Why Yoga Is Important for Seniors
Yoga has evolved into one of the most common alternative health practices around the world. It’s a great exercise at any age, and over the years its popularity has increased among older adults. In this article, we will take a deeper look at yoga for seniors.
It is very likely that a yoga studio has popped up in your hometown. This is because yoga has many health benefits, and is especially useful for reducing stress and pain while also improving overall flexibility and strength.
As you read, you will discover specific yoga for seniors benefits, as well as precautions for seniors to consider before beginning a yoga practice. We will also detail what yoga poses are most useful for the elderly and how to perform them.
Before we get into that, let’s take a brief look how yoga can benefit you as you get older, and hit your 50s, 60s, and even 70s.
Yoga in Your 50s
Systolic (upper) and diastolic (lower) blood pressure numbers are significantly higher after about age 50. The systolic causes the heart to contract, and the diastolic leads to relaxation between heartbeats. That is why yoga after 50 can be beneficial.
Research shows significant reductions in blood pressure for interventions that incorporate three elements of yoga, including breathing, meditation, and yoga positions. It is the slow and controlled breathing in yoga that helps manage blood pressure by reducing nervous system activity.
People in their 50s also often begin to develop osteoporosis, and yoga helps slow bone thinning. Research shows yoga can reduce the risk of osteoporosis as well, particularly in menopausal women.
Studies have also found that diabetics practicing yoga three to six days weekly for eight weeks shed more weight than those who walked during that timeframe.
Yoga in Your 60s
In your 50s and 60s, your joints aren’t what they once were, and this can lead to arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome. However, yoga can help you regularly lubricate your joints when you get older.
Yin yoga is a gentle yoga for seniors where postures are held for about 20 minutes, and this is very nourishing and lubricating for the joints.
Yoga after 60 is also good to reduce anxiety and build strength and balance. Yoga induces relaxation and reduces heart rate, and this helps seniors with anxiety, especially those who begin to fear death.
An eight-week study from 2015 found that participants taking 60-minute yoga classes twice weekly had greater reductions in anxiety than those who didn’t practice yoga.
Since falling is a leading cause of injury among the elderly, yoga can help you achieve better balance as you get older, to prevent falls. As a result, you will still be able to move around when you reach 80.
Yoga in Your 70s
What impact does yoga after 70 have on the body? After 60 and 70, your memory and brain function aren’t as sharp as in your younger days. The combination of meditation, breathing, and yoga postures can help improve focus and enhance your mood overall.
Yoga is also important for those 70 and older because it improves overall balance, tones muscles, and works on your sense of position in space—also called proprioception.
About 80% of proprioception is located in the ankles; therefore, standing postures like mountain pose can help you achieve a greater sense of balance.
The Benefits of Yoga for Seniors
What are the benefits of yoga for elderly individuals? In addition to its many health benefits, yoga is very useful for seniors with limited mobility.
Yoga for seniors is said to reduce joint pain and increase strength and flexibility to prevent falls. The deep breathing associated with yoga can also improve your concentration and mood, and reduce stress levels.
Yoga may also reduce chronic low back pain, depression, and anxiety; improve sleep quality, memory, and blood flow; increase immunity; detoxify toxins and heavy metals; and benefit digestive function and decrease irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Other yoga benefits include a reduced risk of high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and arthritis. For all of these reasons, yoga for seniors is very beneficial.
Yoga Poses and How to Perform Them
Consulting a private yoga instructor can be beneficial for a senior who is just beginning to practice yoga. Once you get the hang of things, you can take a 60- to 90-minute class at a yoga studio or practice at home.
What is the best yoga for senior sequence? In this section we will guide you through yoga for seniors postures. The following are 13 specific yoga postures for the elderly, and how to perform them as well.
1. Easy Pose (Sukhasana)
It is good to begin with easy pose; however, don’t let the name fool you—this can be quite a challenging pose. In this pose you will stretch your ankles and knees, strengthen the back, and calm the brain.
