Aging Gracefully with Yoga
Have you ever wondered how many people over sixty years old are comfortable balancing on one foot (for more than five seconds), or how many enjoy the feeling of stretching backwards over an exercise ball, or even how many can get into a squat position and stay there?
These three poses are valuable for anyone, regardless of age. By keeping our balance we protect ourselves from falls, we stand straighter and are stronger. By stretching backwards over a large ball, we lengthen our spine and open our chest, which helps us breath deeply, energizing and revitalizing us.
My favorite pose of these three is the squat. Randolph Stone, DC, DO, ND, the founder of Polarity Therapy and Yoga believed in the benefits of the squat so much he called the squat “Youth Posture.” He taught at least seven variations, and believed that along with healthy eating, receiving polarity therapy and bodywork, and meditation that the squat is essential for our health.
Why? Practicing the squat regularly stimulates the downward current of elimination and thus improves digestion. When you squat you are stretching the achilles tendon; By stretching and lengthening the lower back you are easing pressure on the sacrum at the bottom of the spine. You are enhancing the flow of energy (a central focus in Polarity Therapy) because the proximity of the calves, thighs, solar plexus and chest is similar to the fetal position. Additionally, the squat posture assists in concentration, focus, a feeling of being grounded, and is soothing and rejuvenating.
The modern dance company I founded in the 1980s in Philadelphia, Agape Dancers, used the squat pose frequently in our choreography. Sometimes we were still, sometimes swiveling side to side, as we hummed or “toned.”
There are, however, different degrees of comfort in the pose. For people who have difficulty squatting, making a rocking motion while in the pose can help acclimate hips and legs. For some, resting the heels on yoga blocks or tennis balls make the pose possible, and even comfortable. Those with painful knees and varicose veins will find it difficult and possibly contraindicated, although placing a small folded towel under the knees decreases the strain. Another way to play with the pose is to rest arms on large exercise ball, or to face a partner, hold each other’s wrists, stretching and counterbalancing each other.
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