Yoga for Seniors
Yoga is a practice that everybody can do. No matter how old you are, what your prior experience is, or what size you are, there is a yoga practice for you. We all have different abilities when it comes to yoga, and that is okay. You should never be comparing yourself to any other person. The point is not to be able to do what others are doing, but instead to find the best possible practice with the most benefits for you.
When you practice yoga, you are learning more about yourself and your body as well as your own needs. Therefore, it makes sense that focusing on anybody else’s practice would not be helpful.
Oftentimes, when seniors consider taking a yoga class, they might convince themselves that they are “too old” to be doing yoga or not flexible enough. This is just not the case. There is no one age that should be doing yoga and no particular level of flexibility. Even if you are a senior who has never done yoga in your life, it is not too late to start. At any age, yoga can be very helpful, and no matter how old you are, yoga can assist you in many ways!
Benefits of Yoga for Seniors
Yoga has many benefits for everyone. When it comes to yoga for seniors, yoga can offer relief for many day-to-day difficulties that they face. As the body ages, it can develop many unwanted conditions and changes. This happens to everybody in some form. The good news is that yoga has a lot of ways to help you. Let’s take a look at some of these benefits and how yoga can ease many different ailments.
Keep in mind that yoga is not a replacement for medical advice. You should always consult your doctor if you are not sure about whether or not it is safe for you to practice.
Joint and Pain Relief- As we age, the joints can begin to wear down. This is why so many older individuals find themselves needing knee and hip replacements. In addition, it is possible to develop different chronic painful conditions over the years. While this can be due to genetics, lack of movement and incorrect use of the joints can eventually lead to many problems. Yoga is great for easing some of the pressure on the joints and helping to prevent worsening of conditions like arthritis and other similar issues.
Posture- As the body grows older, the posture can begin to suffer from years of wear and tear. If you find that over the years, your posture has changed and your shoulders have rounded, yoga can definitely help you out and assist in relieving some of your discomfort. Many of us spend too much time hunching forward over desks and rounding our backs while driving, and the result is an unwanted curvature of the spine. This is known as kyphosis and many seniors find themselves suffering from this condition.
Muscle and Bone Strength- The bones weaken as you age, and the muscles often lose strength. Certain exercises, like weight lifting, often become more difficult to do, and as the muscles, ligaments, and tendons grow weaker, the bones can suffer as a result. Continuing to move and keep up an exercise routine can definitely help, and that is why yoga is a great way to keep yourself active and in shape. By continuing to work on and strengthen your muscles, you are making it so that your bones will be in better shape.
Improving Mental Health- Sometimes aging can be accompanied by depression and stress. When the body begins to change and can no longer do what it used to be able to, it makes sense that a person would feel upset and discouraged. The problem is that many people will allow this depression to keep them from enjoying themselves and finding the good that life still has to offer. When doing a yoga practice, you will be guided through meditation, poses, and breathing techniques. By keeping your body moving and in shape, and by practicing mindfulness through breathing and meditation, it makes it easier to kick depression and stress and enjoy where you are.
One study looked into the effect that yoga had on mental health in both seniors and younger adults. The aim of the study was to see if yoga would have the same results on both the young group and the senior group or if there would be a difference. The groups met one to two times a week for ninety minute classes. The study lasted a month, and at the end of the four weeks, results showed that both groups had significant decreases in levels of anxiety and stress. This shows that while many people think yoga is for younger people, it can have just as much of an effect no matter what age you are. (Gururaja, et al.)
Respiratory and Cardiovascular Functions- One common problem that some seniors have is respiratory issues. From asthma to bronchitis, lung issues can be very serious. Over the years, the muscles of the lungs and diaphragm can weaken, making you more prone to complications. Yoga is great for helping to strengthen these muscles. In a yoga practice, you will often experience breathing techniques in addition to poses. These breathing exercises not only increase your oxygen levels, but they can also benefit you in the long run as your respiratory muscles get stronger.
One study examined the effects of yoga on the respiratory health of elderly adults. The seniors were split into two groups. One group received only stretches while the other group practiced yoga breathing techniques. The group only receiving stretches acted as the control group. The group practicing the breathing techniques was shown to have increased respiratory function as well as cardiac benefits whereas the control group did not show the same results.
