You’re never too late to start practicing yoga. As seniors if you’re looking for ways to enhance your physical, mental and physiological well-being, gentle yoga for seniors is your answer. The benefits of yoga are even more critical to maintaining good, stable health and well-being as you grow older. Whether it's to simply stretch out stiff or weak joints, get relief from chronic pain, release stress or to relax and restore, yoga has it all. In fact, as you grow older, yoga will help you manage stress and improve sleep, improve flexibility, balance and stability - all factors you can truly benefit from.
A study on Yoga in America in 2016 found that nearly 14 million Americans over the age of 50 practiced yoga in that year. In 2012, this number was only four million. This significant increase shows how more and more individuals are reaping the benefits of this holistic practice.
The combined effect of yoga postures which stretch and strengthen the body, along with breathing practices, meditation and relaxation techniques helps one improve the mind-body connection and experience immense health benefits. For seniors, many yoga postures are modified or adapted to suit individual needs and limitations. That’s why the popular saying - yoga is for all, irrespective of size, shape, age or any other aspect. Of course, with yoga for elderly beginners, it is always advisable to consult your doctor and get their opinion before beginning the practice. And, when beginning yoga for seniors, always practice with an experienced teacher to ensure you’re practicing in a safe, injury-free manner. It’s important to listen to your body, do what it allows, start slow and progress in a careful, sustained manner.
Benefits of practicing yoga for older people
Restore and relax
Yoga helps you release stress, improve mindfulness and induces a sense of peace and calm. Studies have shown how many yogic practices reduce cortisol levels, activating the parasympathetic nervous system. It even helps in improving mood and elevating depression. Yogic practices restore balance and calm, thus relaxing the mind and body. This also improves sleep quality and induces deeper rest.
The practice of yoga asanas improves focus and balance. It strengthens the core by strengthening the abdominal muscles and back, and this helps in beings steadier on the feet. The improved sense of mindfulness also helps stay in the present, keeping physical and mental balance better.
Yoga asanas are useful in stretching and loosening up the muscles and tissues and in improving the range of motion.
Breathing techniques or pranayama practices are helpful in breathing better. As seniors there are many issues that develop which affect breathing. Breathwork will expand lung capacity and make it possible to breathe deeper and better.
Improve bone and joint health
Yoga will work toward improving bone health and joints. It makes the bones stronger and joints more stable.
Improved hand grips
Yoga reduces pain and improves muscular function which over a period of time improves grip strength for seniors. The nervous system stays balanced as well which improves hand grips.
Improved digestion and elimination
Yoga keeps all the internal organs stimulated and improves functioning. Yoga posture has a massaging effect on the digestive organs, keeping digestion and elimination good.
Regular yoga practice will help maintain healthy sense perceptions
Yoga improves awareness and sensory perception of everything going on around you and within you. This impact helps seniors stay balanced, present and aware of themselves and surroundings.
What are the best types of Yoga for Seniors
This is a slow, relaxing approach to yoga. It focuses more on releasing tension and tightness with the help of certain props. Each posture is held for an extended period of time (5-10 minutes). These stretches are not overly deep, but more focused on relaxing.
This is also a slow and focused approach. The difference between Yin and restorative yoga is that here you work on deep stretches while also holding the posture for a long time. This type of yoga enhances flexibility and releases tightness.
Hatha yoga focuses on improving the mind-body connection. It involves asanas (postures), pranayama (breathing techniques), mudras (gestures) and bandhas (locks). Using these different yogic practices, in a slow and mindful manner, Hatha yoga uses the breath to improve pranic energy (life force) and restore balance, peace and calm in the mind and body.
What are the props seniors can use in Yoga
Chairs: Popularly called chair yoga, using chairs as a prop one can modify postures to either practice while seated on the chair or use the chair for support. This is particularly helpful for those who cannot stand too long or find it difficult to balance or are not able to move easily when standing. Many practices can be adapted to chair yoga, such as seated sun salutations (surya namaskars), seated forward bend, seated eagle arms, seated warrior poses, etc.
Cushions and bolsters: These props are useful for those with back or knee pain or pain in any other part of the body. Using cushions and bolsters for support helps one relax more or even go deeper into the stretch.
Yoga practices for seniors
Let’s look at some yoga asanas for seniors. Remember, a teacher can help you adapt variations of the asanas with props so that they are achievable.
Mountain pose (Tadasana)
This is a simple standing asana which helps you improve posture and balance.
How to do Mountain pose:
- Keep your feet slightly apart and make sure that your weight is balanced equally on both feet.
- Inhale, raise your arms above your head, interlock your fingers with palms. They should be facing upwards.
- Gently raise the shoulders up and roll your shoulders back. Open up your chest and straighten your posture.
- Relax all muscles in your face and maintain a steady gaze.
- Come back to your normal position and relax.
Tree pose (Vrikshasana)
Vrikshasana is great for improving balance and strength. Do this next to a wall or take the support of a chair.
How to do Tree pose:
- Stand with your arms by the side of your body. Slowly bend the right knee and place the right foot high up on your left thigh. The sole of the foot should be placed flat and firmly on the thigh.
- Keep the left leg straight. Focus on your breath and find your balance.
- Once you are well balanced, inhale and gently raise your arms over your head from the side, and bring your palms together in Namaste.
- Look straight ahead in front of you, gazing at a single point to stay balanced.
- Gently as you exhale, bring your hands down and slowly release the leg.
- Repeat this with the other leg.
