In Autumn (at the change of seasons) we are all prone to catching colds. Sniffles, mild throat sore and coughs are typical for this time of the year.
What can we do to improve our chances to stay healthy/healthier?
The answer is to include poses in our practice which are restorative and have a number of health benefits such as: open the chest,which helps with breathing, calming the mind, boosting the immune system by allowing the body to rest in a constructive way.
Australia (or ‘down under’) is sooo far away from everything we need to travel long haul, crossing several time zones in the process.
While my parents were alive I made regular trips to Hungary (about 25 trips!). Many years ago the floor at the airport lounges were carpeted, nowadays cold tiles. If you ever saw a woman laying on the floor with legs up the wall or calves resting on the seat of the chairs … it might have been me.
When was the last time that you thanked your feet for carrying you to your destination – day after day, year after year?
As long as we are healthy, we take it for granted that our body functions as it should do.
I used to bush-walk and we often talked about boots, orthotics, dome under the ball of the foot, corns and bunions. No-one of these topics are sexy but as we age the shape of the feet change and we cannot ignore this.
To keep the small muscles in foot to stay active we need to exercise our toes which are closed in shoes most of the year.
Do you know the feeling of toes rigidly curling up and would not release or the calf muscle pains and you have to jump out of bed, walk a bit before returning to bed?
My students (just like me) are over the age of 50. In class sometimes students get a cramp, generally in the foot (toes) or legs (calves).
Cramp is a painful, involuntary contracting (shortening) of part or all of a muscle, or several muscles in a group.
Cramps of the extremities, especially the legs and feet, and most particularly the calf, are extremely common. Other common areas for muscle cramps include: back and front of the thigh, hands, arms, abdomen, and rib cage muscles.
The actual cause cramps in the legs and feet is not known, but it may be caused by conditions or activities such as overuse of muscles, dehydration, nerve compression, mineral deficiency and cold weather.
Foot cramps are more common in older adults and sometimes they happen at night. Nerves and muscles can wear out as aging occurs, causing cramping. Stretching, staying active, and eating a nutritious diet can help older adults prevent leg cramps.
People of any age who lead a sedentary lifestyle are also at higher risk for leg and foot cramps.
I would like to share my favourite poses which – if practiced regularly will significantly reduce cramps and will strengthen your ankles as well. These poses (as yoga in general) can be practiced almost anywhere. The photos were taken on a recent trip to the Wollomombi area of North/West New South Wales.
Raising both heels:
Start with standing tall in the mountain pose. Keep the spine erect, chin parallel to the ground. Roll the shoulders back, bring the shoulder blades in and left the chest.
If you can keep your ankles together and come up on your toes. Release and bring the heels back to the ground. This is one cycle. Repeat fifteen times. It is recommended to do three sets in a day. This pose will strengthen the ankles and the muscles in the sole of your feet and in the toes.
Releasing one heel:
Come up on your toes (as in previous pose) and release one heel to the ground. Raise the heel so now both heels are off the ground. Release the other heel then raise it. This is one cycle. Repeat it ten times, several times a day.
Stretching the calves:
Place the toes of one foot against the wall or a solid structure. Have your hands on the wall or a solid structure. Keep the front leg bent, shin vertical. Step back with the other leg to a distance where the ankle is on the ground. Do not bring the foot across our midline, try to keep the foot in line with the hip. Feel the stretch in calf. Keep your back straight (take in your spinal processors), chest open and shoulder are wide. Hold it for say 10 cycles of your breath, i.e. one inhalation and one exhalation are one cycle.
Keep the front leg as it and step forward with the other leg. This will bend both of your ankle. Stay in the pose for 10 cycles of your breath. This variation will also strengthen your ankles, good for bushwalkers going down the hill.
Repeat on the other side (i.e. have the other foot at front).
I hope regular practice of these poses will help you to manage the cramps.
Recently attended a two-day workshop (run by Elizabeth Williams) on how to teach yoga to seniors. In this context senior is someone over the age of 65. She is a senior person herself, a nurse, trainer of nurses and a yoga teacher.
Elizabeth thinks age care is medicalised, it is not possible to get a pill for every ache and pain. If one takes more than three types of medication it effects the kidney, the side effects sometimes as bad as the condition they aim to help.
