Yoga is great for adults of all ages. In addition to relieving stress, pain and fatigue, yoga can increase core strength and balance, which will help older adults avoid fall-related injuries. Certain yoga poses also alleviate other senior health issues such as menopause and decreases in flexibility. Breath work and meditation, combined with gentle poses, also help stave off a myriad of health issues.
Here are some safe, beginner and senior-friendly yoga poses to try:
One-Legged Wind Relieving Pose
This is a gentle stretch that targets the middle to low back and hip areas. Stretching the muscles in those areas can help relieve low back pain. To perform this pose:
- Lie down on the back with knees bent and feet on the floor.
- Hug the right thigh into the chest, using a strap or belt to assist if needed.
- Straighten the left leg along the floor, keeping the foot flexed.
- Keep the pelvis and right buttock on the floor (if unable to do so, keep the left leg slightly bent).
- Breathe deeply until the muscles relax and then stay a few breaths longer.
- Repeat on the other side.
This pose helps alleviate many types of aches and pains. The pose strengthens muscles in the mid-back, which can help improve posture. Staff pose also strengthens the quadriceps, which can help protect and stabilize the knees. To perform this pose:
- Sit on the floor with legs stretched out in front. It may help to sit with the shoulder blades against a wall with a small rolled-up towel between the wall and the lower back.
- Pull in the belly and sit up tall.
- Place hands on the floor next to the hips with fingers pointing toward the toes.
- Without hardening the abdominal muscles, flex the thigh muscles while pressing down toward the floor, rotating them inward and drawing the groin muscles toward the tailbone.
- Flex the ankles and point the toes toward the body.
- Imagine the spine as a staff pressing into the floor and try to hold this position for two to 10 deep breaths.
This pose is a great way to condition one’s heart because it is a challenging pose that engages many muscles groups, thereby causing the body to increase blood flow and oxygen to those areas. A healthy heart can decrease one’s risk of heart disease and keep one’s blood pressure in the healthy range. To perform this pose:
- Stand with feet together.
- Inhale and lift the arms out to the side and above the head, with palms facing inward.
- Exhale and bend the knees so that the torso and the tops of the thighs create a right angle. Hint: envision what one looks like when about to sit in a chair.
- Tuck the tailbone under.
- Hold this position for up to a minute.
- Stand upright while inhaling, then exhale and lower the arms back down.
If this pose is challenging, begin by using a wall to help stabilize the body- after bending the knees, allow the tailbone to touch the wall.
Seated Forward Bend in a Chair
This pose can also help reduce one’s blood pressure. When a chair is used to master the pose, overtaxing of the back muscles is also avoided. To perform this pose:
- Sit on a chair, keeping knees together and feet flat on the floor.
- Inhale deeply.
- On an exhalation, bend forward, rounding the shoulders and bending the back forward one vertebra at a time.
- Let the arms hang by the sides.
- Hold this pose for three breaths.
While in this posture, the chest should be in contact with the thighs and the forehead should be near the knees. Over time, remove the chair and try this position as a standing forward bend.
Revolved Triangle Pose
Osteoporosis is a special concern for senior women. The bones can become brittle, thereby increasing the chances for broken bones and fractures. Postures that are weight bearing and call upon one to perfect their balance can help reduce the chances of broken bones because bone strength is maintained and the joints stay supple. Revolved triangle pose is a great pose to help keep the bone strong. To perform this pose:
- Place the left foot forward and the right foot behind so your feet are about 3 to 4 feet apart.
- Rotate the feet outward slightly, so that if drawing an imaginary line between them, the left heel would connect to the arch of the right foot.
- Hold arms out to the side and square the hips forward.
- Exhale while bending forward from the hips and rotating the torso to the left, keeping the belly pulled in.
- Place the right hand on the floor on the outside of the left foot and stretch the left arm overhead, looking upward if possible.
- Hold for three breaths.
- Straighten and repeat on the opposite leg.
As this posture does require some flexibility, it can also be performed by using a chair or block for support if one can’t bend all the way down to the floor.
In addition to these poses, many other postures such as downward-facing dog, relaxation pose, Warrior I, tree pose, bridge pose and mountain pose are of great benefit to seniors.
While yoga has many benefits for seniors, theses safety tips should be kept in mind:
- Take care to keep proper spinal alignment in each pose.
- Seniors with osteoporosis should avoid forward spinal flexion, twists and lateral flexion.
- Move slowly and lightly through poses and when transitioning to other poses.
- Perform postures that promote spinal stabilization.
- Rest whenever rest is needed.
- Use props, such as a chair or wall, during balance poses to decrease the risk of falls.
The weekend of September 26, 2014, the Wilmington Yoga Center will hold a senior teacher-training workshop. Participants of this workshop will learn the benefits of senior yoga, such as:
- Maintaining a lower resting heart rate, lower blood pressure and increased circulation- all of which fight hypertension
- Improving joint function from low-impact, weight bearing movement, which helps fight arthritis & osteoporosis
- Increasing balance, flexibility and range of motion
- Increasing the connection of body, mind and spirit with meditation