At Paoli’s DiBella Yoga, woven blankets are folded neatly in the corner of a studio adorned with a Ganesha sculpture, an angel figurine, and other spiritual images from Eastern and Western culture. This simple space is meant to serve as an escape from the rigors of daily life—stresses that take a toll on the body and mind, accelerating the aging process.
Combining physical poses of varying difficulty with meditation and breathing exercises, yoga has become an increasingly popular way for mature Main Liners to fuse body, mind and spirit, with the ultimate—and highly ambitious—goal of finding eternal bliss. Experts contend that yoga may well be the best form of exercise to combat aging. And most of us have heard stories of Indian yogis living well into their 90s and even 100s.
Yoga is a lifelong practice that can be started at any age, be it early childhood or late in life. As it’s evolved, various types of yoga have emerged—some physically rigorous, some gentle. Others contain a significant spiritual element, and still others focus more on general physical and mental well-being.
DiBella Yoga’s Polly DiBella is a living, breathing testament to the practice’s anti-aging benefits. She first took up yoga in the mid-70s, when she was in her 20s. And though she may have a few lines on her face and some gray hair, her face glows and her body is fit and flexible.
DiBella has seen yoga improve the quality of life for people of all ages. “I have clients in their 80s who started practicing in their 60s,” says DiBella, adding that her students see improved flexibility and posture, sleep better, and enjoy better overall health. “What’s happening is not a mystery to me. With yoga, you release tension in your muscles. You get better circulation and blood flow into your muscles, so you’re stronger, healthier and more resilient.”
Dr. M. Susan Burke, an internist and specialist in geriatric medicine at Lankenau Hospital, sees yoga’s multiple benefits as reason enough to recommend a gentle form to her elderly patients. Aside from increased flexibility, yoga helps with posture, balance and strength, which can aid in both preventing falls and recovering from them. “It’s an excellent way to stay as young and healthy as possible,” says Burke. “It does have clear medical benefits.”
Yoga classes in varying styles are available throughout the Main Line, and many supplement what they do in the studio with practice at home, which can be done with little or no special equipment. Mats, blankets, bands, blocks and bolsters can all be purchased at reasonable cost.
DiBella specializes in Svaroopa yoga, a gentle therapeutic style that uses blankets and blocks to help relieve tension in the body. It’s ideal for older people and those recovering from injury. Some studios and nursing homes offer an even gentler form called chair yoga.
For those looking for a workout, Dana Hot Yoga in Bala Cynwyd offers a physically intense experience in a heated studio to induce sweating and promote detoxification. “Yoga has a way of opening up the capillaries so the oxygen is really flowing through your body,” says Dana Hot co-owner Lisa Mitchell. “It really has a cleansing element to it.”
Mitchell has been practicing yoga since the late 90s, and she’s witnessed its benefits in her older clients. “People in their 50s who’ve been doing yoga for a while—definitely, their bodies are flexible and youthful,” she says.
And yoga also encourages healthier behavior outside the studio.
“So many people become vegetarians. They stop smoking; they don’t want caffeine any longer,” says Mitchell. “They stop eating this, they stop eating that.”
And while nothing is going to thwart the aging process outright, yoga can make you feel younger. It might even keep some physical symptoms at bay. Overall, yoga devotees report feeling healthier, happier and more energized.
“It’s a whole-body practice,” says DiBella. “It affects all levels—physical and mental.”
A positive mental attitude. Knowing and understanding one’s self helps reduce stress and end emotional turmoil, leading to a more stable life.
Metabolic functional nutrition. Yoga aids digestion and makes metabolism more efficient; it also encourages healthy eating and awareness of the body’s needs.
Correct posture. It strengthens the spine and back, leading to positive health benefits and increased confidence.
Healthy breathing. The key to transcending the body, mind and emotions is breath.
Authentic meditation. The cornerstone of authentic yoga practices and genuine stress management programs. Practicing yoga without authentic meditation is like riding a horse backward without a saddle.
Internal cleansing. While yoga itself detoxifies the body through sweat and encouraging efficient digestion, some practitioners also use herbs, therapeutic foods and skin brushing to help the process.
Source: Yoga Health Institute
Chair. A gentle form practiced while sitting in a chair or standing and using one for support.
Integral. Includes postures, breathing techniques, deep relaxation and meditation.
Hatha. Developed in 16th-century India, it involves poses; most of today’s yoga classes are some derivation of Hatha.
Iyengar. The most widely recognized approach to Hatha yoga stresses an attention to detail and the aid of props.
Kripalu. Emphasizes postural alignment and coordination of breath and movement.
Kundalini. Awakens the energy in the spine with poses, breath control, chanting and meditation.
Sivananda. A series of 12 poses, with the Sun Salutation, breathing exercises, relaxation and mantra chanting as the basis.
Svaroopa. A gentle, therapeutic form that promotes healing.
Viniyoga. Moves at a pace chosen by the individual, with a focus on breathing in conjunction with poses.