Do you know what Yoga is?

Tania Plahay is a yoga teacher and author of Yoga for Dementia: A Guide for People with Dementia, Their Families and Caregivers. Tania is passionate about bringing yoga to a wider audience and adapting the practices of yoga for those living with Dementia. Prior to writing her book Tania ran the FoNS project Yoga for Dementia, in a residential home in Thamesmead London. Tania divides her time between the Costa Blanca, Spain and the UK, where she runs yoga classes, retreats, workshops and training.

There has been a huge growth in the number of yoga practitioners in the UK and US in recent years. With this growth the image of lithe young yoga practitioners has spread around the globe, and has been used to sell products from cars to Tic Tacs.  Therefore, you would be forgiven if you thought that yoga was only for younger, fit women and that it mainly consisted of bending your body into pretzel like poses. However the practice of yoga goes far beyond the physical poses (known as asanas), and yoga can be attainable by all.

But you may ask ‘What is yoga?’ Yoga has many definitions including ‘yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind’, ‘yoga is a way to help us improve health and happiness’, ‘yoga is the bringing together of two things’ and ‘yoga is skill in action’. Very few of these definitions of yoga even mention physical positions. I believe that yoga’s higher values such as compassion and selfless service are more important for the older population and those that work with them.

As well as physical positions, yoga includes practices that help us develop self-awareness and compassion. It can also include devotional, or sound and singing practices. These wider practices of yoga can be done by everyone, including those who are old, frail, living with dementia, or other conditions. Yoga can enhance our relationships, and help promote clarity and peace of mind.

One of the definitions of yoga is union, and through my work teaching yoga in care homes, I have seen how the simple practices of yoga can help unite care workers and family members with those living with dementia.  Yoga is also about knowing ourselves and we can do this best when we feel calm. It is also about non-judgment and accepting where we are at the moment.

If you are interested in starting a yoga practice with older patients I would advise putting aside your judgments about what yoga is and who can do it. Seek some simple and effective yoga practices which can be done by all, for example this free practice from my new book.

I would also explore some of the wider practice of yoga, including simple breathing techniques, singing practices and mudras. I recommend working with where people are at the moment and focusing on what they can do and enjoy, and what you can do together. There is a lot of misconceptions that yoga is difficult and unattainable, and whilst of course there are some difficult and physically challenging poses out there, there are a vast number of simple easy and effective poses which are enjoyable to do!

Further information about the benefits of yoga for an older population and those living with dementia is in my book. It also contains advice for those wanting to start a yoga practice. It is aimed at those living with dementia, their families and caregivers and it includes practices that can be done throughout the various stages of dementia. Many of the practices are also highly suitable for older people. BGS readers can claim a 10% discount on the book using code Y18.

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