Yoga and Aging: Is Yoga Practice Different As We Age?


August 22, 2017     injury | Injury Survey

How does yoga practice change with age?

Age and yoga experience

You will certainly find recommendations out there from a variety of angles on what students should or should not do with their yoga practice as they age. But there’s very little information about what practitioners are actually doing differently, if anything, as they age. We were curious about yoga and aging. Specifically was yoga practice being done differently among different age groups? We summarized the practice habits and experiences in four age groups. The age groups included were: 30 years old or younger, 31-45 years old, 46-60 years old, and 61 years or older.

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Methods: A quick lesson on statistics

You might remember from this past post (Injuries in Yoga Adjustments) reporting on information from our survey project that we included the following information to help you understand what we mean when we describe the results of our survey below. In case you missed that post, let’s review some details on statistics. Statistical analysis, in the most general sense, is a method of calculating the likelihood of one particular outcome in a situation given a specific set of circumstances.

There are lots of different formulas for making statistical calculations; different formulas are appropriate in different situations. The specifics are well beyond the scope of a blog post. What’s important is that we explain enough of the methodology that you can understand what we mean when we describe the results of our survey below. You’ll see within the text, this symbol: p=some number. This value, referred to as the “p-value” is the probability that variables in the survey are unrelated; if the p-value is less than 0.05 then we say the two variables are related.

You might remember from our survey summary post, that the greatest percentage of our respondents (n= 2625) were between the age of 31 and 55. You can see the full range of ages in the figure below.

Learn a system for working with injuries

yoga and aging - summary of age groups

Age and aspects of yoga practice

We might start yoga practice for one primary reason and continue on for an entirely different reason or our primary reason for doing the practice might remain basically the same. We were curious about the ways in which yoga and aging might be related. Were practitioners’ reasons for starting a yoga practice related to age group? We did find a relationship between yoga and aging with regard to a primary reason for starting a yoga practice (p=.0016). The percentage of practitioners who reported beginning a yoga practice for physical reasons and for “other” (not specified) reasons increased as age group increased, while the percentage of practitioners who reported starting a practice for mental or emotional reasons decreased as age group increased.

yoga and aging - reason for starting practice

Interestingly, we also found a relationship between age and having taken a yoga philosophy class (p<.0001). The percentage of practitioners who reported having taken a yoga philosophy class increased as age groups increased. Potential benefits of the physical aspects may still draw in older participants. But this suggests there is also a strong interest in the context and philosophy of yoga as we age.

Have you taken yoga philosophy class?

Age and daily habits

A large percentage of every age group reported that they changed daily habits as a result of doing a yoga practice. But it seems that we are a little less likely to change daily habits as we age (p=.0239). The percentage of respondents who reported changing daily habits as a result of yoga practice decreased slightly as age groups increased.

Has yoga changed your habits?

Age and how we practice

“The yoga experiment”, as we practice it in modern times, is actually a fairly recent experiment. There really isn’t any one single answer to the question of yoga and aging. What should older or younger practitioners of yoga do in their asana practice? Just like any other question about yoga asana, the answer depends on the each individual’s situation. We were curious though, about how practitioners are choosing to do their practice across different age groups. We found a relationship between age and self-reported consistency of yoga practice (p<.0001).

As age groups increased, a higher percentage of practitioners reported practicing “consistently” as opposed to “off and on”.

yoga and aging - consistency of practice

Practitioners in different age groups also differed slightly in number of days each week that they practiced with or without a teacher (p<.0001). However these differences were small and not linear. You can see from the tables is that, regardless of age group, practitioners were fairly evenly divided up as far as how many days they practiced each week. That was true whether it was with a teacher or not.

Days per week practice with a teacher

Days per week practice without a teacher

We also found a relationship between age and self-reported average length of an individual practice session (p=.0145). You can see from the table that doing an individual practice session of 2 hours or more decreased as age groups increased.

Average length of practice session

Who is teaching yoga?

We found a relationship between age and likelihood of teaching yoga (p=.0008). The percentage of practitioners reporting that they also teach yoga increased as age groups increased.

Do you teach yoga?

Yoga and aging: experiences

Our survey data suggests that we may have slightly different experiences with yoga asana as we age. We found a relationship between age groups and percentage of respondents reporting a negative experience in yoga practice (p<.0001). Similarly, age was related to experiencing yoga contributing to healing of a pain or injury (p<.0001). And we found age was related to experiencing a physical injury in yoga practice (p<.0001). The percentage of practitioners who reported having a negative experience in yoga decreased as age groups increased.

