Beginning yoga for seniors can be a daunting prospect. But it’s fairly easy to get to know some basic yoga poses and understand how to modify them for older adults.
Growing older doesn’t have to mean living a sedimentary life. Seniors can benefit from a consistent yoga practice. That includes both men and women, as yoga has a ton of health benefits for men too.
Yoga for seniors can offer many benefits. Some (muscle strength) are obvious, while others (improved memory) are a bit more surprising. Read on to discover five of the benefits of yoga for seniors, plus five ways to modify popular poses!
Beginning Yoga for Seniors: Five Benefits of Yoga for Older People
Your bones may become stronger
In addition to gaining some flexibility and muscle endurance, yoga increases bone strength. Activity that utilizes the body’s own weight has been shown to improve the skeletal system’s ability to withstand greater pressure without heavy risk of injury (when done correctly). In particular, yoga can increase bone density which is in an important factor in managing diseases such as osteoporosis.
Because yoga develops coordination and balance too, risks of falls are simultaneously decreased, and thus, broken bones as well.
It can increase flexibility
It is no secret that yoga can help increase flexibility in the muscles and reduce stiffness in the joints. After a dedicated practice, many people experience a larger ranger of motion in areas like their shoulders and wrists while also noticing increased balance in their ankles and feet.
With more flexibility, it becomes easier to get up and down when tying your shoes or to get in and out of the car when making grocery trips.
You may remember better
Yoga is more than exercising or doing poses. It includes breathing practices, called pranayama, and meditative or mindfulness-based exercises. Yoga, and more specifically, meditation, helps us to become more attuned to our inner thought patterns and our exterior surroundings. Mindfulness has been shown to improve cognitive function, including areas such as working memory and attention.
Just like puzzles, learning a new language, or traveling, yoga should be added to the list of brain-boosting hobbies.
It might keep you regular
As we age, our digestive system simply becomes less efficient. It is one of the more not-so-fun things about getting wiser and growing older. Of course, there is a whole market of supplements and pharmaceuticals to alleviate constipation. However, a yoga practice in conjunction with doctor’s orders can really help speed things along and maintain a digestive schedule.
Regularity is important for our health, including our mental health. Nobody likes walking around with a suffering belly. Yoga could be another piece to the puzzle to prevent unnecessary pain.
You’ll feel relaxed and make friends
At the end of a yoga class, there is such a feeling of complete calm and peace. After lying in savasana and allowing yourself to provide space for your body and mind to be in stillness, you’ll feel like a million bucks; all shiny and new because you have fully relaxed!
Lastly, an underrated benefit of yoga, that is too often unspoken, is the truth that yoga bridges communities and enables people to form meaningful relationships. Yoga helps us to make new friends that enrich our lives. It is an amazing benefit for our overall health!
Seniors reap tons of benefits from a yoga practice. Don’t let the fear of something new stop you from trying yoga. If anything, the allure of being able to remember next week’s meeting without a reminder should be enticing!
If you’re afraid of not being able to do certain poses, don’t worry. You can modify most any pose to make it easier. Just read the next section!
How to Modify 5 Popular Yoga Poses for Seniors
Yoga is a beneficial practice for seniors. However, as our age increases, our flexibility and range of motion often decrease. 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 foam 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. We have an article on yoga for carpal tunnel for folks suffering from that affliction.
If you want to reduce the pressure on your feet, consider picking up a pair of slip on yoga shoes. Seniors who want to get adventurous may want to consider some of these less common and unique yoga poses.
Heather Horrell is a yoga teacher and perinatal professional who loves crafting and coffee.