There’s a common misconception that you have to be extremely flexible before starting a yoga practice, but that’s like saying you have to be Michael Phelps to swim laps. Yoga has numerous health benefits and almost every pose has variations for different ability levels.
Broad Health Benefits of Yoga for Seniors
Even gentle yoga helps improve flexibility, strength building, balance and endurance. But the practice may also help you lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, recover after surgery, temper arthritis, manage digestive ailments, improve sleep and ease depression and anxiety. And for women over 50, one of the biggest incentives to track down a beginning yoga for seniors class is that practicing yoga can improve bone density.
Feel It in Your Bones
Women over 50 should be especially aware of their bone density. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, about 80% of Americans living with osteoporosis are women, and about half of women over age 50 will break a bone because of the disease.
The good news is that a 2015 study by Dr. Loren Fishman concluded that practicing yoga can actually build back bone density before and after menopause, drastically increasing the value of yoga for senior citizens. This means a regular practice could strengthen your bones. So, if you fall, your risk for a broken bone decreases. And performing regular balance exercises for seniors reduces your risk of falling because a regular practice builds muscles and internal support for the bones.
Beginning Yoga for Seniors — Some Basic Poses
This balancing pose can be performed by standing upright, lifting through the chest, and then carefully raising one foot to rest on the opposite calf or thigh. But this pose can also be performed leaning against a wall, with the raised knee propped on a chair. If you’re unable to stand or you’re in the process of building balance, you can perform seated tree pose. In this variation, from your seat, you can place one foot on top of the opposite knee or prop one foot on a block to the side.
Warrior I & II
These lunging poses can be performed in a standing lunge or seated in a chair. If you choose the seated option, turn sideways in a chair, stretch one thigh along the length of the chair seat and swing the other leg to stretch behind you. For Warrior I, lift your arms in the air and square your hips and shoulders. For Warrior II, maintain the lunge position, open your arms out to the front and behind. Your torso will open to the side and your gaze will remain forward over the front arm.
Extended Side Angle
Traditionally, this pose involves a standing lunge, with the torso turned to the side, the top arm raised with the fingers toward the ceiling and the other arm resting gently on the thigh of the bent front leg. However, extended side angle can be translated very effectively to a seated position in a chair. Sit forward in the chair, feet flat on the floor, lift through the chest and fold forward, over the knees. Twist your torso to one side and reach the bottom arm toward the floor, resting either on the floor or on a block. Finally reach the top arm toward the ceiling.
This pose is a bedrock of any yoga practice. Usually practiced while lying on the floor, the goal of this pose is to relax your body, senses and mind, and it comes with all the health benefits of deep relaxation. If lying on the floor isn’t easy for you, you can also practice this pose in a chair, with your eyes closed and your hands comfortably in your lap. The most important thing is to relax and clear your mind.
We could go on and on about the value of different poses and the benefits of chair yoga, but the absolute best way to try yoga is in senior yoga classes, like those we offer to our residents at Sedgebrook. Classes are the best place to start a practice because an instructor can show you the proper form and coach you on breathing techniques to get the most out of each pose. But once you know some basic moves, you can practice anywhere — many of the poses in chair yoga for seniors only require a chair.
With yoga’s ability to calm the mind, tone the body and rebuild bone mass, yoga for the elderly is a powerhouse activity, sure to enhance all aspects of your life.
If you would like to know more about the resident yoga classes we offer at Sedgebrook or how we integrate wellness into each day, reach out to us on our contact form.