Interview with Susan Winter Ward:Yoga for the Young at Heart

It is very good to meet you, Susan. Yoga has definitely moved into the mainstream, along with healthy aging which is coming to the forefront of baby boomers’ thinking.


Can you tell me how you first came to yoga?

I discovered yoga while I was seeking relief from back pain…and I found that and much, much more! After two classes a week for a month, I knew that if I ever stopped doing yoga I’d be really sorry someday. I never expected to become a yoga teacher!

Would you define yourself as a pioneer in yoga in N. America? How so?

I think I’m a pioneer in wanting to bring the benefits of yoga to seniors. Most yoga in the early 90’s was geared to the hard-bodied athletic types. I knew that it was a powerful practice for everyone regardless of age or physical condition, and I started teaching to seniors. I wrote the first book that was in print at that time, Yoga for the Young at Heart, especially for senior yoga. Then I made the first Yoga for the Young at Heart video. That was the first video teaching senior yoga that I’m aware of. Recently, I launched my new website, www.YogaHeart.com. It’s been a great journey!


How did you arrive at the notion of accessible yoga as a driving force in your brand of yoga?

So much of the yoga we see presented is intimidating and demoralizing for people who are just beginning a yoga practice. I think that does a disservice to the gift of yoga, as well as to people who would benefit from it if they were comfortable beginning a practice. No one should be afraid to try yoga, so I wanted to make it available…and accessible to everyone. My style of teaching is not intimidating and will entice people to yoga who would otherwise be left out…even people in wheelchairs can stretch and breathe. I say, if you’re breathing, you can do yoga!


What are the defining characteristics of your approach to yoga?

On some level, yoga is accessible to every body; even only breathing is a form of yoga practice. My approach is based on the concept that the body should be gently treated and honored. Yoga is not competitive, and it shouldn’t hurt. We begin at the fitness level where we are and progress from there in a compassionate practice. We celebrate the wonder of our bodies, quiet our minds so we can hear our inner wisdom and gently become stronger, more flexible and more peaceful. Yoga works, all we need to do is do it.


Tell me more about your Basic Series for Boomers, the over 50 men and women in my age range.

Maturing Baby Boomers today are not passive about health. We’re proactive and creative. By making yoga part of our daily routines, we can develop and maintain the fitness and relaxed attitude that supports us in living life on our terms, then we can enjoy every minute to the fullest!
In my videos, the yoga student is actually joining my class and practicing along with a class of “real people”.


The Basic Series consists of three DVDs. Each program is progressively is bit more challenging than the previous one, giving the student the ability to progress in their practice, or mix the programs to fit their mood of the day. My programs bring the benefits of yoga to people who may not otherwise have a yoga practice. Or, it’s great for people returning to yoga and looking for a gentle and effective way to get back in shape.


If I’m over weight and out of shape, do you think I can do it?

My yoga programs can be adapted to any level of ability. One of the lessons of a yoga practice is self-acceptance. You can only begin where you are. Take it slowly and gently, honoring your limitations and lovingly doing what your body allows you to do. In time you’ll begin to see the positive effects of your practice and it won’t take as long as you think. Do what you can. Be patient. You have to start somewhere.


I’ve never exercised much. Why start yoga at my age?

Anyone can start yoga at any age. Baby Boomers want to stay strong, vital, healthy and youthful, and yoga has a 5000 year track record of success in doing just that. As we get older, we reach a point where we can’t get away with abusing or ignoring our bodies anymore. Either we’re doing something positive for ourselves, or we’re neglecting ourselves. We get to choose daily which way we’re going to go. To create and maintain the quality of life we desire, we need to take action! Why not start now? You won’t begin any younger!


Can yoga help prevent osteoporosis?

The Rhode Island Department of Health states, “Exercises that put demands on your bones are known as “weight-bearing” or “resistance” exercises. They help to strengthen bone. Exercise (in combination with a healthy diet and lifestyle) is important in the prevention of osteoporosis.” Yoga is a weight-bearing exercise. Our bones are not static; they are living tissue that renews itself throughout our lives. Poses that challenge our muscles put stress on our bones increase bone mass. If you do any type of weight-bearing exercise, you can begin to reverse osteoporosis regardless of age.


Other health benefits?

