Yoga is a beneficial practice for seniors. However, as our age increases, our flexibility and range of motion often decrease. That doesn’t mean one has to abstain from yoga though.
With the right modifications, people of any age can reap the benefits yoga has to offer. These popular poses can be modified for seniors with limited mobility or muscle tone.
Essential to most yoga practices, downward dog stretches the entire body from the calves to the neck. It lengthens the muscles alongside our spine and strengthens our bodies. That said, advanced age can make downward dog nearly impossible or not completely safe, especially for those with blood pressure issues.
A safe and easy modification involves using a chair. Placing a chair in front of you, rest your hands on the seat, and begin pressing through the fingers and palms to stretch the back. If you need to, keep a bend in your knees. With this modification, the head stays above, or right about equal to, heart level, which makes down dog easier and safer.
Butterfly pose is an amazing hip opener and a great seated position for meditation. However, for people with hip issues or those who’ve had hip replacements, it’s critical to be careful with hip opening poses, no matter how simple they seem.
A popular modification for butterfly is to use additional blocks or bolsters under the outer thighs and knees. Sitting down, take two blocks or thick bolsters and place them underneath the outer thighs. Adjust their height until you feel a mild stretch in the inner thighs. If you’re against a wall or are in a bed, you can put a pillow behind you and recline. Stay here for a couple of breaths.
Warrior II is a strong pose that most seniors can do in its regular form. But for those who have physical challenges with the posture, a chair can come to the rescue again!
Placing a chair directly in front of you, straddle the seat. Keep your hips and torso squared by facing forward. Slowly turn the right foot at a 90 degree angle and scoot the foot out until your knee is directly above your foot. Then, adjusting the chair if needed, ensuring it is right beneath your bottom, scoot your left foot out and plant into the ground. Your bottom should be on the chair and your legs in the perfect warrior II position, with the chair acting as support. Repeat on the other side.
Bridge is a nice and gentle backbend. This modified version makes it easier to get into the pose and stay there for a few breaths.
Lying down, draw your feet towards your bottom. Roll your shoulders underneath you so as to protect your neck. Take a block and put it underneath you at the base of the spine, right where your back ends and your glutes begin. Stay here as long as it feels comfortable.
Lastly, pigeon pose is a complex hip opener that should be avoided by those with hip problems. There’s a great alternative, though, that doesn’t stress that ole ball-and-socket.
Lie on your back and straighten one of your legs but do not place it on the ground. Lift the other leg and place the outer blade of that foot on top your straightened thigh, right above the knee. It should look like the number four. Next, keeping the foot pressed against the opposite leg, lift both by placing your hands underneath the straightened leg and lift toward your chest. Take a few breaths and repeat on the other side.
Modifications make favorite yoga poses accessible to many people! By utilizing chairs and blocks, and by tweaking the poses, yoga for seniors can be a fulfilling practice free of injury and pain.
Heather Horrell is a yoga teacher and perinatal professional who loves crafting and coffee.
Image credit: Creative Commons user gbsk (no changes made)