Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar (BKS Iyengar) was a world-renowned yoga teacher who developed a unique style of yoga. He was active in the...
By 2050, two billion people worldwide will be above the age of 60, up 100% since 2020. Each person in every country of the world should have the ability to live a long and healthy life, and yoga can help with this.
Many people think of yoga as an activity that improves balance and promotes flexibility. However, it is far more than that. Yoga classes incorporate breathing exercises, relaxation, and meditation, increasing an individual's overall health and well-being. It is an ideal physical activity for seniors because it is low-impact, can be modified with props for different abilities, and started at any age.
What Are The Most Common Issues For Seniors?
Arthritis: Arthritis is the swelling and tenderness of joints, typically increasing with age. 49.6% of people aged 65 and older are diagnosed with chronic conditions of arthritis. The risk is more common among women than men.
Cardiovascular health: Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death globally, responsible for an estimated 31% of mortalities worldwide. It takes roughly 17.9 million lives each year, and two-thirds of them occur in people above the age of 70.
Dementia: Dementia is an umbrella term that refers to several diseases that affect memory and other cognitive abilities. 60% - 70% of these cases are Alzheimer's disease. This makes it the most common form of dementia in the general population. People above the age of 65 usually experience it. Roughly 50 million people worldwide have dementia.
Physiological changes: Sarcopenia and osteopenia are two of the leading physiological diseases that come with age. Sarcopenia describes the loss of muscle that occurs with age, while osteopenia defines age-related loss of bone. These afflictions can decrease strength, endurance, and speed. Muscle and bone loss vary from person to person, depending on exercise level, nutrition, and more. Both sarcopenia and osteopenia increase people’s risk of falls and vulnerability to injury.
Social isolation: Many older adults experience isolation as a result of getting older—particularly individuals who live alone. One study found that older adults suffering from loneliness and isolation are 59% more likely to see a decline in their physical and mental health. 45% will have a greater risk of earlier death. Moreover, another study found that constant loneliness is equally dangerous as being an alcoholic or smoking fifteen cigarettes a day.
Yoga For Seniors Can Help Solve Or Prevent These Problems
Fortunately, yoga is a comprehensive system that can prevent and help resolve these issues. Here’s how:
Arthritis: In a 2014 study of 36 female participants with knee osteoarthritis, those who participated in yoga had significant improvements. Those who did not do yoga experienced no improvements. People use yoga as a low-impact exercise that strengthens and stretches tight muscles while challenging balance skills. It helps reduce pain in the joints while improving mobility and function.
Cardiovascular health: Yoga for seniors encourages deep and slow breathing, which has the potential to lower blood pressure. Research suggests that, on average, yoga reduces blood pressure by five points after a few months of regular practice. In addition, the aspects of meditation and relaxation that yoga promotes help decrease stress levels by building emotional resilience. Stress hurts the cardiovascular system by triggering a rise in heart rate, blood pressure, and the release of stress hormones. Yoga exercises help activate the rest-and-digest response, allowing you to be less reactive to stressful situations and avoid these intense emotions. Practicing yoga for just 90 minutes can decrease stress significantly.
Cognitive impairment: We must give our brains downtime to help improve our memory capacity. Yoga provides your brain with the relaxation to support memory while also reducing the risk of mild cognitive impairment.
Physiological changes: Yoga is an excellent exercise in fighting against symptoms of sarcopenia and osteopenia by building muscle. While it may get more difficult with age, it is still possible and important. Yoga can help to maintain your strength and even increase muscle mass. Moreover, movement and weight-bearing exercises keep bones healthier for longer and help prevent these physiological changes.
Social isolation: The social benefits of regularly taking part in group seniors yoga classes may help individuals find a purpose and avoid feelings of isolation and loneliness. Being involved in a community may assist you in finding support and guidance from people who are on the same journey as you. Social isolation can be dangerous and is easily avoidable by joining a physical fitness class where you will be held accountable to participate.
