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  • Writer's pictureCindy

Four Vital Skills for Aging Independence

According to Baxter Bell and Nina Zolotow in their book, "Yoga for Healthy Aging", there are four vital physical skills that must be maintained in order to remain independent through our mature years. They are strength, flexibility, balance, and agility. Let's discuss each skill and how yoga helps improve them.

Physical strength is necessary to perform ALL of our daily tasks, from getting out of bed in the morning to making meals and cleaning up the kitchen. If we want to keep up with the Grands or play a round of golf, we need even more strength. Strength not only includes strong muscles, but also strong bones and joints, especially if we are living with arthritis. Strength building also reduces or eliminates pain by preventing falls, fractures, and tears.

Yoga asana teaches us how to lengthen muscles and then contract them as we hold poses. Doing so builds strength, tone, and length. Also, the longer we hold, or move through poses, the greater our endurance. The variety of poses in a yoga practice ensures that we are honing our strength in a variety of ways.

Along with strength, flexibility is needed for daily tasks. Being able to move the body through different ranges of motion ensures we are able to care for ourselves long term. Flexibility is the range of motion around any particular joint. It’s important to understand that different joints have different ranges of motion. And the range of motion is also determined by size and shapes of the bones, soft tissue tension (ligaments and fascia), and the mechanics of the joint.

A well-rounded, regular yoga practice will help you to stretch and lengthen all the muscles in your body. Flexibility-focused asana helps to keep your muscles healthy, your joints lubricated, and your ligaments nourished.Balance, our third vital skill, is simply the ability to remain in a stable position during any given task. Whether getting out of the car or walking down the stairs, we need to be stable in order to stay safe from falls. There are several different body systems that come into play when balancing, from vestibular to nervous and more, and they are all affected by aging.

Luckily, balance is one of the skills that absolutely improves with practice. When you cultivate balance within a yoga practice, you train the different systems to be more reactive which can help abate falls, or at least reduce the impacts. Proprioception, or the ability to know where your body is in space, in particular improves with regular yoga practice.

Finally, agility is the ability to move with control and balance through different positions. Agility helps with the slightly more complicated movements of getting out of the tub or playing ball games.

Agility contains both physical and mental aspects. For more complex tasks to be done well and safely, all of the previous skills come into play, and to those we add focus and speed to makeup agility. Yoga helps with agility because of the increased body awareness and the improved mental focus that comes with regular practice.

Now that you understand the four skills, and how yoga helps, I hope you will consider taking a regular yoga class. Send me a message if you need help finding someone in your area for in-person classes, or join me for my regular weekly classes online.

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