Yoga as ‘an old person’s sport’

Tied into the request for questions about yoga and aging we noted yesterday is this piece now up at the New York Times. (In one of those Internet vagaries, I’m not sure how it wasn’t prominently attached to the piece we linked to yesterday.)

Yoga and aging has been a central theme at both of the Ashtanga Yoga Confluences. At this year’s event, I’d hazard a guess that at least a third of the questions on the subject came from people who have yet to face it for real. They’re just getting prepared.

I suppose it is good that it’s on people’s minds. It may be a difference between the first wave of Westerners who took up asana practices and the second, who had the benefit of that first group’s knowledge and guidance (and mistakes).

From the piece:

Dr. Fishman noted that aging brings impairments of range, motion, strength and balance that can require modifications, even among veteran yogis, like using the support of a chair or the wall for many poses. In addition, students may begin to feel the effects of arthritis, injuries and other ailments that may require students skip certain poses altogether.

Someone with osteoporosis, for example, may want to avoid headstands and poses requiring extreme spinal flexion or extension, while someone with glaucoma may want to avoid taking the head below the heart in poses like headstand, handstand, shoulder stand and standing forward bends. When in doubt about the safety of practicing with any specific medical condition, Dr. Fishman recommended working with a doctor.

Fishman is the one who will be answering questions, to be posted next week.

One thing I note is that the only “style” of yoga I see is Iyengar. I assume its slowness and deliberate nature appear more suited to the aging yogi. And that may leave Ashtanga out, a bit. I’ll be curious as to which questions Fishman answers and just how the whole thing seems to define “yoga.”

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

9 thoughts on “Yoga as ‘an old person’s sport’”

    1. “Those of us who deal in science, even the most enlightened of us, have a strong and objectionable tendency to hubris. Hubris for scientists comes from an inadequate knowledge and appreciation of the past. Discoveries are thus made and claimed that are really rediscovered – not new advances at all, but history lessons. I have to concede priority to people who came before me. Rediscovery is every bit as good as discovery, If what is rediscovered is important and was forgotten. It is better still when the rediscovered information has the capacity to improve the lives of those around us.”-From the book THE SECOND BRAIN by Michael D. Gershon, M.D.

      1. We seem to have become a society that needs permission to do anything from Phd’s, doctors, accountants, lawyers, politicians etc. We’ve gone away from just trying things to needing permission to try things. I”ll stick with the medical topic here using a quote by a U.S. Army doctor that has been involved in really far out experimental medicine on the most severly burned U.S. soldiers

        “”Why answer a question with another question? Just do the experiment.”-Colonel Holcomb MD

  1. The advice in the NYT article to work with a doctor goes against some ways of thinking about western medicine in ashtanga circles (that going to a doctor when injured should be avoided and that the practice can heal better than a doctor–I’ve heard this expressed many times over years of practicing), but I think we’re in a period when more and more people could learn from an ashtanga teacher and a doctor without that being a conflict. I should be clear that I think western medicine is, in many way, not perfect. I have many drug allergies and so I often try to heal myself using ayurvedic herbs or in other ways before I go to a doctor. But, today there are western doctors who are incorporating knowledge about nutrition or eastern medicine as part of the way they treat patients. There are also doctors who have been dancers or practice yoga themselves. I think of posts on this blog about doing the practice while working with back pain–those posts, for me, point to new possibilities for learning from medicine but also doing one’s ashtanga practice. I’m interested in ways people start to learn from medicine and ashtanga without having to choose one or the other. So thanks for the links to these articles (although I’m always skeptical when the NYT is writing about yoga, for good reason!).

    1. Well my own blog just bit me! It lost a fairly lengthen reply to you.

      I basically noted that Nancy Gilgoff has her story about contracting a nasty intestinal worm and going to her ayuvedic guy (might have been a Chinese medicine guy) who told her, “Stupid American! Go to your doctor and when you’re better come back and we’ll get your system back in balance.”

      The point being: We are fortunate to be able to take the best of different perspectives. We probably are at a fortunate time, which I think you suggest as well.

      And as for the NYT, I tend to post its stuff because it drives other media — and so it is a safe assumption that nonpractitioners might, eventually, see some version of what the NYT publishes. But I hear ya about the skepticism.

      Thanks for the comment. It adds a nice perspective here.


    2. I’m not against modern western medicine but we are a million miles away from an integrated approach. The vast majority of doctors don’t even practice any form of preventative medicine. It’s a well known fact that patients in the care that practice integrated medicine live healthier lives but unfortunately the system is not ready for this approach. When your doctor shares information with all your health care professionals you immediately have an increased health experience because there is a better chance for error detection. Unfortunately we still have a system where you have to advocate for yourself for proper care and if you are unable to someone else has to do it for you and if you don’t have that good luck! Beyond integrated medicine we have the holistic approach also. Some doctors are open to this approach but there are very, very few. Conventional wisdom rules in the field of medicine which is too bad because medicine is an art. There are some doctors out there that will listen to you, understand your needs, work with you as a team and monitor your status over the long term to make better decisions. When you find a doctor really willing not to push their own biased decisions upon you then you are working with the right person but don’t hold your breath. I’ve only met one doctor that said, “I don’t know but together we’ll find out.” It’s too bad that doctor was a geneticist and not a primary care doctor.

      “St. Peter sat at the gates of heaven with his new smart phone admitting souls one after the other. A woman was next in line and she had been waiting an eternity. The line stretched behind her as far as you could see. All of a sudden a man in a white coat and stethascope around his neck elbowed her out of the way and walked straight into heaven. The woman complained to St. Peter and said, “who is that? Aren’t you going to stop him!” St. Peter answered, “don’t worry about him it’s just god he thinks he’s a doctor.”

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