The many benefits of yoga are undeniable. It was named one of the best and most efficient forms of exercise for older adults as it has extensive benefits on their mental and physical health. These include strengthening bones, reducing stress, improving sleep, and decreasing physical pain and the risk of depression. In addition, it enhances strength, flexibility, mobility, and balance, helping to avoid injury.
Strengthens bones and muscles: Yoga helps prevent the onset of physiological changes, including osteopenia and sarcopenia, by strengthening bones and muscles. This is achieved by using and engaging muscles and bones through yoga practice.
Reduces aches and pains: No matter your physical limitations, yoga is excellent at decreasing any aches and pains endured with aging. In particular, people suffering from physiological changes, such as sarcopenia and osteopenia, can significantly benefit from yoga by learning how to breathe and relax properly through the chronic pain they are dealing with.
Reduces stress: Several studies demonstrate how yoga decreases cortisol levels, the primary stress hormone in your brain. This reduces stress significantly. Using yoga alone or with other practices, including meditation, is an excellent way to keep stress levels down. Moreover, yoga can benefit those suffering from variations of anxiety disorder by helping to decrease anxiety levels for people.
Improves sleep: Sleep is often an issue for older adults for various reasons. Practicing yoga for seniors offers relaxation that supports longer and deeper sleep.
Decreases risk of depression: Yoga is a mood booster and perfect for decreasing the chances of depression. This is because it lowers the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. By doing this, our body's serotonin levels increase, improving our overall happiness.
Enhances flexibility, mobility, and balance: Practicing yoga helps to increase balance and agility through slow and controlled poses. It provides people with the tools to prevent falls, the leading cause of injury for older adults.
Yoga practitioners over the age of 65 have a more significant threat of facing an injury than other age groups. If you are new to yoga, you will likely experience some pain and soreness due to the use of new muscles. Although there are risks of injury, the likelihood is low in yoga for seniors compared to higher impact physical activity.
Chair Yoga For Seniors
One simple way to get into yoga is with some simple body awareness exercises that you can do while sitting in a chair. These chair yoga for seniors exercises can help keep your spine mobile. They can also help improve ribcage mobility. And they may even help improve body awareness, which is a good thing because it means that your muscles are still active. Some of these exercises may also help with back pain.
Forward Pelvic Tilt
The first exercise you can do while sitting in a chair is to practice tilting your pelvis forwards. This can build hip bone awareness, but it can also help maintain lumbar flexibility.
Sitting upright, move your pubic bone downwards so that your pelvis tilts forwards. Keep your ribcage upright and notice how the bend in your lumbar spine increases. Then return to the starting position. Move smoothly as well as slowly. Repeat five times.
Backward Pelvic Tilt
This next exercise is the opposite of the previous exercise. Lift your pubic bone so that your pelvis tilts back. Notice how your lumbar spine flattens. Return to the start.
Repeat five times, going slowly and smoothly.
Note that for this exercise and the previous one, if you have difficulty feeling your lower back, place one or both hands there to feel the changes in your lumbar spine as you do these exercises.
Sideways Pelvic Tilt
Another exercise for the pelvis and lumbar spine is to shift your ribcage to one side and lift one sitting bone. The sitting bones are the two bones you can feel when you sit down on a hard chair or the floor. Shifting your ribcage to the right, lift your left sitting bone. Then return to center. Repeat this exercise five times on each side. You can do one side first five times and then switch or alternate between sides.
Seated Chest Lift
This next seated chair exercise helps to maintain or improve ribcage flexibility. This can be important for both the shoulders and the arms, but it can also affect lower back pain.
Sitting upright, focus on your sternum. Slowly lift it upwards. Do it slowly and see if you can gradually lift your sternum higher and higher. Pause at the top and then return to the start. When doing this exercise, notice any sensations at the back of your ribcage. See if you can feel your back ribs pulling down when you lift your chest.
Seated Chest Drop
If your chest tends to be dropped naturally, you may not need this exercise. Also, if you get low back pain while doing it, leave it out. Otherwise, this exercise can be used to complement the previous exercise.
