A 2017 study published in Frontiers in Neuroscience found that women over 60 who had practiced hatha yoga for at least eight years had significantly thicker prefrontal cortexes, a marker for brain health. The study, funded by the National Institute of Health, is just the latest in a growing body of research that point to the broad benefits of yoga in older practitioners.
This research is unsurprising to Carol Blacklaws, an author and former teacher who now practices yoga regularly and is working on a book about its benefits.
She credits her practice with helping her achieve mental and emotional equilibrium, which other studies have correlated with longer, healthier lives. Getting started required learning to “park my ego at the door,” she says. “If negative thoughts were speech bubbles, they would have surrounded my head like popcorn,” she says. “Every movement was shrouded in judgement.”
But after years of practice, she says, “Each time I step onto my mat I take a deep breath and see what I see: my presence in this moment doing this thing without judgement. I do it with peace and acceptance. I can accept discomfort, relaxing into the pose in a neutral and accepting way while striving to improve – which is a lot like life.”
Her upcoming book will focus on yoga’s benefits within a community of older women practitioners. One friend she writes about was living with intense chronic pain while waiting for a hip replacement surgery and in recovery. She shared that her yoga teacher had encouraged her to make friends with her pain and to “show lovingkindness” to her hip. “When something hurts, I reflect back on the success of her recovery and how befriending pain worked far better that making it her enemy,” says Blacklaws.
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