Downward-facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
This asana improves blood flow to the head, opens the chest and stretches out the calves, hamstrings, and lower back. This can be done by bending the knees slightly or taking the support of a chair as well.
How to do Downward-facing dog:
- Come onto your fours. Form a table such that your back forms the table top and your hands and feet from the legs of the table.
- As you breath out, lift the hips up, straightening the knees and elbows. Your body will form an inverted V-shape.
- Hands are shoulder width apart, feet are hip width apart and parallel to each other. Keep the toes pointed straight ahead.
- Press your hands into the ground. Widen through the shoulder blades. Keep the neck lengthened by touching the ears to the inner arms.
- Hold the downward dog pose and take long deep breaths. Look towards the navel.
- Exhale, bend the knees, return to table pose and relax.
Cat-cow Pose (Marjariasana)
This is a wonderful asana for the back. This improves spine flexibility and strengthens the arms, shoulders and abdominal muscles. You can adapt many modifications and do this while seated on a chair or on the mat as well.
How to do cat-cow pose:
- Come onto all fours with the palms directly under the shoulders and knees underneath your hips. Ensure your weight is equally distributed on all fours.
- Inhale and fill your abdomen with air as you let your belly drop towards the mat. There will be an arch in your back as you do this. Look up towards the ceiling and lengthen your neck and throat.
- As you exhale, pull the naval towards the spine, curve your back and tuck your chin into your chest as you lift up.
- Continue this movement for a few breaths. Let your breath guide you through the movements.
- After a few rounds, release and come into child’s pose.
Triangle Pose (Trikonasana)
This posture strengthens the core, stretches the hamstrings, hips, calves, waist, and sides of the back. It improves digestion as well. It can also be done while seated on a chair.
How to do Triangle Pose:
- Exhale and take the Right leg in between the palms, turn the left toes out to 90 degrees
- Keeping the right palm on the ground or coming on the fingertips - slightly behind the right heel
- Inhale, extend the left arm up towards the sky, rotating the hip, abdomen and chest to the left side;
- Straighten the front knee, pushing the hips back, maintaining a lateral stretch on the left side of the body.
- Find your balance looking down, and then look up towards the left fingertips.
- Exhale, look Down and bring the left hand down on the floor. Inhale, take the right leg back, coming into downward-facing dog.
Warrior I Pose(Virabhadrasana 1)
Similar to triangle pose, this can also be done while seated on a chair. It opens up the chest, hips and strengthens the calves, ankles, and thighs. Instead of raising the hands up, they can also be kept on the hips.
How to do Warrior 1 Pose:
- Stand about 3 feet apart with your right foot facing forward while your left leg is straight behind you with your foot flat on the floor. The foot will be pointing outwards.
- Come into a lunging position with your torso facing forward for warrior one.
- Now raise your hands up and gaze forward. Make sure your front leg knee is in line with your foot and thigh is parallel to the floor.
Child's pose (Balasana)
Often used as a restorative asanas, the child’s pose stretches the spine and hips as well as the lower back. It's extremely helpful in relaxing, relieving tension and calming the mind.
How to do child’s pose:
- Kneel down on your mat with your knees about hip width apart.
- Now slowly bend forward bringing your forehead on the mat. Your arms should be stretched out in front of the body.
- You can also place a cushion below your forehead.
- Stay here for a few slow deep breaths and then gently come back up.
Cobbler’s Pose (Baddha Konasana)
Baddha Konasana or Cobbler's Pose is a gentle hip opener for seniors. It also massages the feet and inner thighs.
How to do Cobbler’s pose:
- Sit with the spine straight and legs wide apart.
- Now bend the legs and bring the feet as close to the groin as you can. Join the soles of the feet together.
- Grab the feet or the toes tightly with the hands. You can place the hands on the mat, below the feet, if you need more support. Ensure your back remains straight.
- Now slowly try to bring the feet closer to the groin if you can.
- If you are comfortable, you can also try to slowly push the thighs and knees towards the mat. Remember to be gentle and do as much as possible.
- Engage the core so you are able to hold the posture. Keep your attention on the stretch in the groin, inner thighs and back.
- Stay here for a few slow, deep breaths. This will help you relax in the posture.
Many breathing practices are helpful for relaxing and restoring peace and balance in the mind and body, as well as improving breathing patterns. Practices like alternate nostril breathing (Nadi Shodhana pranayama), oceans breathing (Ujjayi pranayama) and humming bee breathing (Brahmari) have tranquilizing and calming effects. Practices like Frontal Lobe Cleansing (Kapal Bhati) are good for those with Diabetes as it stimulates the digestive organs. Care should be taken to practice only what is good for you. As seniors, many practices may not suit you if you have conditions like high BP, heart problems, etc. Let your teacher know your medical history so that they can guide you through the right practices.
Meditation & Yoga Nidra
Relaxing practices like meditation and Yoga Nidra help keep the mind and body balanced, calm and peaceful. It also keeps the mind strong and away from conditions like depression, insecurity and anxiety. These practices keep the mind sharp and focused, reducing the chances of ailments and diseases. Resting in the corpse pose, Svanasana, resets the nervous system, and restores peace after a long day. It relaxes the muscles and allows you to breathe deeply.
Yoga for seniors can be extremely beneficial when practiced in the right way. Even if you have never done yoga before, starting now can help you stay healthy, strong and disease-free. If you are combating any diseases, consult your doctor, get an opinion and make sure to let your yoga teacher know about your medical history before starting any practice. When practiced regularly yoga will keep the disorders and diseases at bay, no matter your age.