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Yoga- the elderly are loving it

Yoga adapted for 60-year-olds helps get them on their feet and reduces life-threatening falls. The elderly are lapping it up, writes Jaya Shroff.
Hindustan Times | By Jaya Shroff
UPDATED ON APR 12, 2008 11:55 PM IST

The young are coming to yoga centres with the aim to lose flab. But the elderly are not far behind, they want their youth back as well. They feel fit and their ailments, many of which arise from lifestyle problems and neglect at home, are getting resolved. Yoga boosts their self-esteem they say. While some call it ‘addiction’, others say it has become a habit akin to having one’s daily meals, which they cannot afford to skip.

Yoga is the way to a happy, healthy and a long life for the elderly, say experts. “Several studies have shown that yoga has prevented several lifestyle diseases, which come with ageing — namely cardiac, respiratory and bone diseases,” says Dr Subhash Manchanda, former head, cardiology, at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and vice chairman, World Academy of Spiritual Sciences.

Confidence booster

Most senior citizens bury themselves in their homes and gradually start losing confidence post retirement. Without a permanent circle of friends — the loss of the office circle is a big loss — they begin to suffer from low self-esteem. Some start feeling purposeless once their children move out of the home for higher studies or jobs. Yoga gives such elders a new lease of life, a renewed sense of worth and a fresh spurt of confidence. Fifty-nine year-old Amita Kumar, for example, found it difficult to carry on alone. Amita was distraught and directionless when she lost her husband 18 months ago. Thanks to her regular yoga sessions at Bharat Thakur’s artistic yoga classes, she is not just more confident but also more healthy today. Yoga has enhanced her quality of life. She says, she’s ‘addicted’ to it.

Dressed in a white shirt dotted with blue flowers and body-hugging gray slacks, Amita says: “Yoga gets my day started. I not only feel younger but there is an added enthusiasm in everything I do.” The daily dose of yoga gives her the required energy for voluntary social work. Amita works for the uplift of slum girls.

“Yoga works on the principle of psycho-neuro-immunology. There is a large number of hormones which are released when we are happy,” says Dr SC Mahapatra, additional professor, department of physiology at AIIMS. “Psychological benefits cannot be ruled out although this can’t be measured by science.”

All-round health

Is yoga only about de-stressing or does it have health benefits? A few studies offer hope. In 2008, a study conducted over a two-month period on 65 year-olds in the US reveals that Iyengar Yoga showed significant improvement in their balance and stability. The 24 elderly women not only looked fitter, but were more confident when walking and were less likely to fall.

Another US study conducted in 1990 of patients who had coronary heart disease, indicated that a regimen of aerobic exercise and stress reduction, including yoga, combined with a low-fat vegetarian diet, stabilised, and in some cases, reversed arterial blockage.

Yoga indeed comes with a lot of health benefits. Anuj Kumar, yoga trainer at Bharat Thakur’s artistic yoga institute says: “Yoga is perhaps the only form of activity that massages all the internal glands and organs of the body in a thorough manner, including those — such as the prostate — that hardly get externally stimulated during our entire lifetime.” The stimulation and massage of the organs keeps away disease and provide a forewarning at the first possible instance of a likely onset of a disorder, he adds.

Yoga is a sure-shot cure for asthma. For instance, 54-year old Roshni Menon, who could not imagine living without her inhaler, now gets along fine without it. “I have been doing yoga for the last four and half years and I have never had to use my inhaler,” she says happily.

Fifty-two year-old Darshan Kumar agrees with Menon. For him, yoga is a way of life. “I can’t imagine life without it. Earlier I was unable to read or pick up things located at a distance of one metre. I got my eyesight back after I did suryanamaskar for about two years,” he adds.

Look younger

Of Anuj Kumar’s 400 students, about 25 per cent are above 50. “It is very difficult to determine their age, as all of them look young and gorgeous,” he says.

“Yoga has changed me completely. It has pushed back my age by at least 15 years. I have not just shed weight but have also lost 4.5 inches on my waist,” says Roshni.

The story of VV Menon is similar. The tall, broad-built, white-haired gentleman does not reveal his age at first. “You can put my age as 60. Do I look any older?” he asks with a smile. Menon who is in his seventies, has been a yoga enthusiast for a very long time. “Most people in Delhi have to battle with a lot of health problems as soon as they hit 50, but I have never really had to face any,” he adds. “I can do as many as 20-30 suryanamaskars at a go. My blood pressure, sugar levels and cholesterol levels are normal,” he adds.

“It is scientifically proven that yoga can delay the biomarkers — graying of hair, wrinkles etc. Yoga helps people slow down ageing. The elderly look young even at 60,” says Dr Manchanda. Yoga works in other subtle ways, say experts. “Even people with rigid bodies start experiencing a remarkable flexibility in even those parts which they have not consciously worked upon,” says Anuj Kumar. This means that yoga helps loosen up the body and even acts upon areas that have not gone through the drill. When all the limbs are excercised, they work in harmony to create a situation where flexibility is a guarantee, he adds.

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