I know what you are thinking. There is no way you could get your aging loved one to do yoga. You might be trying to even picture your mother in yoga pants right now. You can hear your loved one saying “Yoga? Isn’t that something those young millennials are into?” “I don’t want to do that new age stuff.” Yes, the millennials are super into yoga, but believe it or not, there are yoga classes being offered that are tailored to older adults and their needs. It is a great low-impact exercise that has a number of health benefits for older adults and the best part is, you do not have to be fully mobile to participate. I understand that yoga can absolutely be intimidating, when looking at some of those poses where people are twisted like a pretzel. However, there are modified poses to accommodate all ages and abilities.
6 Benefits of Yoga for Older Adults:
1.) Joint Pain and Flexibility
Moving joints regularly can reduce stiffness and pain. Research has shown that yoga can prevent, slow down and even in some cases, reverse the process of bone loss. (1) Who knew? Holding poses for a few rounds of breath, allows for the muscles to relax, and the connective tissue to loosen, which leads to greater flexibility and range of motion. (2) Having better range of motion can not only help to decrease pain, but also enable you to move around easier and safer.
Yoga can provide the tools to maintain and/or achieve better balance through its slow, flowing movements and the holding of poses. Better balance is critical, as falls are the leading cause of injury among older adults. According to the CDC, every 11 seconds an older adult goes to the emergency room due to a fall. (3)
Yoga can increase strength through the weight of your own body, rather than through the use of weights. Depending on the number of pounds, using weights can be tough on the joints and put you more at risk for injury.
Respiratory limitations can come with aging. The practice of controlled breathing, known as pranayama in Yoga, can improve pulmonary health. There was a study done with a group of older adult women. They participated in a 12 week yoga program and upon completion, it was found that there was significant improvement in their respiratory function. (4)
As one ages, posture becomes altered, due to changes in musculature and bone density. Over time, the back begins to curve forward. (5) Posture is an important piece to our overall health that does not get much attention. Poor posture can lead to things such as: muscle strain, joint pain, disc problems, impediment of blood flow, as well as loss of balance. Yoga promotes better posture, through strengthening core muscle groups and stretching the areas that impact posture.
Yoga practice encourages you to focus on the present. There are classes that include short guided meditations at the end. Also, with the use of slow deep breathing, your body and mind can become more relaxed.
4 Types of Yoga for Older Adults:
1.) Hatha Yoga
It is not a specific style, but it primarily involves slow paced sitting and standing poses. It focuses on breathing and stretching.
2.) Vinyasa Yoga
It involves breath work, alongside continuous flowing movements.
3.) Restorative Yoga
It is a slower form of yoga that involves meditation and passive stretching, through holding poses for long periods of time and utilizing props to support the body.
4.) Chair Yoga
It is a wonderful option for older adults who have mobility challenges or balance issues. One can still reap many of the benefits of yoga, with doing a lot of the poses from a seated position. It could include anything from spinal twists and hip stretches to forward bends. (2)
There are many more styles of yoga, but this at least helps you become familiar with some of the terms and forms of yoga. Typically the classes will be comprised of a variety of yoga styles.
Before having your loved one try out yoga, please check with their physician to ensure it is safe for them. It is prudent to have your loved one take a class, rather than trying to do yoga at home. When practicing yoga in a class, the instructor can guide and correct anything they see that is not being done properly, to avoid injury. Also, there is the social aspect of doing it alongside others. Making these connections is absolutely crucial to mental and emotional health. There is something about being in a class with other older adults, who might also be new to the practice and perhaps struggling a bit. It could provide some laughs or maybe a little grumbling together, but more importantly it provides a chance to bond. Even if it is bonding over their frustrations with their children making them try yoga.
Where to find Yoga for Older Adults
Senior centers, retirement communities, religious centers, gyms and yoga studios are all places that may offer classes. Prior to the class, make sure the instructor is aware of any of your loved one’s conditions. This way, they can provide them with props or modified poses if necessary. Be sure the instructor is certified and has experience working with older adults and various ailments. The only thing they will need is a mat and comfortable, preferably fitted clothes. There is no need to go out and get anything special. So cross off “yoga clothes” from your list.
While your loved one is in their yoga class, it is the perfect opportunity to practice some self-care for yourself. Grab a coffee and a book that you have wanted to read, or some other activity you enjoy doing. Taking time out of the daily routine does a world of good for both you and your loved one. Self-care is not selfish. Namaste (the light in me, honors the light in you).