Yoga is a popular practice that can be performed by anyone, at any age, and in any walk of life. It is never too late to begin a yoga practice no matter your age. However, yoga for seniors does need to be modified for the aging body. Specifically, low-impact exercise is needed and yoga ticks that box for this population. The three main types of yoga that will be beneficial for seniors are hatha yoga, restorative yoga, and chair yoga.
Yoga can be practiced by anyone, including seniors.
The best practices for seniors are hatha yoga for beginners, restorative yoga, or chair yoga.
The main benefits include less pain, more flexibility, strength, and better posture and balance to prevent falls and slips.
Many elderly people develop arthritis and osteoporosis as they age and yoga can help ease the pain and discomfort that comes along with these conditions. There may be added stress later in life as well, which yoga can help by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system through relaxation, meditation, and breathing techniques. This study also shows that it decreases cortisol, the stress hormone, and can give yoga practitioners a feeling of hope.
The benefits of yoga for seniors
- Increased flexibility and range of motion in the joints
- Improved strength, which decreases with age
- Better sleep
- Less joint pain from arthritis
- Improved coordination
- Better balance to decrease the risk of falls
- Improved posture
- Decreased lower back pain
Hatha yoga is the basis for all yoga techniques. The word hatha yoga in Sanskrit means the joining of the sun and the moon. This means the practice is done in a way to balance the body through opposing movements. For example, a backbend posture is counterbalanced by a forward fold.
During a hatha yoga session, students are guided through static standing and seated poses. This means the postures are held for longer amounts of time than in a flow or vinyasa-style class. The posture could be held for five to 10 breaths, which gives the practitioner a good amount of time to get into the posture, deepen it, and breathe into it.
Props are a big part of hatha yoga, which is great because many seniors need to modify postures using yoga props such as blocks and straps. These props gently support the body, such as in a forward fold if they cannot touch the floor, they can place their hands on a block for something to hold onto. This way, they can get a feeling for the posture as needed according to their body.
Restorative yoga is a gentle and slow type of yoga using props. The postures are all seated and reclined and held for long amounts of time, anywhere from two to 20 minutes depending on the pose. This is very relaxing and can help with stress and relieve joint pain. The only issue some seniors may have is getting on and off the floor for class, so as some seniors age they may need to shift their practice to chair yoga.
An example of a restorative yoga pose is a reclined butterfly with props. To perform this pose, simply place two blocks at different heights and place a bolster (yoga cushion) over the blocks diagonally. Then, the practitioner will sit with their hips against the bolster and recline back with their feet together and knees apart, making the butterfly shape. If additional support is needed for the knees or hips, blocks can also be placed under the knees. With the body supported in this way, the pose can be held for a longer amount of time, easing tension in the hips.
Chair yoga is a therapeutic form of yoga using a chair as a prop to sit on and perform yoga postures. For example, one may sit in a chair and perform a figure-4 position with the legs to stretch the hips. This way, seniors do not need to worry about getting on the floor to practice yoga.
How to start a yoga practice for seniors
Find a teacher who can specialize in modifying yoga postures for specific elderly conditions.
Purchase yoga props such as a mat, blocks, strap, and bolster if you wish to practice at home.
Find comfortable clothing that does not restrict your movements.
Choose the style of yoga that suits you best. If you cannot sit on the floor, try chair yoga.
If you wish to practice at home, find videos on YouTube that you can follow along with. However, it is best to start in the presence of a teacher to prevent injuries.
Understand breathing techniques. Make sure to breathe deeply to gain the full benefits of the practice.
Basic yoga postures for seniors
This is a simple standing pose effective for correcting poor posture. Simply stand with your feet parallel at hips-distance apart and make sure the toes, ankles, knees, and hips line up. Lengthen your tailbone straight down to the ground and roll the shoulders back and down. Feel the crown of your head lift upward toward the sky.
The tree pose is a balancing pose. It has been said the ability to balance well for at least ten seconds increases the lifespan. This pose is performed on one leg with the opposite foot placed on the calf or inner thigh. It is best to avoid placing your foot on the knee so as not to press into the joint and cause injury if your body is frail.
Research and studies indicate the many benefits of yoga which can be received at any age and by any population to decrease psychological conditions such as depression or stress or physical conditions experienced later in life such as decreased muscle mass and poor balance. It is recommended to speak with a physician before starting a new exercise routine in case there are any health barriers or contraindications for specific conditions. Try the different styles of yoga outlined here and also look for beginner’s classes to find the style of yoga that supports the senior lifestyle the best.