Why Yoga is Great for Seniors

yoga classes

A low-impact exercise regimen is ideal for seniors. Stretching, strength-building, and deep breathing are all ways to improve longevity and quality of life in later years. Practicing yoga provides a wonderful combination of these physical activities along with fostering a contemplative state that lowers stress and provides for better rest. 

One of the wonderful things about yoga is that because it is non-competitive and has the goal of improving health, people of nearly any physical type can feel their own kind of success at the practice. It is also particularly good for seniors because yoga has the ability to address some of the specific health issues that seniors regularly face. 

Yoga helps fight arthritis

There are two major types of arthritis: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is a degrading of joints over time and rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease where the immune system causes joint membranes to wear down. Both forms of arthritis are chronic, meaning sufferers have to find a way to manage their symptoms and live with the condition. 

When arthritic joints are exercised in a low-impact setting like with yoga, the building of muscle tone can reduce pain and allow for greater mobility. 

Yoga helps with respiration and heart function

The breathing exercises associated with yoga, known as pranayama, are beneficial in many ways, but one effect is improved respiratory function which can mean a reduction in symptoms related to asthma or other breathing issues. General pulmonary health is also improved when breathing is better and practicing yoga can lead to a general lower heart rate and a reduction in pulmonary disease.  

Yoga helps with balance

Improving balance can be one of the most important aspects of the general health of a senior. Falls account for a great deal of the health issues of elderly people. The practice of yoga improves core strength and reflexes, allowing for a lowered probability of suffering from injuries related to falling.

Yoga helps with managing pain

Chronic pain is linked to anxiety and depression, which in turn cause deterioration in the brain. But the effects of yoga can reverse this process. Yoga and meditation reduce pain perception and can help build up tolerance levels and lower stress. 

Yoga helps to lower blood pressure

Keeping muscles and joints limber has the added benefit of keeping arteries flexible, something that helps with blood flow and reduces the risk of high blood pressure and heart attack.

Yoga helps with insomnia

Sleep quality is something that should not be overlooked as it contributes to many physical ailments. Yoga alleviates the stressors that are linked to poor sleep, giving practitioners improved general health and quality of life. 

Yoga helps with loneliness   

By practicing group yoga, seniors can combat one of the most devastating threats to their health: isolation. And because it also helps with your mood, yoga can make you more personable and friendly. Class can create a community between those who attend and, in addition, the scheduled activity creates good reasons to leave a place of residence and seek out camaraderie. 

Before you start – preparations and safety

Type of yoga: 

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There are many types of yoga classes, but it is usually relatively easy to find programs that are directed to seniors.  Depending on the amount of activity desired, most seniors are likely looking to practice hatha yoga, a gentle practice that emphasizes stretching and stillness. Iyengar yoga is also good for seniors as it highlights accessories like chairs or blocks that make poses and postures easier for anyone to attempt. 

Adaptive yoga methods such as chair yoga or water yoga are also generally aimed to seniors. Because water yoga takes the stress off of joints and muscles it can be particularly freeing and therapeutic. Chair yoga classes are widely available in senior centers and retirement homes, and allow practitioners to practice stretching from the comfort of a chair. This accessibility can make the class more open to people of a variety of physical strengths. 

While there are good reasons to take community classes, learning from an individual instructor also has many benefits. It is not as recommended for seniors to try to learn yoga from videos as they may need more tailored instruction based on their personal physical capacity. 

Safety

As with any physical activity there are risks of injury. It’s possible to lower those risks by acting responsibly. Seniors should be cautioned to understand their limitations and to take it slowly in the early going. In addition, they should make sure they are working with certified yoga instructors, preferably ones that have had experience with seniors. Poses should not be forced or cause discomfort and can always be modified by using a chair or block, or just sitting out some of the time. 

Some beneficial yoga poses for seniors

A Place for Mom outlined some of the best poses for seniors to practice when they are seeking the benefits associated with yoga. 

Upward salute: Known for reducing back pain and stiffness, the pose is also known as Urdhva Hastasana or “Raised Hands Pose” and has the practitioner reaching upwards with their palms pressed together.  if there are any issues maintaining this pose it can be done standing up against a wall.

Tree pose: Great for balance, tree pose is done on one leg with the lifted leg crooked so the foot rests on the inside of the knee of the standing leg.  If balance is an issue it is possible to rest the foot on the ankle of the standing leg or use a chair.  

Child’s pose: Done while kneeling on the ground, child’s pose has the practitioner drape their torso over their knees while reaching outward. It is said to be good for digestion and for stretching core muscles and organs. This can be simulated in a chair if kneeling is restrictive. 

Hero pose: Excellent for circulation, in hero pose the person is asked to kneel with their hands resting on their legs. A rolled blanket can be used for better thigh support. Again, if kneeling is beyond the range of motion of a practitioner, this can be done in a chair. 

Mountain pose: A meditative stance, the mountain pose acts as a foundational place for standing poses. This is a place to simply contemplate balance and reduce stress through meditation. 

Savasana: A reclined pose, savasana is a place to concentrate on breathing and meditation. It also has the effect of creating a relaxed stretch, particularly when raising arms over the head. 

Seated abdominal twist: A pose for those participating in chair yoga, this pose will help improve mobility through developing core torsion.

Seniors looking for a calming and pleasant way to maintain or improve their health should certainly try yoga and look for ways that the practice can help with associated issues like respiration or arthritis specifically. Most yoga classes designed for seniors will target poses and processes that particularly affect physical difficulties faced by seniors. If there is a particular issue to work on it is a great idea to ask an instructor for guidance.  

The world of yoga is one of positivity and presence. Hopefully, the time spent in this meditative exercise will provide an overall sense of peace and well-being at any age.

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