As an older adult, you’ve probably heard many people rave about the benefits of yoga. The practice has gone from a New Age experience to a Main Street phenomenon, with practically everyone from age 1 to 100 enjoying its benefits. What makes this practice so attractive, and why are so many people – especially seniors – being drawn to it?
“Yoga is a very inclusive practice, which I think is why so many people decide to pick it up,” says Michelle Collins, Life Enrichment Director of Waterstone at the Circle. “Unlike a lot of other types of exercise, there really isn’t any sort of ‘gatekeeping’ when it comes to practicing yoga. Instructors and participants are very encouraging, especially to newbies. It’s also a form of exercise that is very adaptable. The whole point is to listen to your body, accept its limitations and adapt poses and practices so that you’re getting the biggest benefit without hurting yourself.”
There are about as many different types of yoga as there are yoga practitioners. Classes can be slow and focused on stretching and meditation, or energetic and blood-pumping with constant “flow” and movement or strength building by holding poses for a long time. And that’s just for starters. There are chair yoga classes, classes focused on specific muscle groups, yoga for kids … the list goes on and on.
“One of the nicest things about starting yoga is that you don’t have to leave your house to have a fulfilling experience,” says Michelle. “There are many, many yoga instructors that have free YouTube channels filled with classes ranging from 5 minutes to 70 minutes and longer. All you need is a mat, some space to spread out and an internet connection.”
Still, Michelle says, if you’re just starting out your yoga journey, it can be a good idea to take a physical, in-person class with an instructor. “As with any form of exercise, you want to make sure you’re practicing good habits and making sure you’re not harming your body while you get a workout,” she says. “Doing an in-person class allows you to ask questions of the instructor, and he or she can also help adjust your positioning or adapt poses so that you can be most effective.”
Yoga Benefits for Seniors
You’re never too young or too old to start yoga. In fact, it’s one of the few forms of exercise that is easy and enjoyable for seniors to pick up. Over time and with the proper classes, yoga can provide numerous benefits besides just working up a sweat. Here are some of the biggest benefits that this form of exercise provides for older adults.
Reduces hypertension. Many older adults have issues with blood pressure and stress. Yoga has a powerful effect on both of these factors. The three basic elements of yoga practice are breathing, meditation and holding postures. The slow, controlled and deliberate breathing practices in yoga have been shown to help slow the pulse, reduce stress, decrease nervous system activity and, in turn, help manage blood pressure levels.
Strengthens bones and joints. As we get older, we can develop osteoporosis, which causes bones to become weak and brittle. As a weight-bearing exercise, yoga can help bones remain healthy and strong and prevent the onset of osteoporosis. Yoga also helps keep joints fluid and lubricated – which is important for preserving your ability to perform daily tasks like getting dressed, brushing your teeth and bathing.
Alleviates anxiety and stress. On a physical level, yoga provides opportunities and techniques that allow you to reduce tension being held in your body (like you get from sitting in a chair at a desk 8 hours a day). On a physiological level, yoga induces a relaxation response in our bodies, which helps to slow your heartbeat, relax your muscles, breathe more easily and decrease the “fight-or-flight” syndrome that occurs when we’re stressed out.
Provides a good night’s sleep. Between the relaxation benefits, the mental clarity and the physical exercise that yoga provides, seniors often report that they’re able to sleep better, sleep longer and sleep more soundly – all of which are essential for staying healthy and well as we get older.
Builds strength, balance, mobility and flexibility. Older adults are at a greater risk of falling due to the loss of balance, strength and mobility as we age. It’s estimated that every 11 seconds, an older adult visits the emergency room due to fall-related injuries. Yoga’s measured, slow movements provide opportunities to practice your balance and strengthen the muscles you need that can help you micro correct your movements to keep you upright. Yoga also results in better mobility, which is essential for getting around safely and continuing to do the activities you enjoy.
Boosts your mood. Besides being a physical form of activity, yoga is also a mindfulness practice. It focuses on the connection between your breath, body and mind, and a basic tenant of practice is on being present in the moment – putting the cares, worries and thoughts of your day to the side as you focus on your body and your chi. Scientists have found that yoga in particular boosts levels of GABA, a brain chemical that helps calm nerves.
Helps reduce pain – even chronic pain. Yoga has been proven to help ease the pains and aches that are associated with aging, especially osteoarthritis. Besides increasing flexibility and reducing inflammation and stress in the body, yoga provides you with tactics to breathe through and relax yourself through any chronic pain you may be feeling.
Keeps your mind sharp. A 2016 study reported that, when adults practiced yoga and relaxation techniques for 30 minutes, they experienced immediate benefits to their brain function and performance. The practice of focusing on your body, the sensation of the mat beneath you and the pace of your breathing all serve to stimulate different areas of your brain, which is beneficial for keeping cognitive function as high as possible.
Since September is Yoga Awareness Month, this is the perfect opportunity to try out this amazing practice and experience the benefits for yourself. Do a little research before you jump straight into it – check out your local senior center to see what classes they may be offering, or search online for guided videos that focus on senior-specific exercises. In no time at all, you’ll be finding your zen and getting your om on.
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