You will start by sitting on a thick blanket and stretching your legs in front of you. Then, sit cross-legged comfortably.
Relax your feet comfortably on the floor, and make sure there is a comfortable gap between your feet and pelvis. Press your hands against the floor, and lift your sitting bones off of the blanket and stay there for a few breaths. Lower back onto the blanket.
You will then close your eyes, and place one hand on your heart and the other on your tummy. At this time, take five long inhalations and exhalations in the belly, and then into the upper chest.
You can stay in easy pose for any length of time, but you will want to alternate the leg being crossed if you perform this posture on a daily basis.
One day your right leg may be forward, and the next your left leg will be forward. Beginners to yoga will want to sit with your back to the wall, or a block between the wall and lower shoulder blades.
2. Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar)
Now onto something a little more complicated, although still a great sequence of poses for seniors. The sun salutations are a complete body workout and a series of 12 yoga poses.
Ideally you should practice at least 12 rounds, or six sets on the left leg and six on the right leg. They are also designed to give praise to the sun, and therefore are often practiced in the morning or evening while facing the sun.
This set of postures improves and enhances blood circulation throughout the body, and helps for proper function of the nervous and digestive systems.
How do you perform the sun salutations? Here are the 12 postures in order:
- Step 1: You begin standing with your hands together in the prayer pose.
- Step 2: With your feet together, fully extend your arms with your chest expanded.
- Step 3: You then exhale and bend forward from the waist, and on your inhale, bring your hands to the floor and beside your feet.
- Step 4: On your next inhale, bring your left leg back, bend your right knee, and place your arms next to your feet and look forward.
- Step 5: On your exhale, lift your hips and tailbone, and land in downward dog.
- Step 6: Next, gently bring your knees to the floor, and exhale. Take the hips back, slide forward, and rest your chin and chest on the floor. Raise your buttocks, and as you do this, your feet, hands, chest, knees, and chin gently touch the floor.
- Step 7: You then slide up into cobra pose with your chest raised and gaze turned upward.
- Step 8: You then make your way back into downward dog pose, as you exhale and lift the hips and tailbone.
- Step 9: On your next inhale, push your right leg back, bend your left knee, and place your arms next to your feet, and gaze forward.
- Step 10: As you exhale again, bend forward from the waist. On your inhale, bring your hands on the floor and beside your feet, and then exhale.
- Step 11: Inhale, and with your feet together, lift your arms up and back, and stretch your entire body. Then exhale.
- Step 12: Relax your shoulders, expand your chest, and inhale and lift the arms up to the air. On your exhale, bring your palms to your chest and end in prayer pose.
3. Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
Another good beginner yoga pose for seniors is mountain pose. This posture improves concentration, strengthens the leg muscles, and lengthens the spine.
In this pose, stand tall and open your chest, with your arms raised or at your sides. With your big toes touching and your heels slightly apart, spread and lift your toes and balls of the feet.
Mountain pose is often the starting pose for all standing postures, and it is a good posture on its own. You can stay in it for 30 seconds to a minute, while breathing with steady inhales and exhales.
In this pose, you can rock back and forth and side to side, and stretch with an elongated spine.
4. Warrior I Pose (Virabhadrasana)
Warrior I pose will improve balance and strengthen your thighs, shoulders, arms, and back muscles. Consequently, this is a great posture for seniors.
For this posture, you will begin in mountain pose, and stretch your feet three to four feet apart. Raise your arms parallel to the floor.
Turn your left foot 60 degrees to the right, and position your right foot 90 degrees to the right. Make sure your right heel is aligned with your left heel.
Exhale, and rotate your torso to the right, squaring the front of your pelvis with the front edge of your yoga mat. Your left heel is anchored to the floor. Exhale, and bend your right knee over the right ankle with your shin being perpendicular to the floor.