The cardiovascular system can also change a lot as we grow older. Seniors are more likely to have forms of cardiovascular disease and lowered function. One study even found that after a single yoga session for seniors, a decrease in heart rate and blood pressure could be seen. Many seniors deal with high blood pressure, so this is a significant and important finding. (Bhavanani, et al.)
Before You Practice: Why Seniors Need to be Careful in Choosing the Right Class
If you are a senior who is looking to begin your yoga practice, there are a few important factors to take into account ahead of time. To start, it is vital to remember that yoga is never a replacement for medical treatment, and a doctor’s advice should always be followed first and foremost.
Next, it is important to make sure that whatever class you are taking is one that is designed for beginners and seniors, and that the instructor is properly trained to be working with all ages and abilities. It is recommended to learn more about a class or studio ahead of time and to talk to your instructor about your individual needs and concerns ahead of time.
If you have any prior injuries, it is essential to let your instructor know and to learn about possible safer modifications that you can be doing instead.
If you were to choose a class that is not aimed for either beginners or seniors, you probably would not be able to properly keep up. In addition, there is a possibility that you could get hurt, and we definitely want to avoid that!
If a studio or class is not properly equipped and trained to be working with you where you are, then it is better to find one that better suits you and your needs.
Did you know that you don’t have to do yoga in a studio? You can practice from the safety of your home if you have the proper equipment and information to be doing so.
While there are many classes online to choose from, you will want to look for one that focuses specifically on seniors who are beginners.
We worked hard to create a safe and modified class that is directed for seniors, specifically beginners. You can check out this program here!
How Modifications Can Make Yoga Safer for Seniors
Any yoga class should offer modifications to make the poses safe and accessible for everyone to be doing. This is not necessarily to make the poses easier but to make sure that all students are using proper techniques. While some advanced yoga classes obviously will not have poses that are fully doable for everyone, a beginners class should be suited for all ages and abilities.
So, let’s take a look at some examples of modifications and props and how they can help you in your yoga practice!
Yoga Blocks- All yogis should have a good yoga block to help them with their poses. There might be some stretches that are just too difficult to do without one, and that is okay. The key here is to find a yoga block that prevents you from slipping and gives you proper support. We sell our own yoga blocks that are made out of cork and are designed specifically to prevent slipping. In addition, we offer many varieties of blocks to choose from, so you can pick which one works best for you. You can check out our yoga blocks here!
Yoga Straps- Yoga straps can be very helpful in giving you extra traction if you need help reaching all the way into a pose. For example, if you are trying to fold your arms around the back to bring them together in Open Cow Face Arms, if your hands do not quite touch, a great alternative would be to use a strap here to hold onto with both hands instead. We make our own yoga straps that are one hundred percent cotton and longer than the usual yoga straps. This makes them more accessible for everyone of all abilities. Our yoga straps come with any yoga block package that you purchase.
Chairs- When it comes to senior yoga, and beginner’s yoga in general, chairs are very useful. Sitting down allows you to take some of the pressure out of your joints while having more support. This aids you in getting even deeper into the pose and experiencing the stretch properly. We offer a program called Yoga Start for absolute beginners that includes chair modifications for those who need. You can also check out some of our free chair yoga videos on youtube here!
5 Best Yoga Poses for Seniors with Modifications
1. Chair Pose- This pose is done by stepping the feet about hip-width distance apart. From here, you would keep the spine stacked and, on an exhale, bend the knees and bring the hands up at an angle, as if reaching towards where the wall and ceiling meet.This is great for strengthening the thighs and core. However, for those with less core and leg strength, this pose can be easily done while holding onto the back of the chair. Make sure to keep your spine long and your core engaged. You can also bring a block inside of the thighs and squeeze the legs together around it for more traction.
2. Crescent-Moon Pose- This pose offers a great stretch for the sides of the body and also helps to strengthen the muscles of the core. This pose is usually practiced by standing up tall and on an inhale bringing both arms up with the palms flat together. On an exhale, you would lean over to one side, keeping the core engaged, and using the muscles to hold you in place. After a few breaths, you would inhale to come back up to center and exhale to come over to the other side. If this pose is too difficult for you, you can practice it while sitting in a chair instead. You can also do this pose with just one arm up while leaning towards the opposite side and then switching arms as you lean to the other side. You can see how this is done by clicking here. Another version of this pose can be done by holding onto a strap in both hands and doing the same movement while standing or sitting.
