Elderly enhance life through yoga

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Elderly enhance life through yoga

“Sit with your legs crossed like a Buddha statue.” “Lie down while breathing out, reposition while breathing in.” “Clasp your hands and put them behind your head.”
For those into yoga, these instructions are common enough. But what is uncommon here is the instructor. Sim Han-na, 71, teaches yoga to elderly farmers at the Health Care Center for Farmers in Naeseo 3-village in North Gyeongsang province. To the students, who are in their 80s and 90s, Ms. Sim is still a youngster. At this center, neither teacher nor students care about formality ― they eschew form-fitting yoga garb for baggy trousers or sweaters. And they don’t even expect to get the postures perfect.
“Yoga is more appropriate for the elderly than beautiful young ladies,” said Ms. Sim. “The most important thing in yoga is bilateral symmetry. The pelvis of most [of my students] is twisted because of their previous poor posture. Yoga is a way for them to get straighter legs and shoulders.”
Ms. Sim instructs about proper breathing and concentration when doing yoga. She says breathing is not just breathing to live, but an ascetic exercise. When discomfort occurs during a yoga exercise, concentrating while tensing and relaxing the affected limb makes the pain go away.
Ms. Sim started yoga in her mid-30s. “I married when I was 23, but I was in such poor mental and physical health that people who knew me said I wouldn’t live past 30.” She ate thin rice gruel for more than a year, and could have died after taking too many sleeping pills. Because of her poor health, her marriage failed. However, by taking up yoga on the advice of a friend, she found mental peace and regained her physical vitality. She adapted to the discipline so easily that soon she was instructing others, and until 15 years ago ran a yoga center in Daegu.
Ms. Sim moved into Hannong village a few years ago to live with the elderly and to teach them yoga for free. She gets up at 4 a.m. and after meditation hikes up a nearby mountain before breakfast at 6 a.m. Her meals are very light ― she doesn’t eat meat or fish, but instead eats fruits and root vegetables.
As one gets older, muscles get tighter while tendons and ligaments stiffen. But Ms. Sim can do advanced yoga poses without much difficulty.
“Tell you what. If an elderly person who depends on a cane does yoga for 20 days, he can walk without one,” Ms. Sim said.

by Ko Jong-kwan
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