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YOGA OVER 50: The journey is in never arriving

Updated: Feb 4, 2023

According to the Yoga Alliance’s 2016 report on Yoga in America, “36.7 million Americans or 15 percent of U.S. adults practice Yoga in the U.S.”

Of course, Yoga is great for you. It promotes well-being through strength, flexibility, breathing and meditation. But is Yoga good for everyone?

According to William Broad, author of The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards, “The soothing practice… can lower blood pressure, spice up sex—and kill you.” He claims Yoga comes with risks, including stroke and disc injuries—for certain people.

Yoga is good for the body - Stress reduction lowers heart attack risk. Regular stretching and strengthening also helps eliminate joint pain, including back pain.

That makes sense, especially for men and women over 50. With age comes reduced physical and mental function. Older adults lose strength, range of motion, flexibility, bone density and balance. They often suffer from high blood pressure, osteoporosis, glaucoma, injury and the loss of hearing and sight.

Not everyone should be standing on their heads. However, with careful instruction, respect for your limitations, and realistic expectations—mindfulness—Yoga has proven benefits for “golden Yogis,” especially for women.

Nearly 14 million U.S. adults over 50 practice Yoga. And B.K.S. Lyengar, considered the father of U.S. Yoga, practiced into his nineties. Why?

Yoga is good for the mind

Yoga reduces stress and improves body image—and your sex life. Taking quiet time for yourself energizes. In fact, Yoga practitioners are 20 percent more likely to have a positive self-image than people within the general population.

Moreover, researchers at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) found that three months of Yoga minimized memory loss better than “brain training exercises.”

Stress reduction lowers heart attack risk. Regular stretching and strengthening also helps eliminate joint pain, including back pain.

Heidi Mair, Yoga teacher to students over 50, reports in the Seattle Yoga News, for older Yoga practitioners specifically, Yoga improves:

· posture and balance

· hand-eye coordination

· flexibility and range of motion in joints

· sleep and concentration

· blood circulation, respiration and digestion

· bone density

Yoga reduces:

· stiffness

· aches and pains

· anxiety

· blood pressure

· menopausal discomforts

Yoga alleviates menopausal symptoms

Seventy-two percent of Yoga practitioners are women. Those over 50 may find Yoga a natural alternative to medication and hormone replacement in relieving peri-menopausal and menopausal symptoms, according to the UCLA Research and Education Institute’s Rowan Chlebowski, M.D.

Yoga Journal’s Trisha Gura suggests meditation and these poses for those experiencing certain issues associated with menopause:

Hot flashes — supported reclining poses, such as legs up the wall; poses supported with bolsters to back and head to promote cooling rather than heating, which exacerbates hot flashes

Anxiety and insomnia — forward bends (with bolsters for head support) and inversions that help calm the nervous system

Fatigue and depression — gentle supported back bends, chest openers

Memory — downward-facing dog and corpse pose, which brings blood to the head and relaxes the mind and body

But Yoga is not a cure-all. Some studies cite only modest improvements in symptoms. Results vary depending on the type of Yoga (for instance, a cardio-focused practice like vinyasa or one that’s more calming, like yin), frequency of practice and individual biology.

How to practice Yoga safely over 50

With experienced teachers who adapt classes to the strength, age and health of their students, Yoga over 50 can be safe and rewarding. But it’s not just teachers that make Yoga over 50 safe. It’s the students.

Yoga is a patient practice. It grows in increments: flexibility, awareness and strength. Those who know their bodies better and work daily to love and appreciate them just as they are—wrinkled, scarred, stiff and gravity-riven—can safely practice with an open heart and attentive mind, listening to the body’s signals to go deeper or retreat.

Acceptance of contracting bodily limitations comes with the expanding level of awareness and the ability to know—wisdom—that the best route to success is the one that keeps you on the path. In that way, older Yoga practitioners are more suited to Yoga than younger ones, who often envision the future and their bodies as having limitless potential. They’re also the ones doing more acrobatic forms of Yoga and so, I’d assume, get hurt doing Yoga more often than older practitioners.

Of the 36.7 million Yoga practitioners in America, 14 million are 50 and over, so this lower number, probability-wise, might suggest fewer Yoga-inflicted injuries.

I might also presume that most of us over 50 have either lost or tempered our perfectionist drive—and our ego-driven, no-pain-no-gain exercise routines. Ego is what slides under the surface in a Yoga practice. Ego, I highly suspect, causes injury.

So, while the 50-plus crowd comes to Yoga with more life under their belts and therefore, presumptively, more past and ongoing injuries, they’re more likely to be practicing with better insight, hindsight and foresight.

Life teaches those who hear the lesson, or more aptly, the Buddha has been cited as saying, “It is better to travel well than to arrive.” Older Yogis, with their living pasts growing larger than their futures, know that.

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