How to Prevent Yoga Injuries After 50

Larry Payne, Ph.D., Thu, 18 Apr, 2019

The recent explosion of Yoga in America has also brought a burst of people getting injured in Yoga classes. A ten-year study showed that 29,000 people went to emergency rooms simply because they went to the wrong kind of Yoga class (

When you survey the majority of public Yoga classes in America, including health clubs, Yoga centers, libraries and other public institutions where Yoga is taught, you will see some form of “Flow Yoga” that goes by many names such as Power Vinyasa Flow, Slow Flow Yoga, Flow and Stretch, Gentle Flow Yoga, and Deep Stretch Flow, to name just a few. Then it drops off to Chair Yoga and Restorative Yoga -- with nothing in between.

INCLUDING THOSE OVER 50: This leaves out the most influential and affluent group in America. The US has over 100 million people over the age of 50 and they are active and vibrant. They want to travel, be outgoing and attend Yoga classes. They just don’t want to get injured in the class.

Yoga was meant for three stages of life in India: the building stage known as Shiksana, the maintaining stage know as Rakshana, and Chiktsa for one-on-one care -- or what is known as Yoga Therapy. These three stages in India are quite different than they are in America.

Traditionally In India with the Brahmin cast the first stage starts with a religious initiation at approximately 8 years old and goes through one’s early 20’s. The next stage targets young adults with children and lots of responsibilities, and by age 50 many are retired and on the spiritual path in search of God.

In America at 50 years of age, many people are on their second or third marriage as well as multiple sets of children. Mainly because of lack of choices, many men and women who are 50 years old and beyond are attending flow type Yoga classes designed for much younger students and unfortunately are getting injured. Every weekend there is a man somewhere in America that attends a Yoga Class at a spa or retreat where a young attractive woman leading the class demonstrates a seated straight legged forward bend (paschimottanasana) and the man tries too hard and throws his lower back out.

Prime of Life Yoga©, inspired by Indian Yoga masters, is a very safe, non-competitive style of Yoga for both men and women in mid-life into the later years. Prime of Life Yoga focuses on the breath, safe user-friendly postures, forgiving limbs and (when needed) dynamic and static movement to prepare the body safely for deeper stretches.

BREATHING: Breaking it down further, the goal is to eventually incorporate chest to belly breathing, which opens or externally rotates he spine. The Prime of Life Yoga postures have lots of variations to meet individual needs. Using soft arms and legs (i.e. slightly bent) allows you to enhance the spine’s posture, which is a key to reversing an aging look to your carriage. Dynamic and Static postures -- or moving in and out of postures before you hold them -- in many cases creates the effect of proprioceptive neuromuscular re-education (PNF), which means if you tighten a muscle before your stretch it, it will stretch further.

You don’t have to do the hard postures in Yoga to get the main benefits: Stress reduction, improved circulation, greater strength and flexibility, improved will power and an overall sense of well- being.
Also important for this age bracket is to include simple, breathing techniques or pranayama as well relaxation techniques or meditation as part of the group classes. Alternate Nostril breathing (Nadi Shodhana) and The Shining Skull (Kapalabhati) are highly recommended as well as a guided meditations or relaxation techniques.

LIFETIME OF YOGA: Finally, here are some principles of practice I have developed over many years that are important for practicing Yoga in mid-life and beyond:
1. Let the breath surround the movement.
2. Challenge yourself, don't strain yourself.
3. Forget about what you used to do!
4. This is a dialogue, not a monologue, between body, breath and mind.
5. Think of your Yoga practice as meditation in motion, a work-in instead of a workout!
6. Yoga is not a competition, not even with yourself. Try closing your eyes to eliminate the temptation to keep up with anyone else.
7. There is no gain with negative pain.
8. Try not to muscle into the postures, but rather relax into them. If you are making a face you are trying too hard.
9. You are the chairman of the board; you decide when to come out of the posture.
10. Let the posture fit you instead of trying to fit yourself into the posture.
11. The exhalation phase of your breath is the key to relaxation.
12. Remembering the breath has an accumulative effect like mileage plus.
13. Yoga is not in a hurry; resist the temptation to speed up.
14. Concentrate in Yoga and you will concentrate better in everything you do.

Larry Payne, Ph.D. is an internationally respected yoga teacher and back specialist. The L.A. Times named Larry “One of America’s most respected Yoga teachers”. He co-authored Yoga Therapy Rx, Yoga for Dummies and The Business of Teaching Yoga. Larry is founding president of the International Association of Yoga Therapists, founder of the Corporate Yoga program at the J. Paul Getty Museum, the first Yoga teacher to offer Yoga classes at the World Economic Forum, co-founder of the yoga curriculum at UCLA’s School of Medicine, and the founding director of the new Yoga therapy certification program at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

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