Sitting upright, pull your sternum slowly and smoothly downwards. Rather than letting it drop, try to actively pull it down so that your abdominal muscles are working. Relax and repeat five times.
Seated Side Bend
Sitting upright, bend your upper body to one side. Bend at your waist. Then try to bend your ribcage.
While holding the position, try to make the short side of the bend shorter by activating that side of your waist.
Alternatively, focus on the long side, and try to make the long side of your waist and ribcage longer or more open.
Hold for five or more breaths. Then repeat on the other side.
For this seated twist, so that you strengthen the muscles that work on your spine and stretch them, try not to use your arms.
Sitting upright, turn your ribcage to the right. You may be able to feel your abdominal (or “waist”) muscles working as you do this. See if you can also feel your ribs while twisting. So that your neck feels long, particularly the back of your neck, draw your ears back and up, away from your shoulders.
Hold for five or more slow breaths. Relax. And when you are ready, repeat on the other side.
Seated Foot Press
This chair yoga pose can be used to help strengthen your legs. Here again, the idea is not to use your arms.
Sitting upright to begin with have your feet even on the floor.
Focus on one leg, press your heel down into the floor. Prevent your body from moving as you do this. You should be able to notice that your leg feels strong. Relax and repeat five times. Then repeat on the other side.
Try it while bending forwards to varying degrees as you get used to this exercise.
In addition, a variation is to press through your forefoot. In this instant, prevent your heel from lifting.
Seated Knee lift
This chair yoga exercise can be used to strengthen your hip flexors.
Sit with your torso upright, but your pubic bone lifted so that your pelvis is tilted back.
Focusing on one knee, generate an upward pull on your knee so that you can feel the front of your thigh activating. Relax and repeat five times for each side.
Chair Yoga for the Arms and Legs
Lifting weights can be an excellent way for seniors to maintain bone and muscle health. But if you can’t get to the gym, this next exercise is one way of strengthening some of the muscles of the arms and legs.
Sitting upright, place the backs of your hands against your inner thighs, just behind your knees. Press your hands outwards against your legs. At the same time, press your legs inwards against your arms. Try to slowly ramp up the intensity and gradually reduce it and relax. Repeat five times.
Next, place your hands to the outside of your thighs, just behind your knees. Press your hands inwards while pressing your knees outwards.
Repeat five times.
For this next exercise, place your hand's ontop of your thighs just behind the knees. For this one, focus on one side at a time. Press your hand down against your leg. Press your leg upwards as if trying to lift your foot. Alternate sides each time or repeat on the same side before switching. Repeat five times for each side.
For the final exercise in this set, hook your hands at the bottom of your thighs, just behind the knees. Pull up with your hands while resting with your legs. You can do this one side at a time or both sides together. Repeat five times.
Mountain Pose Yoga for Seniors
Mountain pose is a standing yoga pose. A modified version of this pose is to stand with feet about hip width apart. You can further modify it by bending your knees a slight amount. Exercises that you can do in mountain pose include chest lift and chest drop. You can also practice tilting your pelvis forwards and backwards.
Forward and Backward Weight shifting
A simple standing exercise for seniors that is gentle but that can help maintain body awareness is weight shifting. Start by with feet hip width and knees slightly bent.
Shift your body forwards relative to your feet so that you feel your forefeet and toes press down with even pressure. Shift back so that your heels and forefeet press down with even pressure.
Once you are used to the basic exercise, pay close attention to your feet. Shifting forwards, stop as soon as you feel your forefeet and toes pressing down with even pressure. Shifting back, stop as soon as you feel your forefeet and heels pressing down with even pressure.
Repeat five or more times, going slowly and smoothly.
Lateral Weight Shifting
Another standing weight shift exercise is to shift sideways to one foot. Stand with feet about hip width apart but with feet slightly turned out and knees bent slightly.
Shift your torso to one side, keeping your torso upright. Shift as much weight as possible to one foot without tipping your body. Pause, and then return to center.
