The Benefits of Yoga for Seniors:
Your Guide to Better Health
There are many different ideas related to yoga, including where it comes from, what it’s all about, and how to practice the wide range of techniques. What we do know is that the longer you practice this ancient system of philosophies, principles and practices, the more you derive deeper benefits. Still, it’s never too late to start practicing yoga.
In yoga, the body, breath and mind are seen as a union of these multidimensional aspects of each and every human. The system and various techniques of yoga cultivate the experience of that union, leading to greater integration of being, internal peacefulness, and clarity of the mind. It’s designed to promote health and wellbeing (physical, emotional, mental and social), a greater sense of self-awareness, and a higher consciousness.
For seniors practicing yoga, there are many benefits - both short and long term. Yoga is a form of exercise that adapts to your needs and abilities, making it completely accessible to even the most elderly. In a time when you are more susceptible to ailments such as arthritis, rheumatism, incontinence, high blood pressure and the overall degeneration of the body, performing mild practice of yoga should be of high priority.
According to research presented by Reuters Health, there is evidence that yoga-based exercise programs can improve the mobility of people aged 60+, and could potentially help prevent falls by improving balance.
According to expert and senior author Anne Tiedemann of the George Institute for Global Health at Sydney Medical School, the University of Sydney, these results are exciting primarily due to the significant improvements that occurred in balance and mobility as a result of the relatively short programs of yoga.
Leisa Baldwin of Yoga Kamala told us,
There are many different types of yoga available and classes to suit everybody and every age.Iyengar Yoga can be practiced your whole life so there is no age limit and it is possible to modify the postures. Eg, for those with mobility or balance issues we can use support of the wall or chair. It’s low impact with a particular focus on building strength, balance, flexibility and resilience. All classes include relaxation to help reduce stress and anxiety.
Yoga can decelerate the aging process, improve posture and increase energy and vitality. Seniors are welcome in all Iyengar yoga classes however some studios offer seniors classes or gentle classes suitable for older students or those with injuries. There classes are a slower pace and will still include a range of different postures working with all areas of the body. We start with where you are at and move forward slowly from there.
People come to yoga for many different reasonsand we need to be mindful that we choose yoga which supports and improves our wellbeing so when seniors are choosing a style they need to look for an experienced teacher and a methodology which will support any injuries, illnesses and conditions you may have. It’s always best to contact your local yoga studio and discuss with them the classes they offer and any imitations or concerns you may have and then yoga needs to be experienced so go along and give it a try.
Vicky of Forever Evolving gave us this insight,
As well as the physical benefits ...there is the mental and emotional benefits. ‘Ageing and mental health’ research has found that 40% of people over 60 experience anxiety and 15-20% experience depression saying that yoga "could help counterbalance the negative effects of ageing, improve physical functioning, postpone disability, decrease morbidity and mortality, stimulate the mind, and increase hope, reducing the risk of anxiety and depression".
So using yoga, meditation and relaxation techniques is an effective way to bring people into their bodies, lower stress levels and create a safe space for them, as well as an environment where they socialise with other people with similar interests.
Debbie from LaiLin Yoga states,
People of all ages and all levels of fitness can do yoga, but it’s important they find a style that suits them. Seniors should be prepared to try a number of different classes before settling on the one that’s best for them.
Before starting a yoga practice,a general check up with a doctor is recommended, especially for anyone who has not exercised for some time or who has ongoing health problems such as high blood pressure, a heart condition or osteoporosis.
The best class for someone depends on what he or she wants to achieve and where they’re at personally. They should consider their existing fitness levels and their personality. Do they think they’d prefer an active, dynamic class, or a class where they would hold poses for longer periods? Fast-paced or slower classes, smaller or larger groups, a group class or an individual session?
Dru Yoga- a soft, flowing style that also employs breathing and visualisation techniques. It is known as the ‘Yoga of the Heart’ as it aims to rebalance the emotions through physical poses, breathing and hand gestures.
Satyananda Yoga- an integrated form of yoga drawing on a number of practices from the meditative, intellectual, active and emotional branches of yoga. A Satyananda yoga class typically comprises physical poses, breathing techniques and a relaxation or meditation practice.
A gentle 'hatha yoga'the term commonly used to refer to a gentle form of yoga. Many hatha yoga teachers have experience in a range of styles, and their classes reflect the mix of experiences they’ve had. As a result, each class is a unique reflection of its teacher.
Also consider those yoga classes that are advertised as ‘Seniors classes’ or ‘Chair Yoga classes’.
In general, Seniors should be aware of how they should alter or avoid certain yoga practices based on specific medical conditions they might have. For example, the following cautions apply for the conditions described:
High blood pressure, heart conditions:
Low blood pressure:
According to Jemma Newcombe of Three Clouds Yoga
Yoga is fantastic for older people to mobilise every joint in their body.I usually start a seniors yoga class with joint rotations to warm up the body and get the synovial fluid flowing around each joint. Then we do shoulder, hip, elbow, wrist, knee and ankle rotations.
