Yoga is not just for the young and fit — seniors can reap the many benefits yoga offer as well. Millions of Americans practice yoga regularly, and it is no wonder why that number continues to increase. It may sound like a cliché, but practicing yoga truly benefits the mind, body and spirit, and every aspect of health can be positively impacted by yoga.
It may be surprising to some seniors, but yoga is one of the easiest activities to start and practice. Yoga is for all ages, no matter your current state of flexibility, and it can be practiced anywhere. There are yoga classes for everyone at any skill level, and many that focus on seniors. These classes can start with the basic poses in order to familiarize seniors with how easy yoga can be.
Another type of yoga, called chair yoga, may be particularly suited for seniors. It is exactly what it sounds like: a gentle form of yoga performed by sitting down in the comfort of a chair or standing next to a chair for support. Chair yoga is an excellent way to begin to enjoy the benefits of yoga.
In addition, there are plenty of online yoga tutorials as well — and once a person knows the poses, they can practice anywhere with a mat. With that being said, starting with the guidance of a dedicated yogi (a person who regularly practices yoga) is the safest and most encouraging way to dive in for older adults. Beyond the simple “exercise is good for you!” there are many benefits of yoga that seniors can enjoy.
One of the main focuses of yoga is stability and balance. Specifically, yoga can help seniors with proprioception, which is a person’s sense of position in a space. Practicing the postures and poses help tone muscles as well as build strength and confidence. Strengthening these particular muscles and improving balance help to prevent falls, which are the leading cause of injury in older adults — in fact, falls lead to an emergency room visit at a rate of every 11 seconds. Having good balance can also help seniors recover more quickly if they do end up having a fall.
Better Joint Health and Improved Flexibility
Practicing yoga regularly is a fantastic way to lubricate joints and combat the stiffness that comes with age. The low impact movements involved in yoga can help keep ailments like carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis at bay, while toning the muscles needed to prevent injury. The regular flexibility garnered by practicing yoga has also been shown to provide therapeutic benefits to those suffering from osteoporosis.
Yoga can keep a senior’s muscles working strong. Practicing yoga can be a low-impact alternative to regular gym visits. The muscles used in yoga help strengthen a person’s core as well as their legs, hips, spine, shoulder, neck and chest. Keeping these muscles strong makes maintaining a daily routine easier.
Reduced Blood Pressure
While many people associate yoga with poses and flexibility, practicing yoga is as much about breathing than it is anything else. This controlled breathing can help reduce high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, by decreasing nervous system activity. High blood pressure can cause both cardiovascular disease and kidney disease. Yoga has also proven to reduce oxidative stress, which harms the body’s ability to eliminate harmful free radicals, which can cause a heart attack.
The benefits of healthy breathing extend beyond blood pressure. Anything that reduces oxygen to the body can be harmful. Healthy breathing starts by benefiting the lungs and helping to fend off pulmonary diseases. The impact of healthy breathing does not stop there — oxygen is a key component of healthy brain activity.
The breathing, meditation and movement that comes with practicing yoga is wonderful for a senior’s overall wellbeing. Yoga increases the relaxation response, which is the way that human beings process stress in a healthy way. Yoga’s slow movements and breathing put a person’s mind at ease and trigger the right kind of responses to conflict. Yoga can also reduce the fight-or-flight response, which is what causes the anxiety, sweating and muscle tension of a stressful situation.
Mindfulness is a concept that may seem rather abstract to some, but it is actually pivotal to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Mindfulness is being aware of and properly processing yourself and the world around you. Practicing yoga helps people process their thoughts, moods and emotions in a healthy way. The breathing and meditation done by practicing yoga also helps the feeling of connection with the outside world. The feeling of community, consciousness and control help with self-esteem and empowerment. The benefits of the mindfulness achieved through yoga are better sleep and reduced signs of depression.
The sense of community obtained through the mindfulness of yoga is not the only feeling of community a senior practitioner will feel. Yoga can be conducted alone, but it is an activity often enjoyed more in groups. Yoga can be a great opportunity for seniors to make new friends and stay socially active. Yoga centers offer senior-focused classes, which can be a great place for older adults to meet likeminded people at their current yoga skill level so they do not need to feel like they are alone or behind. Senior centers and assisted living communities also offer regular yoga classes as well, so make sure you help your senior loved one check the activity calendar.
With all the benefits that yoga can provide, it is no wonder why more people are becoming regularly involved in this mindful, health exercise every day. Yoga benefits the mind, body and soul, and the learning curve is not steep. Coupled with its ability to be practiced anywhere and done by anyone in most any stage of their life, yoga is the ideal senior activity. Seniors interested in yoga should call their local yoga studio to see what classes they may offer or contact the activities director and the nearest senior center or in their assisted living community to find out how to get started.