Repeat five ties on each side
If you can get all of your weight on one foot, then add a slight foot lift. Shift weight to one foot. Brace the foot and ankle, then slightly lift your other foot without moving your upper body. Touch the foot down. Return to center.
Repeat three to five times on each side.
A simple way to strengthen the inner and outer thighs is to use friction. Make sure that your feet can’ slip for this exercise.
This exercise can help strengthen your knees and hips.
Press your feet outwards against the floor. Your leg muscles should activate. Activate and relax smoothly and slowly. Then press your feet inwards against the floor. Again, notice the leg activation. Repeat five times for each action.
Yoga Poses For Seniors
If you’re curious about what it takes to start a yoga practice, allow us to introduce you to some simple exercises, and yoga poses that will help (1) enhance your breathing, (2) balance, and (3) stress-reduction through relaxation:
Victorious breath (ujjayi pranayama): This is a breathing technique used to calm the mind and warm the body. When practicing Ujjayi, you begin by filling the lungs with air while breathing through your nose and maintaining a slight contraction in your throat. Ujjayi pranayama is often used while doing vinyasa and ashtanga yoga. The whispering sound this makes when performed correctly, has given this breathing the name of ocean-sounding breath. You will repeat several breaths.
Benefits: This will teach you to control your breathing, one of the most essential parts of yoga. Practicing breathing control exercises will help you exist in the present moment by linking your mind, body, and spirit. Ujjayi is beneficial in calming the mind, releasing tension, and any build-up of emotions.
Risks and contraindications: When practicing Ujjayi pranayama, be careful not to close your throat. If it is your first time trying this breathing exercise, you should do so with a certified instructor to guide you. Stop the procedure if you become dizzy. If you have any medical concerns, consult with a doctor first.
Tree pose (vrikshasana): The tree pose is a good balancing pose for seniors. You stand tall and place one foot on the opposite inner thigh, either above or below the knee. Your leg should be turned out to the side, and your hands placed as in prayer. Hold this position for 5 to 8 breaths.
Benefits: This pose is suitable for older adults because they are at risk of experiencing hip pain and other problems. This posture increases hip mobility. It activates the leg and abdominal muscles and helps with balance and concentration.
Risks and contraindications: The tree pose requires strong abdominal muscles and good balance. This is a problem for many seniors whose muscles are weakening, putting them at risk of falling and injuring themselves.
Modification: You can modify this pose to a baby tree or use a chair for support if you are a beginner. You can do the tree posture at the wall with a chair by using it to support your lifted leg and leaning the rest of your body against the wall. Try the seated tree pose: when you sit on the chair, cross one foot over the knee and lift your arms from prayer to over your head.
Legs-up-the-wall (viparita karani): This restorative and gentle yoga pose is held for extended periods. Legs-up-the-wall involves sitting as close to the wall as possible (either on the floor or on the bed), lying down on your back, and lifting your legs against the wall. Once in the position, relax your legs and upper body and focus on your breathing. This pose is generally held for 5 to 10 minutes or up to 20 for deeper relaxation.
Benefits: The legs-up-the-wall pose is good for passive healing and induces relaxation by slowing down breathing, reducing blood pressure, and producing calmness. Moreover, this pose can reduce headaches, boost energy, and relieve lower back pain.
Risks and contraindications: This pose is not recommended for people with glaucoma, hypertension, or a hernia. If you have lower back pain or hip pain, be careful lifting your legs to the wall as it can cause you to strain your muscles. Consider putting a cushion in the area experiencing discomfort. If you have high or low blood pressure, it is not recommended to hold this pose for an extended period. Take your time while transitioning back to standing to avoid dizziness.
Frequently Asked Questions
What type of yoga is best for older adults?
Hatha Yoga: Hatha yoga is a form of gentle yoga that often consists of a series of standing and sitting poses that focus on stretching and breathing. The yoga sequence is believed to be the best yoga for beginners.
