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Fitness and family health

September 28, 2015

Take it to the mat, guys: Yoga for 50-plus men

Looking to expand your fitness routine? Regardless of your age or sex, yoga is a gentle way to promote flexibility and strength.

I’m 53 and new to yoga — and to my surprise, I have really taken to it. My wife tried for years to get me into it, but I simply wasn’t interested. I knew some men embraced it, but I just didn’t see its appeal — even though I had never set foot in a class.

But in March of this year my wife and I joined a health club in our neighbourhood. Having focused so much time and money over the last decade or so on keeping our kids active in soccer, hockey and taekwondo, we had a new commitment to improve our own fitness. I decided right away to work with a personal trainer who designed a weight-training regimen for me and recommended I include yoga among the other activities in my weekly routine. My trainer, Brian Cruz, says he often recommends yoga to his clients, “because it’s a more entertaining way of actually getting your stretching in. Many people just don’t do the stretching they should as part of their workout routine, but will do it in a class setting.”

The Mississauga, Ontario location of One Health Clubs that I attend has a noticeably mixed demographic, and 50-plus men are well represented. Cruz says most of his older male clients are willing to give yoga a try. “If they’ve made the decision to work with a personal trainer then they have accepted that they need help and are open to try things they might not have done before,” he says. “I usually recommend they start off with restorative yoga and then ease into the regular classes.”

It wasn’t long before I had found a place on the floor at two to three yoga sessions a week. As recommended, I started off with restorative yoga (lots of slow stretching) but eventually focused on beginner warm yoga. The studio is heated to about 85 degrees Fahrenheit to help loosen up the muscles and joints.

Anna Agas, my instructor and a registered yoga teacher, patiently helped me find a range of motion I didn’t know I could get back (or maybe never even had). “Yoga is not tailored to one age group,” Agas asserts. “There are people who start at 70 and wonder why they didn’t start sooner. It’s a gentle way of promoting flexibility and strength in the body.”

Cruz and Agas both agree that yoga can help lengthen and strengthen your muscles and I certainly understand the benefits of improved flexibility. But I was surprised by how much of a workout yoga can be, especially when the instructor leads you through a continuous succession or “flow” of different and challenging poses.

I struggled initially with even some of the more basic poses, hampered at times by an arthritic left knee and a touch of sciatica (did I mention I’m 53?). But there’s always a modification your instructor can show you to keep you progressing. “Focus on what you can do versus what you can’t do,” Agas advises. “We work with individual needs and we can adapt to that individual so you are still finding a range of motion.”

You learn a lot about breathing in yoga. The instructors are forever getting you to “tune in” to the rhythm of your own breath. Focusing on your breath “brings focus to your practice,” Agas says. At first I didn’t get this, but over time I have become more aware of my breath pattern during the class. Indeed, that awareness helps me find a kind of peace and helps me concentrate on what I’m doing.

That’s the thing I find most beguiling about yoga: It can be an odd mix of science and spirituality. So you will hear your instructor say something like “melt your heart into the floor and feel your spirit soar,” and then while you’re in the same pose she will ask you to “open up your hip flexors and engage your quadriceps.” But it’s all good. And the hour really does begin to feel like a retreat from the chaotic fast lane of everyday life.

Five months into this fitness journey I am down 33 pounds and feeling great. I have indeed found a renewed range of motion that will benefit me on the golf course or any other athletic pursuit. I have opened up my mind to new possibilities. And yes, I have to give yoga some of the credit. You see, if you stick with it, you’ll find not only your range of motion improves, but your attitude may become a bit more flexible, too.

Namaste, fellas.

Here’s what I learned when I took up yoga:

  • Yoga mats come in varying thicknesses. The thicker ones, about ¼ to ½ inch, are easier on the knees.
  • Yoga etiquette: Leave your shoes at the door, and avoid walking on someone’s mat (seen it happen a number of times).
  • Ouch, that hurts: Before the class starts, let your instructor know about any injuries or physical limitations, so he or she can suggest appropriate modifications for some of the poses.
  • You can find yoga classes at gyms and health clubs, dedicated yoga studios and many community centres.
  • Check your benefits to see whether your employer subsidizes gym memberships.

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