Reach up with the arms, and ground through your back foot. If possible, bring your palms together, and then gaze forward, or tilt your head back and look at your thumbs. Stay in this pose for about a minute.
To come out of posture, press your back heel into the floor and straighten your right knee. Turn your feet forward, and release your arms. Repeat this posture on the other side, and with your left knee over the left ankle. You will finish in mountain pose.
5. Eagle Arms (Garudasana Arms)
Eagle arms can help relax the shoulders and upper back, and flex and stabilize your shoulder joint. It is considered a good posture for low back pain and sciatica, and thus seniors can benefit from it.
You will start this posture in mountain pose. Bend your knees slightly, and lift your left foot up, crossing your left thigh over the right. Your left toes are pointed toward the floor, and balance on the right foot.
Stretch your arms forward, and cross your arms so the right arm is above the left arm. Also bend your elbows and have the backs of the hands facing each other. You will then press the palms together and lift the elbows up, while stretching the fingers toward the ceiling.
Stay in this posture for 15 to 30 seconds. Unwind the arms and legs, and again stand in mountain pose. Repeat on the left side.
6. Seated Cat/Cow (Upavistha Bitilasana Marjaryasana)
The cat/cow posture is often done on all fours; however, it is beneficial for seniors to do it in the modified or beginners seated version. Cat/cow is a traditional restorative pose that brings relief to the entire back.
In a seated position, you will press your palms on the knees, lift your chest, roll your shoulders away from the ears, and look up. As you lift your spine, you will lengthen into a gentle backbend.
You breastbone then moves forward, and your head and neck lengthen back as you come into a cow backbend. You then move your waist and middle back backward, and drop your chin toward your chest as you come into a cat forward bend.
You should move through cat/cow bends with your breath. Perform this pose about six to 10 times.
7. Seated Crescent Moon (Upavistha Ashta Chandrasana)
Another good modified yoga pose for seniors is crescent moon, which can be done standing or seated. In the standing version you will begin in mountain pose, but in the seated version you will comfortably in a seated cross-legged position.
You will begin by breathing in through the chest and raising your hands over your head. Your shoulders and back should be relaxed at this time. You then create a crescent shape with your body by rolling your hip to the right and moving your arms toward the left.
Next, hold the pose for a couple of breaths, and then return your hands over your head. Repeat on the other side by rolling your hip to the left and moving your arms to the right. Again, hold for two breaths, and return to the original center position and release your arms to the side to finish.
8. Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana)
Seated forward bend is another comfortable yoga pose for seniors, and you can do it on the floor or in a chair.
You will sit either with your legs extended in front of you or with your feet grounded on the floor. You will then simply extend your spine and fold over your legs.
Your hands will rest on your thighs if in a chair, or you will grab onto your feet if you’re doing the position on the floor. You can take five or more breaths in this yoga pose. To come out of the pose, lift your torso back to an upright position on an inhalation breath.
9. Simple Seated Twist (Parivrtta Sukhasana)
This yoga pose is basically easy pose with a twist. It does so many positive things for seniors, including increasing flexibility, stimulating the kidneys and liver with detoxification, reducing stress and fatigue, and relieving back pain and sciatica.
For this position you begin in easy pose with your spine straight and your palms resting on your knees. You then slowly place your right hand behind you with your left hand on your right knee.
You then bend toward the right and look over your right shoulder. Keep your spine straight and hold for about a minute. Repeat on the left side with your left hand placed behind you and your right hand on your left knee.
You then look over the left shoulder, and hold again for about a minute.
Practice this posture at least three times on each side.
10. Head-to-Knee Forward Bend (Janu Sirsasana)
A one-legged forward is another yoga posture that is beneficial for seniors. For instance, it helps relieve menopausal symptoms, such as headaches, fatigue, insomnia, depression, and anxiety. It also stimulates the liver and kidneys, improves digestion, and treats sinusitis and high blood pressure.
To perform this posture, sit with an erect spine on the floor and your legs stretched out in front of you. Bend your left knee and place the left foot against the right thigh, and keep your left knee on the floor.