Restorative Yoga: Restorative yoga is a slow, meditative form of yoga that utilizes props to support the body while holding poses for extended periods of time. This gentle sequence is the best form of yoga for seniors who wish to access feelings of relaxation and contentment.
Yin Yoga: Yin yoga is similar to restorative yoga by focusing on slow movements. The main difference is that it concentrates on stretching deep connective tissue, helping to relieve stiffness while increasing flexibility.
Vinyasa Yoga: Vinyasa is an umbrella term for yoga styles that involve matching breathing with a series of movements that flow together to create a quick and fluid routine. Vinyasa yoga class varies in difficulty and is recommended for relatively fit seniors that are looking for more of a challenge.
Ashtanga Yoga: Ashtanga yoga is challenging and fast-paced, combining a set of poses that are demonstrated the same way each time. It utilizes flexibility while increasing the heart rate and circulation, making it superb for weight loss. Ashtanga yoga is not recommended for beginners. However, many older adults find it quite beneficial.
Bikram Yoga: This type of yoga class heats rooms above 100 degrees to increase humidity to 40%. These classes are typically 90 minutes long and combine two breathing techniques and a series of 26 poses with the purpose of flushing out body toxins and strengthening muscles. There are risks to Bikram yoga, including overheating, and it is not recommended for individuals who have high or low blood pressure levels or any heart condition.
Kundalini Yoga: Kundalini yoga combines posture, breathing exercises, meditation, and chanting. This is an excellent class for older adults interested in more than just the physical aspects of yoga, as it also uses spiritual components.
Chair Yoga: This is a non-traditional option for seniors who are not comfortable with up and down movements but are still interested in the benefits of yoga for seniors. Chair yoga for seniors modifies traditional poses, including standing poses, to be performed in a chair.
How do I start yoga at 60?
Evaluate your physical condition before beginning. Some poses are not recommended for individuals who have certain medical conditions. It is recommended that you speak with your doctor before taking even a simple yoga class. Moreover, this will help you decide what the right class is for you and ensure it aligns with your goals.
You should gather proper yoga gear. Yoga practice requires comfortable clothing. You will also need a yoga mat that is long enough for your whole body when lying down. This will ensure support during all yoga poses. There are props available for those who experience joint pain, such as knees or wrists, that provide extra cushion and support. Additionally, straps and blocks can make challenging poses more accessible.
Make sure to seek out a qualified yoga instructor who understands any potential limitations and unique challenges faced by individuals 60 years or older. Once you pick an instructor, be sure to let them know if you have any health conditions so you can proceed safely and efficiently. They can help you find an exercise program that aligns with your goals and interests.
Try to start slow and begin with a gentle yoga class. Make goals for yourself that you can work toward with time (i.e., to touch your toes). This will allow you to focus on proper technique so you can gradually improve with a low risk of injury. Yoga is not about comparing yourself to others around you but rather focusing on moving and improving at your own pace. Although you may feel challenged, yoga should never hurt or cause you any pain. Remember, almost any pose can be altered to accommodate your needs and ensure that you are comfortable.
Is yoga good for seniors?
Yoga is one of the best forms of exercise for older adults. There are many different types and styles of yoga practice, making it suitable for just about anyone. Yoga practitioners experience many mental and physical health benefits, including strengthening bones, reducing stress, improving sleep, and decreasing pain, and risk of depression. In addition, it enhances strength, flexibility, mobility, and balance.
How often should seniors do yoga?
The Journal of Human Kinetics published a study that found older women who practice yoga three times a week for twelve weeks saw a significant improvement in their respiratory function. In addition, practicing yoga for just 90-minutes can decrease stress significantly. The frequency you should practice yoga entirely depends on the benefits you are looking to get out of the exercise and your current health status. Yoga can be practiced as often as one would like. However, as an older adult, it is crucial that you listen to your body and understand when it needs a break. Daily practice may push your body too far, depending on your physical ability and fitness level. It would be best to speak with your healthcare provider and a yoga instructor to understand what will best benefit you and help you obtain your goals.
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