SEPTEMBER 24, 2000

Tapping the Power of Yoga

Even though it's been around for at least 5,000 years, yoga is making big news. An estimated 12 million Americans are doing yoga, a number that's doubled in the last six years. Health and fitness clubs around the country have responded to the demand, and now close to 40% offer yoga classes. In many of those classes, you're likely to find older adults.

Grace Welch used to be one of them. Today, she's a certified yoga instructor with over 20 years experience. She teaches beginner, intermediate and advanced classes in Manhattan and Islandia, L.I., and is featured in the video "Golden Yoga," an exercise program designed especially for seniors.

As a physical and mental discipline, "Yoga is a lifelong process. The marvelous thing about it is it's never too late to start," says Welch, who started at 50 after developing lower back pain. Not only did yoga relieve her pain but it hooked her. She left her job as an advertising manager to study and eventually start her own practice.

"Many people turn to Yoga to get in shape and improve their Physical health, but the reason they stick with it is because it's spiritually uplifting as well, says Welch. Yoga is especially suited to older adults, because it's noncompetitive, doesn't put undue stress on joints and can be customized to suit persons with physical limitations. It's also good for what ails you. Research shows that yoga can help manage or control arthritis, back pain, blood pressure, carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic fatigue, depression, diabetes, headaches, heart disease, stress and many other conditions. It can improve muscle tone, flexibility, strength and stamina, concentration and creativity, as well as stimulate the immune system and create a sense of well-being and calm. Simply put, yoga feels good.

It may also keep older adults safe. Recent studies published in the Archives of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation have shown that yoga can prevent falls and increase range of motion even among people in their 80s and 90s.

Yoga may also help restore safer driving habits. "When older adults lose range of motion in their neck, they feel pain when they have to look over their shoulder. As a result, they may not fully check their blind spot while driving, which can result in accidents. Yoga helps seniors regain pain-free movement," says Welch.

Before starting an exercise program, it's important to consult your physician. While Yoga is usually safe for everyone (there are yoga programs designed for wheelchair users), some seniors may need to modify their routine due to certain health conditions. For instance, some inverted postures should not be performed by people with high blood pressure or glaucoma, says Welch.

For information about yoga classes, call your local Y. To attend one of Welch's classes, call (631)348-7199, or visit

"Golden Yoga" is available through White Lion Press, 1-800-243-YOGA.