the passage of time. Stress- and diet-related conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, arthritis, osteoporosis, loss of muscle strength, reduction in motor fitness (i.e., balance, flexibility, agility, power and reaction time), reduction in respiratory reserves (breathing capacity), constipation and diseases associated with elimination, diabetes, sleep disorders and depression are experienced by young and old alike.

We now know that many of the classic symptoms of aging are caused by inactivity or the wrong type of activity (i.e., mechanical, imbalanced forms of exercise that strain the body), inadequate nutrition and accumulated stress and tension. Even such common outer symptoms of aging—poor posture, rounded shoulders, dowagerÆs hump, closed chest, stiffness and loss of mobility—originate when we are younger and become increasingly pronounced as the years go by.

Health and Aging

Our aging population is increasingly concerned about the availability and affordability of adequate health care. A growing number of people are realizing that what we refer to as our ôHealth-Care System,ö which consists primarily of medical doctors, surgeons, drugs and hospitals, should be more accurately labeled as our ôIll-Health-Care System.ö

Medical services have become very efficient at diagnosing what is wrong with older people. Physician services and the advent of antibiotics have given doctors excellent control of infectious diseases. Hospital and surgical services for illness and injuries have become so proficient that many who would have died at 50, 60 or 70 now live longer.

Many people assume that because the elderly are living longer, they are in good health. Certainly a small percentage of them are, but many aging people suffer from serious and disabling health problems. A closer look at older people who have been saved by modern medicine finds that a high percentage of them are suffering from degenerative diseases. Arthritis, osteoporosis, heart disease, chronic fatigue, cataracts, macular (visual)degeneration, diabetes and cancer are common. While traditional medicine offers drugs, surgery and other methods to treat degenerative diseases, it does not offer the means to prevent them.

Statistics from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services demonstrate that Americans are not the healthiest people in the world. For example:

Men in 22 countries have a longer life expectancy

American women rank seventh in longevity

Our adult mortality rate is eleventh in the world

Dental disease affects 98 percent of people of all ages

Cancer strikes 930,000 Americans annually

There are 440,000 cancer deaths per year

Each year 19 million people get heart disease and 750,000 die from it (37 percent of all deaths)

High blood pressure affects 28 million people

Arthritis affects 30 million; bursitis affects another 30 million

Five to 8 million people have asthma, cataracts, diabetes or migraines

One million people have kidney stones

Eight prescriptions are written each year for every person in the United States, and even more for the elderly. Older people have been known to take as many as 30 different medications during the last year of their life. Each year in the U.S., medication problems are the cause of more than 250,000 hospitalizations for people 65 and older.

People are no longer content to be shuffled from doctor to doctor, only to be told that their illness, pain or degeneration is normal for their age, and to go home, take their medication and get plenty of rest. Our present primary health-care delivery system, which until recently has ignored prevention and health, is failing us at a cost of billions. This is the reason ôalternativeö health systems are now becoming mainstream. Chiropractic, homeopathy, herbs, acupuncture, massage, nutrition, Ayurvedic medicine, yoga and others are coming into their own as people share positive experiences with these health systems. These more holistic therapies are safe and generally offer a less expensive means of helping people suffering from many acute and chronic conditions. They are restorative in nature, help to recharge and revitalize the bodyÆs precious stores of energy, and thus help to prevent illness, disease and degeneration.

Yoga offers a uniquely holistic approach to health. This ancient science, with its deep roots in Ayurvedic medicine, is truly the most complete system of self-health care that exists. The best part of it is that it is something you do to yourself, for yourself. It is an active, rather than a passive, approach to keeping yourself healthy and fit.

As I grow older, it is liberating and exhilarating to feel more freedom of movement, openness and extension in my joints and muscles than back in my younger years. As a teacher, I find it a continual revelation to see how the bodies of people of all ages respond to yoga and proper exercise.

Betty Eiler: After 50,

Include Yoga in Your Lifestyle

My general health, well-being and joy in life have increased immeasurably. It seems to me that the most important thing that seniors can do to enhance their lives is to change their lifestyle to include yoga with experienced and qualified instructors. To have it work for each of us, we must DO IT frequently.

I have had many inspiring experiences working with students over the age of 50. They involve all aspects of healing, including reduction of rheumatoid arthritis; recovery from frequent headaches, numbness in hands; backaches; and remission of multiple sclerosis.

Those who have the discipline to stay for six months or more report their increased feeling of well-being and enthusiasm for life. Their range of movement increases dramatically, enabling many to return to physical activities they thought were lost forever: gardening, climbing uphill, biking, reaching and bending, and simply sitting comfortably on the floor.

The wonderful progress people in this age range make has inspired me to start taking ôbeforeö pictures of the ones I believe will make a commitment to yoga. After six months or so, we can document their progress with ôafterö pictures. The changes might be dramatic or subtle. People often forget how they felt or looked pre-yoga.

As for myself, I began yoga approximately 13 years ago, and some of the changes I have experienced are:

My mild scoliosis disappeared.

My shoe size slowly moved from a 61/2 N to now an 81/2 N or B, and the flat footprints of my childhood are now footprints with arches.