Raise your arms above your head, stretch up, and twist to right. Bend forward and stretch your chin toward your toes. If possible, hold on to your big toes, and point your elbows to the ground. Continue to move forward as you pull your toes.
To get out of it, bring your arms to your sides.
Repeat on the other side by bending your right knee and placing your right foot against your left thigh, while keeping your right knee on the floor. Raise your arms, twist to the left, bend forward, and again stretch your chin toward your toes.
You can hold this posture on each side for anywhere from one to three minutes.
11. Wind-Removing Pose (Pavana Muktasana)
Wind-removing pose is another great yoga pose for seniors. There are many benefits of this yoga pose, including enhancing blood circulation, easing pain in the lower back, improving digestion, and toning the arm and leg muscles.
For wind-removing pose, lie on your back with your arms beside your body and your feet together. Then, bring your right knee toward your chest, and press the thigh on the abdomen.
Lift your chest and head off the floor, and touch your chin to your right knee. Relax, release the grip, and come back to the ground. Repeat wind-removing pose with the left leg.
Do this exercise a third time with both legs, where you will roll side to side and rock up and down three to five times. You will end this posture in corpse pose.
12. Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose (Viparita Karani)
Leg-up-the-wall pose offers a variety of potential health benefits for seniors as well. It could help regulate blood pressure; refresh the lungs and heart; reduce stress and anxiety; and relieve digestive issues, headaches, and menstrual cramps.
For this posture, sit with your right side against the wall, and then swing your legs up the wall. Make sure your buttocks rests comfortably close to the wall. You can be a few inches from the wall or right up against the wall.
Another option is to place two folded blankets or a bolster along the wall. You will also want your chest, neck, and back to relax and soften. This posture can be held up to 10 minutes or more.
To get out of the posture run your legs back down the wall, and relax.
13. Corpse Pose (Savasana)
Corpse pose, or savasana, is the yoga pose that ends your practice.
For this posture you simply lie on your yoga mat with your arms by your sides and your palms facing up. Also, relax your legs with your feet turned toward your mat.
For more relaxation place a pillow under your knees to help support the lower back. Your eyes should remain closed, and you should practice deep breathing throughout this relaxation posture.
Remain in corpse pose for five to 15 minutes, or longer if you prefer.
Precautions for Seniors before Starting Yoga
Although yoga for seniors has many benefits, there are also some precautions to consider. For instance, since an elderly person’s body weakens with age, too much stretching may do more harm than good. Therefore, older adults must be gentler with their body and get out of any posture that seems too difficult.
Comfort is the first priority when it comes to yoga for seniors. Seniors should always try to use modifications with postures when necessary, and use folded blankets, bolsters, blocks, and straps when needed. Seniors can also enhance their practice by placing an eye pillow or small towel over their eyes.
Seniors should also consult their doctor before beginning a yoga practice. This is especially important for seniors suffering from a chronic condition like arthritis, a spinal disc problem, or glaucoma.
Final Thoughts on Yoga Poses for Seniors
Yoga provides many health benefits for older adults and seniors, especially for those in their 50s, 60s, and 70s. This is because yoga has the potential to reduce joint pain and increase flexibility and strength to prevent falls. It’s also been shown to improve concentration, blood flow, and sleep quality; boost immunity; and reduce the risk of arthritis, osteoporosis, and high blood pressure.
In this article we also explained what yoga poses benefit seniors. The yoga postures featured in this article included easy pose, mountain pose, warrior I pose, eagle arms, seated cat/cow, seated crescent moon, seated forward bend, head-to-knee bend, wind-removing pose, leg-up-the-wall pose, corpse pose, and the sun salutations.
Many of these postures can also be modified when necessary or performed in a chair.
Seniors new to yoga should become familiar with yoga by trying guided online classes, taking a class at a local studio, or hiring a yoga instructor for a one-on-one session.
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