I have the pleasure of teaching several chair yoga classes each week, and my senior yogis are some of my most committed students. On many an occasion I’ve been inspired by their determination to get to class and to keep moving in their 80s and 90s. If we wish to enjoy a healthy old age, this commitment to movement is essential and not just for physical health.
Brain, body and mind are part of the same system, which works much better all round when we move.
In this blog I’m going to share with you some of the key pointers for healthy ageing and why it’s vital to move more from mid-life onwards.
An embodied approach to wellbeing
In her recently published book Move: The New Science of Body over Mind, Caroline Williams argues that movement plays a crucial role in not only our physical wellbeing, but in its contribution to our cognitive abilities and emotional lives too.
Our brains operate like a ‘chatroom’, orchestrating a constant dialogue between body and mind.
This embodied approach, similar to yoga’s holistic body-mind approach to wellbeing, sees our conscious selves as grounded in the body and its senses: our brains operate like a ‘chatroom’, orchestrating a constant dialogue between body and mind which in turn constitutes our mental life: brain, body and mind are part of the same system, which works much better all round when we move. And yet we are moving much less now than our ancestors did, and at the same time we are living longer. At the very point in our 50s and 60s when we should be upping daily activity levels, we may simultaneously be dealing with a number of transitions and life events, all of which may encroach on and potentially derail exercise routines.
Yoga: a brain-body-mind toolbox to draw on throughout life
So this has got me thinking. We should start everyone young on yoga so that it becomes a form of exercise that we are familiar with: a brain-body-mind toolbox for us to draw on throughout life. I’m thinking of one that we can take with us, in various forms, ranging from a strong dynamic practice right through to gentler forms of yoga, including and most importantly accessible and seated yoga. These gentler options become even more important as we recover from injury or ill-health, with our usual exercise routines potentially disrupted; and most importantly, if we wish to stay as fit and healthy as possible into our advanced years.
A yoga and movement manifesto to keep your brain, body and mind in tip-top shape
These few suggestions see movement as nutrition for brain, body and mind, rather than a chore to be ticked off each day or week:
• Make time for movement: it is a necessity not a luxury. There are emerging links between a healthy immune system and moving through the full range of motion: fluids, such as lymph, flow more easily around the body and inflammation is kept in check. Yoga poses (Asanas) focus on particular organs and stated benefits often include ‘squeezing’; adopting this view, yoga encourages fluid movement in the fascia, thus helping to keep our organs in optimal health.
There are emerging links between a healthy immune system and moving through the full range of motion.
• Movement practices, such as yoga, need to be elevated to the same position as talking therapies. Yoga flow sequences, moving with the breath, play a key role in promoting mental health and emotional wellbeing, most especially in groups. Find ways to move that you enjoy and make you feel strong, preferably in a lovely, friendly accessible yoga class!
Yoga flow sequences play a key role in promoting mental health and emotional wellbeing.
• After an injury or life event which derails your usual movement routine, get back into it as soon as you’re safely able to. This may mean finding a new teacher for a time, perhaps one who teaches gentle yoga or accessible and/or chair yoga, especially if you’re returning after a serious injury or diagnosis of a medical condition. A few one-to-one classes can be beneficial here too.
Movement, in whatever capacity you’re physically capable of, will make a substantial difference to your physical, mental and emotional health. There is no better moment than now to get moving, enjoy!