Over time yoga improves the overall movement and mobility of the jointsand improves balance and coordination. One of my students (Allen) who is in his 80s says that since practicing yoga weekly he hasn’t had any falls whereas before yoga he had fallen in his home a couple of times. Allan also says his table tennis arm has improved!
Yoga helps improve strength and flexibility for seniors,which additionally helps with balance and coordination. On a practical level, this might mean being able to reach the top shelf in the kitchen, or bend down comfortably to tie your shoe laces or pick up something from the floor.
Yoga also helps you to be in the moment (practice mindfulness)as you need to concentrate on moving your body with your breath which encourages you to get out of your head so to speak. It is a very calming and relaxing practice and my seniors love the 10 mins relaxation (Shavasana) at the end of class.
Once you have done classes with trained yoga practitioners, it is encouraged to incorporate yoga into your home routine throughout the week to increase the health benefits you receive from yoga.
Here’s some advice from Romina Sesto, an experienced
yoga practitioner and teacher at Yoga To Go,
Home yoga practice simply means taking what you have learned from classes and practicing these poses at home. It does not need to be a formal hour-long session like you would have in a class setting. It can be as simple as practicing one or two poses every day when you remember to do so, or following the home practice sequence and tips that you will be given at the end of each session.
Frequency of PracticeTry to make a commitment to practice yoga at home 2-3 times a week - it is more effective to allow yourself days off rather than intending to practice every day, then giving up if you skip a few days. As you make time and room in your life for a regular home practice you might find that some days you may not practice at all, other days you might have time for two short practices in a single day. The most important thing to remember is that you practice yoga because it makes you feel better, not as another chore to cross off your list or one more thing to feel guilty about if you don’t stick to your schedule. Be kind to yourself!
Time of DayYou can do Yoga at any time of day.
Energy Level If you are already running low on energy, be kind to yourself and don’t overdo it, listen to your body.
Length of PracticeThe home practice notes will take between 10 and 20 minutes a day to complete, by all means if you’re able to do more, then include some of the poses we covered during that particular week’s practice. As the weeks go by you will have more notes and a better recollection of postures that we have covered so feel free to extend the time of your home practice.
PropsIf you are using props in class then please be sure to use props at home, many household items can be used, blankets, towels, books, chairs. Just make sure that they are sturdy and supportive, [and] if you do not have a Yoga mat then be sure that the surface you are working on is not slippery.
Don’t pushWork within your limits and in the same manner that you have been in your classes, for example if you are using support or props in class then do the same at home, if you do not have props then use items around the house that may be the same shape and over you the stability and assistance you require.
Last Posture of your home practiceBe sure to finish your home practice with Viparita Kirani or Savasana as they are restorative poses that will allow you to relax at the end of your practice, they should be restful, they should be passive poses in which the body is lying still. Restorative poses give us the opportunity to restore ourselves, physically, mentally and spiritually, in which we allow the mind and body to access deep levels of relaxation.
Premlata Sharpe, a Senior Yoga Teacher with
Yoga In Daily Life, provided this information,
No matter what state of health, all can practice Yoga.With coordination of breath and movement the Yoga practice becomes harmonious, the breath deepens of its own accord and the body’s circulation and metabolism are stimulated, leading to a greater feeling of well being, balance and harmony. (Correct breathing is fundamental for the body’s optimum metabolic function.) Use of the breath greatly enhances muscle relaxation by concentration on the tense areas of the body and consciously relaxing with each exhalation. This can help all ... especially when recovering from injury.
Relaxation should be practicedbefore and in between the practice of individual exercises to either relax the whole body & mind or an individual part of the body, so as to get the full benefit of the exercises.
Simple exercises … stretch and strengthen muscles, thereby improving flexibility and help with strength to maintain or gain balance to prevent falls. The exercises called Asanas are also beneficial for the cardiovascular system nervous system and lymphatic system, as well as the mind and psyche. A Senior would start to experience a sense of contentment, clarity of mind, relaxation and a feeling of inner peace.
Breathing exercises (Pranayam)"There are a lot of pranayama techniques in the system of Yoga in Daily Life, and they are associated with the various levels of the system. We always have to start with the easiest breathing exercises and the reason for that is quite simple: because of improper breathing habits, we first have to learn how to breathe in the right way. If we do this slowly and gently, the body will get used to the changes without any problems. But if we start to practise some highly advanced breathing techniques too early, it is a shock to the body. The breathing centres in the brainstem can be disturbed and, as a result, fast and very uncomfortable breathing and a feeling of shortness of breath can develop. We can end up with worse breathing than before.By learning the right way of breathing and practising breathing exercises step by step, we allow the body to adapt to these changes peacefully. Pranayam helps to increase lung capacity, to overcome anxiety, to help in managing lung conditions, to balance the body, to energise etc. By learning to breathe the right way – slower, deeper and more relaxed – we can positively influence the physical and mental processes of the body and harmonize and balance one’s entire being. This greatly affects the quality and duration of our lives.”
Classes also include Concentration techniquesto help guide one into Meditation and lastly Meditation. By practicing regularly, even one class a week will have benefit if practice is continued and becomes part of life. Seniors are given valuable tools to enhance and maintain or improve their quality of life.