The list is enormous! In addition to building strength, flexibility and stamina, Dr. Dean Ornish uses yoga in his heart disease treatment programs because it lowers blood pressure and initiates the “relaxation response” of the parasympathetic nervous system. Yoga helps to prevent osteoporosis, reduces stress and stress related maladies like headaches and high blood pressure, energizes and relaxes the nervous system, hydrates the joints and spine, stretches the hamstrings and can alleviate back pain. Yoga can increase and strengthen respiration, and help to cleanse the digestive system…the list goes on and on. In short, yoga can keep you healthier, stronger and more able to do the things you want to do with vitality and focus.


How can yoga help menopause?

My video, Embracing Menopause: A Path to Peace & Power gives Boomer women inspiration in addressing our opportunity to redefine ourselves through this important life transition. We don’t need to buy into the idea that we become useless or unattractive…to the contrary, menopause is our most powerful time of life. It’s an opportunity to live our wildest dreams and be our most attractive selves. Yoga brings us back to center, helping us to remember who we really are, feel our inner strength and reconnect with our inner wisdom.


Physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, menopause is a rebalancing and redefining of ourselves on the deepest levels. Many of the symptoms of menopause can be aggravated by stress, and menopause can be a stressful time of life. Yoga relaxes us, brings us into balance and helps us to tune into our deepest self. Yoga helps to cool the body, relax the nervous system, oxygenate and detoxify our organs and muscles, and prevent osteoporosis. Yoga balances the endocrine system, which can help to stabilize hormone levels, and calm our emotions. As a total practice, yoga is a powerful support through the menopause process and Embracing Menopause: A Path to Peace & Power is an easy way to begin to reap those benefits.


How often do I need to do yoga for me to feel better?

Find your own rhythm. At least two times a week for an hour would be a minimum yoga practice. Make a commitment to yourself and stick with it for a month and see how it feels. Of course, the more yoga you do, the better you will feel and the benefits will be realized faster. Stay tuned in and encourage your body to keep going. Watch your process from both the inside and the outside. If you do yoga, it works. My website, www.YogaHeart.com, provides stories from many people who have enjoyed success with the programs.


How does your seated yoga program compare with a regular yoga class?

Although a consistent yoga program of standing, balancing, lying poses and inversions is a more complete practice; yoga need not be relegated to a full yoga class. Sitting Fit Anytime is a seated yoga program for those who sit too much…at work, at our computers, traveling, or any activity that makes us forget we have a body. Doing a seated pose or two hourly throughout the day can give you some of the benefits of a yoga practice and help relieve the inevitable stiffness that comes with sitting too long. Yoga poses adapted to small interludes may not have the same intensity as a full yoga class, but the benefits of yoga are readily available to those who nibble on yoga throughout the day.


Sitting Fit Anytime is available as a CD Rom & ScreenSaver for the computer bound, or as a DVD for people who are physically challenged. Seniors can benefit from Sitting Fit Anytime to assist in building the strength and flexibility that will enable them to do a standing yoga practice if they so desire.


Can people who are confined to a wheelchair do seated yoga?

People who are physically challenged due to age, illness, or who just can’t get down on the floor, don’t need to miss out on the many benefits of yoga. Those confined to wheelchairs or recovering from injury, with their physician’s approval, can benefit from their own adaptation of the breathing and gentle seated poses. Sitting Fit Anytime, seated yoga can build the strength and flexibility, needed to progress to more and more challenging poses. Breathing, stretching and strengthening can be introduced at a slow pace, gently bringing bodies to new levels of fitness, increasing circulation and bringing in healing energy and vitality.


If I feel agitated when I sit at my computer, what can I do about that?

Your body is asking you to move! Sitting needs to be balanced with moving, breathing and stretching, so try some simple yoga stretches: twists, arms overhead, forward bends and deep conscious breathing for a “mini yoga break.” With the Sitting Fit Anytime program, you’ll feel the difference and return your attention to your work refreshed, more relaxed and with a clearer mind.


Susan, thank you for sharing your insight and knowledge with us. We appreciate your depth of experience in this wonderful area of exercise we call yoga. In conclusion, what can you tell about the mental or spiritual aspects of yoga?

Yoga is widely recognized as a spiritual path as well as a physical fitness practice. In all of my programs, I incorporate the spiritual and physical. Through yoga we learn to focus, to bring ourselves to center and to calm our minds. By quieting the mind, we can hear more clearly our quiet inner voice. That voice is our highest wisdom that can guide us to our highest path in life. We become more centered, more insightful and more peaceful. Then we can take that inner strength and peace out into the chaos of the world and hold a calm, peaceful perspective. this is how world peace can be achieved…one heart at a time.

Avatar Written by SusanWinter Ward

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