Yoga is a gentle form of exercise that can help seniors stay fit and flexible. But many seniors are intimidated by the pictures of poses in upside-down positions, splits and other challenging positions.
The truth is that yoga can be as gentle and therapeutic or as challenging and acrobatic as you want it to be. There are many benefits to this form of exercise, and there are certain types of yoga that are perfectly suitable for seniors.
What are the Benefits of Yoga for Seniors?
Yoga provides many benefits to people of all ages, particularly seniors. These include:
The most obvious benefit to yoga is improved flexibility. At its core, yoga is all about stretching and elongating the muscles. These effects of these exercises will help you maintain full range of motion as you age.
Flexibility has numerous benefits, including reduced risk of injury. The more flexible you are, the less likely you are to hurt yourself when bending over, reaching up and doing other everyday activities.
According to Harvard, exercises that lengthen and stretch muscles can specifically help prevent back injuries and balance issues.
Better Blood Flow
Yoga may be a gentle exercise, but it will still elevate your heart rate if you do it properly. The stretching action also helps improve blood flow.
Improved circulation allows more nutrients and oxygen to flow to your muscles and organs. Oxygen and nutrients help maintain proper strength, function, flexibility and movement.
The key to enjoying this benefit is to focus on form. The joints need to be properly aligned to ensure that you don’t injure yourself.
Most people associate yoga with the concept of “zen” or meditation, and there’s a reason for this: stretching helps alleviate tension.
Yoga’s gentle pace and strategic poses help dissolve stress, which is a silent killer. The practice forces you to stay in the present moment, where your cares about the future and past fall to the wayside.
Reviews of a wide range of yoga practices suggest that this form of exercise can reduce the effects of the stress response, and may also help to ease anxiety and depression. Reducing perceived stress helps to lower the heart rate, lower blood pressure and improve breathing.
Yoga helps improve mindfulness. Each pose and movement require you to stay focused on your body and the present moment. You become aware of internal sensations, and you pay attention to the thoughts that arise during the practice.
The practice of mindfulness can actually slow Alzheimer’s. Researchers believe that mindfulness can protect the brain against stress and anxiety, both of which can exacerbate Alzheimer’s symptoms.
Mindfulness improves your mood, too. Walking meditation, a form of mindfulness practice, has been shown to reduce depression and improve vascular reactivity.
Reduced Risk of Injury
One of the biggest benefits of practicing yoga at an older age is that it reduces your risk of injury. Keeping the muscles flexible, long and lean will inadvertently help improve your balance and maintain full-range of motion.
Better balance and loose muscles will help seniors avoid injury when doing everyday tasks, like cleaning, cooking, gardening and going out with friends or family.
What Type of Yoga is Suitable for Seniors?
There are many different types of yoga, from hot to vinyasa to kundalini and fusions that combine multiple types. While any type of yoga will benefit seniors, the type you choose will depend on your physical fitness level and personal preference.
Typically, seniors choose hatha yoga, which is gentle and therapeutic. With other forms of yoga, physical fitness is a main focus, but hatha is purely about health benefits.
With hatha yoga, the focus is on holding poses and moving gently into each pose.
Other gentle forms of yoga include:
- Viniyoga: An adaptive form of yoga that tailors each pose to each person’s needs.
- Iyengar: This very gentle form of yoga uses props to support the body and ensure proper alignment. Teachers understand anatomy well and help students modify poses to focus on alignment.
- Sivananda: Great for beginners who may need modified poses to suit their physical condition.
- Kripalu: Another gentle form of yoga that uses modified poses and allows everyone to move at their own paces.
- Chair yoga: For seniors who have balance issues and limited mobility, chair yoga is a great option. This form of yoga will help improve flexibility while greatly reducing the risk of injury.
- Water yoga: Water yoga is another great option for people with mobility issues. Classes are typically held at community centers. This form of yoga is a low-impact and gentle form of the exercise. For those with joint issues, water yoga is a great option.
What to Know Before Your First Class
The great thing about yoga is that it doesn’t require a lot of equipment. Before you attend your first class, you should know what to bring and what to wear.
What to Bring
- Yoga mat
- Towel or blanket
- Bottle of water
- Yoga blocks (optional)
- Yoga strap (optional)
What to Wear
- Comfortable, loose clothing
Yoga is traditionally performed without shoes and socks, but if you’re not comfortable with this, you can purchase special yoga socks.