It’s National Yoga Month, and it’s time to learn about the practice that brings so many practitioners long-term positive health benefits. Physical activity is good for everyone, whatever their age. While physical limitations may prevent a senior from engaging in many forms of exercise such as bicycle riding or lifting weights, yoga can be very effective in maintaining core body strength and flexibility in later years. For seniors, low impact cardio, resistance training, and stretching are key. Yoga includes all three!
Many seniors may assume that yoga is not for them, or not applicable to them, but there are a few things they should know. First, there are many different types of yoga programs. Second, classes are often non-competition. Third, yoga can reduce stress and moderate pain.
It’s important that seniors carefully select the type of yoga they are going to practice. Certain forms of yoga can be far too strenuous and require flexibility that is not beneficial for an older person’s body. By choosing a proper program, seniors can develop an improved sense of body awareness. This can translate into increased confidence in their ability to get around without falling.
One program in particular is known as “Anusara.” Translated, this means “following your heart” or “flowing with grace.” It is always conducted in a relaxed, non-competitive atmosphere. This style of yoga focuses on honoring and accepting the whole individual, including all those aches, pains, and weaknesses. Under the direction of the right teacher, seniors will slowly work up to more and more complex versions of the various yoga poses that stretch and strengthen the body.
Seniors may begin practicing yoga with a forward bend but bending only halfway down while holding onto a chair for balance. Eventually, the instructor will encourage them to let go of the chair and put their hands on a particular piece of yoga equipment known as a “block”. This is lower than a chair, but still provides support and stability. While not every senior will be able to advance to the most advanced form of each pose, this is perfectly acceptable. It’s not about being the best in the class, it’s about bettering oneself.
Yoga has been shown to reduce stress, improve sleep quality, decrease depression, enhance respiration, and control blood sugar. Some people say they’ve had negative experiences in Yoga classes. Usually this is the result of an instructor who was not appropriately informed of the senior’s capabilities, or an instructor who simply wasn’t qualified to teach seniors. It’s important to seek a yoga instructor who has been specially trained and can work with each senior individually, especially if osteoporosis is involved.