My seated poses, such as sitting with the soles of my feet together (Baddha Konasana), were once with rounded back and knees very elevated. My knees now touch the floor without wall support (on a stretched-out day).

I am comfortable doing the Lotus in Headstand (Pindasana).

At age 52, for the first time in my life, I did the Splits (Hanumasana), and at age 55 I did a mid-room, Full Arm Balance (Adho Mukha Vrksasana), dropping back to the Upward Bow (Urdhva Dhanurasana).

¬1997. All rights reserved. Reprinted from The New Yoga for People Over 50 by Suza Francina. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442.

Meet the Author

Suza Francina is a certified Iyengar yoga instructor with over 20 years of experience in the field of yoga and exercise therapy. Francina is the author of Yoga for People Over 50 and is director of the Ojai Yoga Center in Ojai, California, where she specializes in classes and workshops for people over 50.

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New Yoga for People Over 50: A Comprehensive Guide for Midlife & Older Beginners 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
My aunt (a flourishing over-50 yoga devotee) recently sent me (a very stiff 33-year old beginner) a copy of Suza Francina¿s marvelous book, The New Yoga for People Over 50. I previously acquired Mira Mehta's authoritative How to Use Yoga, which I find quite instructive and aspire to begin using (yoga isn¿t as easy as it looks, folks!). However, I don't believe anything could inspire me as much as seeing and reading the testimonials of so many over-50 yoga practitioners in Francina¿s book; their execution of some of the more challenging postures is absolutely mind-altering! Francina¿s book and her work in general are truly a blessing. Bolstered by the knowledge The New Yoga for People Over 50 has given me I have begun 'converting' my mother, who frequents the weight machines at the gym. She is a fit and vibrant 54-year old, but her hectic lifestyle, which includes a six-day work week (she owns a business) needs the addition of yoga to ensure her health and longevity. This book is a wonderful, invaluable tool for everyone, regardless of age. I hope to catch up with Francina¿s octogenarian students within a few years!!! With Francina and her students as examples, I expect I will do just that ¿ and anyone who reads this book will be motivated to set a similar goal: feel better and live longer with yoga!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had a frozen shoulder and went to therapy for a year with little or no relief from it. I bought a beginners tape of yoga and began doing Yoga and within 3 months, my shoulder became flexible again and I felt younger and more vibrant. It also gave my body a sense of peace and well being. I recommend Yoga to anyone desiring a heathier body and mind. I enjoy your newletters. They are always very interesting and informative. Shan
4aussiegirl More than 1 year ago
THE NEW YOGA FOR PEOPLE OVER 50 A comprehensive guide for Midlife & Older Beginners By: Suza Francina Suza said “it’s been over 20 years since she wrote her first edition of yoga over 50”. She also says “her students who began yoga after age 60 are the most dedicated and have the best attendance” Suza said “it’s because they told her they don’t dare miss and they don’t dare quit”! My question is I am 67 years old how do you start out what is the first step to get ready to do the yoga the best way and for your health? The chapter that caught my eyes was chapter 8 Wow Yoga Techniques to Prevent or Overcome “ARTHRITS” yep that chapter was for me for sure. It talks about Respect Pain, Balance Work and Rest, Breath Properly, Maintain Muscle Strength and Range of Motion there’s a lot she has for arthritis really looks helpful. Some of the pictures shown I am sure are advanced students and teachers because they are in positions way advanced unless you kept exercising all your life and kept your muscles in tone. I’ll be honest I stopped exercising when I moved to FL. It surprises me how tired I am compared to when I exercised. To tell you the truth I read this chapter and now I am doing yoga for my arthritis and in time I pray I won’t have joint pain and I’ll have more energy, along with my arthritis yoga I will add other yoga to it as get better at yoga. Yoga is also great for your health, mind, spirit and soul. Also in this beautiful book it has a student program for arthritis for hips, knees and toes and hands this has great yoga for helping all parts of your body. There is a chapter on props to help you with yoga until you can do it without the props or keep using the props your choice. This is really a wonderful book. I have so many pages marked to go to when I want to add to the yoga I am already doing. I recommend this book highly. This beautifully written book has all kinds of Yoga for people over 50. If you want better health and learn to breathe right and of course if you have arthritis like I do this book is for you!! I really love doing the yoga and funny I find I can do my hand yoga anywhere and you can do your breathing anywhere and maybe I’ll learn some of the other yoga for my arthritis can be done anywhere too. I do my Yoga in chapter 8 every day one day I may have no pain in my body because of doing yoga every day. I received this book free from Health Communications, Inc for an honest review. I was not required to give a positive review just an honest one. The opinions I have expressed are entirely my own and no one else’s. HAPPY YOGA TO YOU!!! 5 Stars ISBN 13-978-1-55874-453-0
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Just wanted to let you know that I did not purchase this book. I periodically receive emails regarding recent purchases and generally, they are not regarding books that I have actually purchased. I'm sure this is no big deal, but just for your information, I have never purchased this book.... Thanks... Michelle Sargent Community Relations Manager Store #2811 Barnes & Noble