Do you think that Yoga is only for very limber, thin, young people? Not so. Yoga can be practiced by anyone. With a few modifications, anyone can enjoy the benefits of greater health and improved energy. Take it slow, modify exercises as you need to, and choose exercises appropriate for your condition. Alice Christensen, author of the American Yoga Association's "Easy Does It Yoga," designed her program primarily for older adults, but it can also be used productively by people who are physically challenged by disability, obesity, arthritis, and other conditions. Always check with your doctor before beginning Yoga or any other new exercise routine.
Start by Halves
Whenever you go about learning a new exercise technique, whether in a class or learning from a book, start at half capacity until you learn what is best for your body. That means, if the exercise calls for you to bend forward from the waist reaching hands toward the floor, as you might do when learning a Sun Pose, for example, bend only to your knees at first rather than possibly straining yourself by trying to reach the floor. If you are learning a twisting exercise, twist only halfway back. After several days of this, if you are feeling no discomfort, you can try the full extension. Far from providing less benefit, practicing "by halves" will gradually build your strength and prevent you from inadvertently injuring yourself by trying a move before you are ready.
Sit Instead of Standing
If you are unsteady on your feet, have poor balance, or are overweight, any standing Yoga exercise can be modified so that you can do it in a chair. For example, to modify the Standing Sun Pose, sit with hips against the back of a straight chair, and separate your feet slightly. Place feet flat on the floor for support. Raise arms up to the sides and overhead as you breathe in, hands together just like in the standard pose, but then breathe out and bend forward only as far as you feel comfortable, tucking your chin and reaching your hands between your knees toward the floor as you breathe out. Sitting with your hips against the chair back will ensure that you don't fall forward.
Lie Down Instead of Sitting
If illness or disability means that you are confined to bed, you can still practice Yoga! Several exercises are performed lying down, and others can be modified for that position. For instance, a very beneficial exercise for the lower back is the Knee Squeeze: Lie on your back with knees bent, feet flat. Breathe in and lift one knee toward your chest; wrap both arms around your knee and hold for a few seconds, then release and breathe out, lowering your leg back to the starting position. Do three on each side, alternating. When this becomes easy, try lifting your head and bringing your forehead to your knee. Another easy exercise to do in bed is the Foot Flaps: point your toes forward, then back; repeat several times. Then pull the toes of one foot back while you point the toes of the opposite foot forward. Repeat, alternating. Move your ankles in circles, three times one way, then three times the opposite way.
Don't "Go for the Burn"
In Yoga, achieving a perfect position is not the goal; instead, focus on the process of movement, coordinating your breath with the movement. It doesn't matter if you ever look like the picture in the book. Focus on what you're doing right now, instead of that perfect position. If it hurts, you're probably not doing it correctly. Yoga embodies the philosophical idea of nonviolence. Be kind to your body. Stretch yourself without injuring yourself. Relax into the stretch so that you're not tensing other muscles. And always: keep breathing.
Don't Judge Yourself
Yoga focuses your mind on what you are doing in the present moment. The idea is to move purposefully. Pay attention to every move of your body and breath. Don't compare yourself to others; you are a unique individual. Do what you can, and applaud yourself for your efforts. Even a little practice every day will pay off in greater well-being.