Have you had negative yoga experience?

Additionally, among those who reported having a negative experience in yoga practice, the percentages of respondents who reported their negative experience specifically as a physical injury went up as age groups increased. But the percentage of respondents whose negative experience was mental, emotional, or relationship related decreased as age groups increased.

Types of negative experiences

In contrast, the percentage of practitioners who reported yoga contributing to healing a pain or injury increased as age groups increased. It seems that older practitioners are slightly less likely to report a negative experience during yoga practice. And they are experiencing significant positive benefits from the practice.

Has yoga contributed to healing?

Perspectives from our survey respondents on yoga and aging and injury

“My injury is part of growing older as I have degenerative arthritis. But poses like lotus have added to this.”

“Not necessarily an injury in the traditional sense but chronic pain in my hip due to teaching and pushing deeper into poses. I have arthritis in my hips and when I push too far in pigeon pose. I started practicing and teaching in my early fifties. Then I discovered with my aging body and my aging students we need a whole different approach to growing into asana. Many poses are inappropriate for older adults particularly if they are just starting a new practice.”

“It was a 50 hours Yin yoga teacher training , the studio was not heated that day (it was a cold winter day) we did seated forward folds with long hold, without warming up (they never do in Yin) I told the teacher I experienced pain in my lower back and she told the whole group (of uber flexible young girls ( I am 65) that in older women the fascia in the lower back becomes stiff. She demonstrated how an old woman walks (this was not how I walked prior to this incident, but after I did for sure)”

“Out of shape 57 year old pushing beyond what my teacher suggested.”

“hamstring attachment injury. Dancers pose, hot yoga. I was only 17”

“I believe I have injured the meniscus in right knee -needs evaluation by a Doc/MRI. Right now-right knee, pain on the medial side of the knee when I externally rotate at the hip and internally rotate the leg at the knee, (as in all postures requiring that movement). I believe I have done this by repeated knee over-rotation, because I am limber enough to do it. I started yoga at age 68, am now nearly 71, that may have been a factor. Both knees are less stable than when I began yoga.”

“I simply overdid physically in a day’s time and the weak link (lower back) in this 57 year old body was injured. This injury (disc) was repaired by the minor surgical procedure called a lumbar microdiscectomy. Note this was the 3rd of 3 injuries to my lower back & each time I had this procedure to repair the disc. The 2 previous times were before I came to yoga practice, but occurred as the result of moving too quickly, too early in the morning.”

“Teacher “assisted” me in paschimottanasana by placing her weight on my back and pushing me deeper. It felt wrong (pain around the sit-bone), but trusted my teacher/didn’t dare to push her off or tell her no (I was young). I suddenly heard/felt a huge crack in my hip and it felt strange after. Took a long time to heal. My injury was probably built over time, doing the Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series almost every day.”

“I injured my shoulders due to practicing on wrong alignment /method under unauthorized ashtanga teacher(but she has YTT). However it could be my age related known as hormonal change could cause frozen shoulder symptom. It seemed to me it was the combination”

Conclusion

Age groups reported some variation in the experience that they’re having in yoga practice. But what seems most interesting to me is how many aspects of practice were similar among age groups. It seems that aging is not keeping people away from yoga. People across age groups are finding benefit from their yoga practice! Do you have an experience that you’d like to share about yoga practice and aging? Drop us a line in the comments.

Comments

  1. Thank you for this article on aging and yoga. I am currently focused in understanding how my body is handling Ashtanga vs less repetitive yoga practices. My yoga colleague (a practioner and instructor, like me), and I work together and it’s interesting – more fun. Interesting, my body responds to Ashtanga so well after I stop practice for a few days. My practice is light, no creaks or groans physically. When I revert to a daily practice, it feels sluggish, slower, and the “small pains” in my back, hamstrings, or wrists distract me. If I practice from a tape (ex. Seane Corne, or go to a Gaia.com), I enjoy the non-repetitive, and the spontaneous differences from Ashtanga. I do not practice Restorative. I like to maintain a strong “Breathing System” in all yoga. At least this doesn’t change even as my body does! Over the past ten years, my Ashtanga practice has evolved, ie. there are many poses that I do not care to do anymore. I’m not interested in even trying. I’m all about enjoying the practice, not conquering it. Again, thank you so much for your work. Someday I hope to be able to attend your class. I live in western Massachusetts. Any interest in coming here? Best regards, Lyn

  2. Pingback: Yoga and Aging: Is Yoga Practice Different As We Age? - Alexandra Vlad