It can make you stronger, more flexible and better balanced on your feet. It reduces stress. It helps ease chronic back pain and arthritis symptoms. It can lift your mood and boost your energy. It can even help you sleep better. All this, plus you already have the necessary equipment to start this amazingly simple (and enjoyable) fitness regimen: your body.
“It” is yoga, an ancient group of physical, mental and spiritual practices that in a busy, stressful world can do you a world of good. Yoga exercises are good for both body and mind—and, experts say, good for your spirit as well.
But wait. Isn’t yoga for the young? Don’t you already have to be in somewhat-good shape to do all those yoga poses, like sitting cross-legged on the floor (the lotus position) or the tree pose, where you stand on one foot with your arms raised over your head?
Benefits of yoga for seniors
Fear not. There are many varieties of yoga, ranging from gentle to vigorous and from using only your body to posing and moving with the aid of a chair or other props. (In fact, doing yoga while sitting, called seated or chair yoga, is a great option for those with limited mobility.) In short, older adults have many options when it comes to yoga. And the benefits are many, including being better able to enjoy an active lifestyle and connecting with a community of peers who, like you, are invested in improving their physical, mental and emotional health as they age.
We humans tend to lose muscle tone and our bones grow weaker as we age. Yet our bodies respond to exercise at any age, and even gentle yoga can help you build muscle and bone strength Even if you haven’t been to the gym in ages, yoga can help you ease back into a fitness routine. Your brain and body have worked hard all these years. Now it’s time to repay them—and you—with the mind-body benefits of yoga.
How does yoga work, exactly?
Yoga increases flexibility and mental clarity through movement and meditation. Flexibility comes from various gentle stretching movements while focusing on breathing, which also enhances your physiological well-being. During yoga, while some muscles contract to allow movement, others are relaxing and lengthening to allow that movement. Stretching like this over a period of time allows the muscles to become more pliable and flexible, increasing movement patterns within your joints. Ultimately, stretching and breathing increase physical flexibility while improving overall health.
Now that you know more about how good for you yoga can be, here some basic yoga poses for seniors you can try right now:
Tree pose. Stand with legs together and your arms raised, palms folded together. Raise your right foot enough to touch your heel to your left ankle but with your toes still touching the ground. (Use a chair if needed.) Hold for 20-30 seconds and repeat with your left foot. As you gain confidence holding your balance, try raising either foot off the ground enough to touch heel to the inside of the lower leg and hold for 20-30 seconds.
Leg climb. Sit on the floor with one side of your body against a wall. Lower your back so it is resting on the floor. Lift your legs up the wall, “climbing” until the backs of your legs are flat against the wall. If you can’t get them flat, try shifting your body away from the wall a few inches at a time. Hold for 30-60 seconds, then slowly lower your legs to the floor.
Cat-cow chair stretch. This pose gives you the benefits of the well-known cat-cow stretch without having to get down on the floor. Sitting straight up in a chair, inhale as you push your back against the back of the chair, drawing your navel toward your spine as you do so. (Think of a cat stretching.) Then, exhaling, push your stomach forward while arching your spine away from the back of the chair. Hold each pose for 10-15 seconds.
The other piece: meditation
Because your mind and body are so connected, yoga works on both. The practice of meditation or dhyana in yoga helps create mental stillness, allowing an individual to be at peace with their mind, body and spirit. There are several different ways to meditate in yoga, such as visualizing, gazing, breathing, or physical sensations (hot/cold temperatures):
- Visualizing requires one to picture in one’s mind a peaceful object or channel, such as a god or goddess, flower, or a particular chakra (energy center).
- Gazing is a different form of imagery that uses an open-eye focus on an object, such as a flower, candle flame or painting. (Gazing may be performed with both eyes open or one eye closed.)
- Breathing in meditation is performed by focusing on the rise and fall of one's chest, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth.
- Physical sensation is similar to focusing deeply on breathing; however, it is redirected to a sensation such as the temperature of your lips or nose, strengthening in your spine, or even observing an emotion.
An easy way to combine poses and meditation is to remember to inhale and exhale, gently but deeply, as you maneuver into a pose or as you hold it. Try to keep to a steady rhythm of breathing in and breathing out. Before long, you won’t even notice you’re doing it—but your body will, and it will thank you by growing healthier.
Ready to give yoga a try? At Five Star Senior Living, we offer a holistic approach to wellness called Lifestyle360. Residents have opportunities every day to engage in activities that nurture the body, mind, and spirit. Many Five Star communities also feature onsite clinics offered by Ageility, our rehab and fitness training partner.