3. Cat/Cow- This pose is usually done by starting on the hands and knees. On the inhale, you would press into the hands and arch the back, looking up to the sky. On the exhale, you would round the back, tucking the chin to the chest. For many seniors, this pose is harder to do because of the pressure being placed on the knees and wrists. Instead, you can try this pose while sitting in a chair and bringing the hands of the thighs On the inhale, arch the back and look up to the sky, on the exhale, round the back and tuck the chin to the chest.
4. Warrior I- This is a great pose for strengthening and strengthening the legs, arms, core, and chest muscles. This pose is usually done by stepping the feet about three to four feet apart with one in front of you and the other behind you. From here, you would turn your front toes so that they are facing away from you and you would turn the back toes in at a forty-five degree angle. Then, you would bend into the front knee at a ninety-degree angle and bring your arms straight above you. You can even stay seated in your chair if you’d like, simply bringing your legs out to the sides in the same position while sitting down and taking your arms up to the sky.
5. Bharadvaha’s Twist- Twists are wonderful for stretching out the sides of the body, opening up the fascia, breaking down scar tissue, and draining toxins in order to strengthen the immune system. This twist would usually be done by starting with the legs out in front of you. You would then tuck your legs over to the side while bending the knees. On an inhale, you would bring the arms up to the sky, and on an exhale, you would reach the hands over the opposite side of your body from where the knees are. With each inhale, you would sit taller, and with each exhale, you would twist further. You would then repeat on the other side. However, this pose can also be done using a block to rest the hands on, or sitting in a chair . If you choose the latter, you would start in a chair with your legs facing one side. On the inhale you would lift your arms up and on the exhale, you would reach to the opposite side of the chair. If this is still too hard, and you need a more gentle twist, this pose can also be done by keeping your legs facing forward and simply reaching the arms over to one side at a time.
How to Choose the Right Yoga Class for Seniors
There are many yoga classes out there, and it can feel overwhelming when trying to find the right class for you. When it comes to seniors, you will most often want to look for a class aimed for beginners. You can also find a gentle yoga class to try out, but make sure they offer modifications in any class that you take. In addition, you can try out restorative yoga which has you on the mat for the majority of the class. Restorative yoga is great for healing from injuries and restoring the body. If you are able to easily get up and down on the mat, and if you do not have any kind of joint pain or prior injuries that makes being on the mat uncomfortable, then this might be a great class for you.
If you are able to find a chair yoga class, we highly recommend this for any seniors looking to start a practice, especially when you are a beginner! Chair yoga allows you to experience the benefits of the poses without putting as much strain on the body. This makes the class more accessible to everyone.
Our youtube channel is packed with videos for seniors who are complete beginners when it comes to yoga. You can check these out here!
Did you know that our Yoga Vitality program is one of the most highly rated yoga programs for seniors ever created? This class is specifically designed for seniors of all levels and abilities and it is created to be easy to follow with clear results.
The program includes four different levels with three versions of modifications for each pose. When watching one of our Yoga Vitality classes, you will see three instructors at once, and each one demonstrated a different level of difficulty for the poses. You can follow whichever instructor and level makes the most sense for you.
Our Yoga Vitality program is taught using chairs to have better safety and support while experiencing proper technique of the poses. This is a class that you can grow with, and the best part is that you do not have to have any prior yoga experience to do it. This makes it great for seniors beginning their yoga practice and also serves older adults at all levels!
References: Bhavanani, A. B., Ramanathan, M., & Madanmohan (2015). Single session of integrated "silver yoga" program improves cardiovascular parameters in senior citizens. Journal of intercultural ethnopharmacology, 4(2), 134–137. https://doi.org/10.5455/jice.20141228065658 Gururaja, D., Harano, K., Toyotake, I., & Kobayashi, H. (2011). Effect of yoga on mental health: Comparative study between young and senior subjects in Japan. International journal of yoga, 4(1), 7–12. https://doi.org/10.4103/0973-6131.78173 Santaella, D. F., Devesa, C. R., Rojo, M. R., Amato, M. B., Drager, L. F., Casali, K. R., Montano, N., & Lorenzi-Filho, G. (2011). Yoga respiratory training improves respiratory function and cardiac sympathovagal balance in elderly subjects: a randomised controlled trial. BMJ open, 1(1), e000085. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2011-000085