Yoga for Seniors
The definition of a “senior” is a moving target and changes with each generation. Many older people are active in sports and still working after 65. Some people in the senior age bracket, however it is defined, are healthy and do not have any special physical problems. Seniors and others, in whatever condition, can benefit from yoga, increasing their flexibility, opening their joints so they have more mobility, thus becoming stronger and more limber. Quality of life is sure to improve with a regular safe practice of yoga. Pain will diminish or disappear completely. A person will be able to do more activities than they could previously. Ultimately, many people who do yoga remain ambulatory for more years of their lives. Even for the wheelchair bound, yoga practitioners can experience more well being and vitality than prior to doing yoga regularly. Muscle tone increases and circulation to the body including the vital organs improves. Typically the mind remains sharper until later into life for those with a regular yoga practice.
Yoga for Longevity
Yogis are known for living long lives. For example, Vanda Scaravelli, an Italian yoga teacher who developed her own method lived until 91 years old. Having started yoga at the age of 50, she did difficult backbends until near the end of her life. She was an inspiration to many around the world. A living example is BKS Iyengar who at 90 years of age maintains a full yoga and breathing practice that few in their 20s would be able to replicate as it is rigorous, disciplined and skilled.
Yet, a person “over a certain age” who is starting a yoga practice and sticking with it can experience profound benefits. You don’t have to be like BKS Iyengar to do yoga, nor do you have to be flexible. This notion is a myth and one that keeps many people from trying something that can be adapted to them. A yoga practice helps you to know yourself more deeply. This leads you to live life more fully and to treat yourself better.
Yoga is adapted for people with physical problems by trained yoga teachers or yoga therapists, who are also yoga teachers. Disabled and differently abled people can practice yoga, and it has been shown to be therapeutic for many physical problems.
Where to Start
A good place to begin with yoga for seniors is Restorative Yoga. This gentle type of yoga is therapeutic, and is done slowly. Yoga props, such as bolsters, can be used to lie over. Yoga straps, blocks, and other props support the body in yoga positions. Yoga props extend your reach when needed and when there isn’t enough flexibility to do the pose otherwise. If you have any health conditions, find a teacher who has experience with people with that condition. Older people need trained and experienced yoga teachers to deal with possible heart conditions, arthritis, lung problems, hip and other issues that call for special expertise. A class should be formulated for the people in it. Some, with certain conditions (for example: high blood pressure) should avoid some yoga positions or have modifications to make them safer. Since Restorative Yoga is slow and gentle, most people can participate in this style.
Restorative Yoga is useful for mild back pain and is a way to calm my mind when one is feeling anxious. Restorative Yoga positions are safe and can be used for many health conditions ranging from multiple sclerosis to digestive problems to insomnia. Restorative Yoga includes deep relaxation. After doing these poses over time and feeling the powerful effects of seemingly easy yoga poses, one becomes convinced of their value. In yoga, sometimes doing less is more in releasing bodily tension. Allowing yourself to release to gravity in a position can unwind the body’s patterns and convey unexpected healing results.
Seniors who are in good physical shape could start with a regular beginning yoga class which is more vigorous than Restorative Yoga. The teacher should have experience with people in their age bracket and with their physical conditions. Be sure to tell your teacher what is going on with your body even if she doesn’t ask at the beginning of class. We suggest that before you begin a yoga program, you should speak with your physician about any movement or position that might not be advised for you so that you can inform your teacher before the class begins.
Yoga Classes Designed for Seniors
A yoga class for seniors might have the elements of a basic yoga session, though it will likely move at a slower pace. Notice the feedback of your body and stop when something doesn’t feel right. A burning sensation in an overstretched muscle is a sign that you need to stop.
One yoga teacher says that she has her senior students practice getting up and down off the floor with a sturdy chair next to them. She guides them in this, and it provides confidence as many are secretly worried about whether they can get up from the floor. For those who are less mobile, there are “chair yoga” classes done from a seated position.
Something to keep in mind in yoga poses as a senior or a person of any age is to extend the limbs of your body. This means that more space is created in your joints providing more joint mobility. Your limbs can be “active” versus “passive” with an emphasis of extension, bringing life force energy or prana to all parts of your body.
Another part of the body to extend is your spine. This creates more space between the vertebrae. The vertebrae of the spine get closer together and tend to fuse with aging. Additionally, the spine is less upright with a rounded upper spine. Because of the aging process, the neck can become strained from holding the head up when the spine becomes misaligned in this way.
Yoga is the antidote to these problems, and a practitioner is said to be as old as the flexibility of the spine. With yoga, vertebrae can stack on top of one another and have more space between them, creating flexibility and better posture which feels better and means you need less energy to hold yourself upright. Even if your chronological years are getting up there, yoga can convey a mobile spine which is a sign of youthfulness.