The way we age is made up as follows: 40% genetic and 60% lifestyle and attitude;
80% of over 60’s have one pre-existing condition;
50% of over 60’s have two pre-existing conditions;
People between the ages of 55-65 (the baby boomers) are aware of the importance of an active life style. It is not the case for over 65’s.
There are many physical and cognitive changes as we travel on our journey towards old age.
The key messages for ageing well are:
Healthy attitude, accept it as we won’t get out of it;
Healthy diet (high in fibre, retain protein intake, reduce carbohydrates);
Exercise daily – weight bearing. This will delay the onset of illnesses, it extends independence. Walking is a good form of exercise;
Drink lots of water (tea and coffee in moderation – water is better);
Yoga is the ideal practice for ageing as it is an umbrella for life.
The word yoga is a Sanskrit word, it means to yolk or unite the body, breath and mind. The journey of the yogi is through the eight limbs of yoga which was first written down over 2,000 years ago. Through regular practice of poses, various breathing techniques and meditation the yogi aims to progress towards inner peace (some call it bliss state).
If you decide to join a yoga or exercise class inform the teacher about your pre-existing conditions, recent operations – if you had any. Seek out yoga classes which are advertised for seniors, therapy, small classes or relaxation.
Most common changes in the body and mind as we age:
Fear of movement due to pain / or fear of fall;
Digestive system is compromised by medication, the older person might get malnourished;
Vertebras fuse together or canal narrows;
Muscle fibre reduces, muscle loss, loss of strength;
Walking with toes turned out (inner leg muscles shorten);
Reaction time slows down, when have to go the toilet it is in the last minute. Most of the falls happen in the bathroom;
Body parts might be replaced (knees, hip, shoulder) – for recovery follow the information sheet given by the surgeon after operation;
Feel the cold more – especially in hands and feet,
Eyes: fat behind the eyes reduces, loss of peripheral vision, torso leans forward. Do not do full inversions after any eye operation (half uttanasana is helpful, legs up the wall is OK to do)
Blood pressure increases – do not do full inversions;
Hearing loss (high frequency goes first);
Dehydration: as we age we do not get the ‘thirst’ sign, we get dehydrated, might faint to due this;
Sleep deprivation increases heart problems by 50%. We need sleep for homeostasis (the ability to maintain a state of internal balance and physical wellbeing in spite of changes or outside factors, such as body temperature.
Brain reduces in size (regardless of the number of crosswords one does 😊). Any concussion to the head can cause bruising against the skull, blood slowly sweeps. The effect of a fall might not be obvious for days;
Dementia is an umbrella term; Alzheimer is the most common form. The number of nerve cells disappear and the pathways reduce. Word finding (on tip of the tongue) is usual part of ageing;
Accept that an older person cannot be 100% safe;
Moving to aged care brings on depression – even if the person was willing to move in. Depression starts the domino effect of not eating well, not exercising and not sleeping well.
Do daily weight bearing exercises (like walking);
Stand on one leg (i.e. while waiting for the kettle to boil);
Keep your legs strong, practice sitting up from a chair (with feet hip width apart) – 10 times – 3 times a day;
Do a fall prevention course (it will teach you how to get up from the floor – in case you have a fall). Practice getting up from the floor before you really need to do it (come to rest on your knees, use arms to hang onto a stable furniture to come up);
Exercise your eyes (follow one hand from upright to down – diagonally, bring index finger to nose tip).
Exercise your jaw & teeth (eat apples, maybe cut into smaller pieces);
Exercise your tongue (stick it out, roll it around the top of your pallet);
If you are taking pain killers take them at least two hours before yoga class. You do not want to be totally pain free as you need feel the effects of the poses and how your body feels;
Skin care: discard commercial bath wash. Use natural oils for moisturising (olive oil, almond oil or Jojoba oil which I recently started to use and really like it). Use dry brush before shower; start from the extremities towards the heart. Let the brush dry under the sun and wash it once week without soap;
Eat with proper posture – i.e. eat sitting up – do not eat in bed;
If you have any pain get it investigated – but be aware that all painkillers have side-effects. If you accept some pain you can cope with it better;
If you use socks in bed make sure they are sticky on the sole to avoid slipping when getting or in the bathroom;
Keep your core warm otherwise blood stays there (not circulating enough);
Reduce in stress and anxiety. It helps with pain management;
Sleep well (deeply); – see previous blog
Try to learn new skills;
Keep socially active;
If you are interested in my class please contact me: Mary