After observing 90 year old yoga practitioners, Adelaide researcher, Associate Professor Kathy Arthurson, believes that yoga may be the key to ageing well.
An expert in advocating mindfulness for improved health and wellbeing at the Southgate Institute for Health, Society and Equity of Flinders University, Professor Arthurson has presented the evidence and results in her new book, Yoga Years: True Stories of How Yoga Transform Ageing.
Professor Arthurson interviewed 14 yoga teachers aged over 60 for her research into the benefits of yoga on ageing people. She was particularly inspired by a 95 year old New Zealand yoga teacher, Tania Dyett. Sadly, Ms Dyett recently passed away.
“When I attended Tania Dyett’s yoga class, I immediately knew what kind of older woman I want to be,” says Associate Professor Arthurson.
“Aged 95, her wicked sense of humour made the class an absolute delight. We learnt her unique My Pussycat Pose, which involved ‘tail wagging’ and loads of laughter.”
Another unique instructor is 95 year old, Vivian Vieritz in Queensland, who was able to do a headstand, which also happened to be her favourite pose. Professor Arthurson says she was amazed at her strength and flexibility.
She says watching senior yoginis move, like Vivian and Tania, showed the benefits yoga has on older people's bodies, including an amazing range of flexibility and agility.
"Meeting them made me think that practising yoga keeps you young forever," explains Professor Arthurson.
"I’m not talking about a lack of wrinkles and grey hair, or looking like Cher or Madonna. The yoga women share a joy and vigour for life that belies their age."
Yogi Dyett shared her favourite pose, the Reverse Prayer, for the book, which benefits a healthy spine, wrists and shoulders and can prevent the development of kyphosis, an abnormal outward curvature of the upper back, thoracic vertebrae.
Professor Arthurson says Yogi Dyett believed the pose helped her to continue playing the violin.
"Tania told me the body is like a musical instrument, you need to play it to keep it in good health," says Professor Arthurson.
Over her research, Professor Arthurson indicates that yoga helps maintain floor-to-standing mobility. This is incredibly important for adults over 50 since a reduction in this ability is associated with early death and increased dependency.
For example, even dropping reading glasses onto the floor could be a serious challenge for someone with poor floor-to-standing mobility.
Whereas, the yogi's Professor Arthurson observed were able to effortlessly move down onto the floor and back up again.
Practising yoga can also help older people maintain important movement abilities, and the yoga stances or poses doesn't have to be difficult. It could be as easy as practising in a chair and standing up and down.
Professor Arthurson says, "If you haven’t tried yoga before, don’t be put off by glossy pictures of yoginis in advanced practises or even seeing Vivian Vieritz in her headstand.
"Yoga is definitely not all about twisting the body into hard or bendy poses. There are many different styles and levels of yoga to choose from.
"These yoginis maintain that any age is the right age to start yoga, because it will build flexibility, balance and strengthen muscles. Maybe, just like these women, you’ll still be practising yoga in your 90s."
To find out more about the research or Professor Arthurson's book, head to her website.