Self Enquiry Meditation helps Seniors to understand themselves and others.This begins with the question “How am I”. Meditation can help Seniors by bringing changes in both the brain and the function of the immune system leading to lower anxiety and a more positive emotional state.
It is recommended as an antidote to the stress and pain of chronic disease,and is a practice designed to focus one's attention intensely in the moment, noting and experiencing thoughts and feelings as they occur but refraining from judging or acting on those thoughts and feelings...
There are many physical and mental ailments that yoga has been said to improve. We’ve taken a look at these and the poses best suited to help these conditions here:
Many seniors suffer from shooting pains or numbness due to sciatica, caused when the sciatic nerve (which runs from the lower spine down the back of each leg) gets pinched. Whether felt at night or after sitting or standing for a long time, relief is just a yoga mat away. If your sciatica symptoms are caused by sitting or standing for too long, stretching the outer leg can offer instant relief. The best yoga moves for this include: Half Moon, Seated Spinal Twist, Open Lizard, Locust and Figure Four:
Seated Spinal Twist
This position is effective when standing, squatting or lying on the ground.
If your sciatic pain is affecting you at night, strengthening the back muscles
is important. Effective and relaxing poses to try include the Locust
Ancient yogis understood that good digestion is key to radiant health, and yoga therapists tend to view the digestive system as a very sensitive mirror of the mind. With this in mind, many yoga exercises target esophagus spasms, indigestion, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, stomach ulcers, celiac's disease, irritable bowel syndrome and other more severe digestive ailments. Some of these exercises include the Forward bend, Extended wide squat, Downward facing dog, Wind relieving pose.
Extended wide squat
Downward facing dog
For instant relief from excess gas, the wind relieving pose (pawanmuktasana) can quickly remove unwanted gases from the stomach and intestines, while
also toning and stretching your lower back.
Wind relieving pose
Many seniors with arthritis pain in the wrists fear movement, concerned it will only aggravate the pain. But yoga teacher and author Peggy Cappy believes the best thing to do is to move painful joints in a gentle and mindful way.
Simple exercises, such as wrist rotation, back-of-the-hand stretch and joint and finger stretches can reap a string benefits.
Yoga can lead to better memory, mostly because it is improving your blood flow. This is why yoga can be effective at staving off diseases like Alzheimer's and other mental disorders.
The standing forward bend (padahastasana) is one particular pose you can use to build a better memory, and involves bending your head to your knees to increase the supply of blood to the brain while invigorating the nervous system.
Standing forward bend
Stretching or flexibility exercises are an important part of your physical activity program. They give you more freedom of movement for everyday activities such as getting dressed and reaching for objects, and improve your endurance and strength. Positions include: Triangle pose and Seated wide-legged straddle.
The standing forward bend once again proves effective here, as does the Triangle pose
Seated wide-legged straddle
By practicing yoga, you release pent up energy that could be stopping you from sleeping well at night. Yoga helps relax your nervous system, and the meditative aspect of yoga helps free your mind from the constant loop of thoughts that keep you awake. Positions include: Supported inversion, Reclining butterfly, Cobra pose.
Your circulatory system is one of the most important parts of your body, but unfortunately, it slows down as you age and fall into more sedentary habits. As yoga stretches your muscles and gets your heart pumping, your body self-regulates and your circulation is improved. Better circulation makes yoga poses easier to perform, and the more you perform, the better your circulation and the less likely you are to suffer from blood clotting. Try a downward dog to increase circulation to the upper part of the body and brain, and the camel pose to increase circulation to the heart and lungs.
Stress is often labelled as the silent killer, working in the background to increase blood pressure and release stress hormones that can lead to illnesses and disease. Setting aside time for yoga takes you away from these stresses, quieting the mind and giving the body an outlet to release energy blocks that may be causing stress. Just try the simple child’s resting pose (balasana) and you’ll soon see how easy it is to de stress with yoga.
Child’s resting pose
With the right diet plan, yoga should help you come down to your natural body weight. If you are currently heavier than you’d like, yoga can help you get where you need to be. This is done in a few different ways, all of the synergistic. Yoga builds lean muscle, which improves your metabolism, allowing you to burn calories in the act of performing the poses.
Too much or too little cholesterol in the body can be harmful, and yoga helps you to bring your cholesterol levels under control by connecting the body and mind. If you suffer from cholesterol problems, talk to your doctor about introducing yoga to compliment your treatment.
If you’ve noticed you no longer have the balance you once did, it’s important to start to correct that. Yoga naturally improves balance and will help you become more stable for everyday activities, from driving your car to picking something off the ground.
Note: Yoga is about knowing your body and respecting its limits. Do not push yourself too hard in a pose or during a class, as the harder you try, the more you expose yourself to injury. Remember, yoga aims to quiet the mind as you exercise, so if you feel pain, stop. If you have any concerns about beginning yoga, always consult your healthcare professional.
In a world that demands substantive clinical research evidence to support the different approaches to health care, yoga is gaining serious attention. Despite rapid advances in medical technology and continuing pharmaceutical research into using medication to relieve symptoms, in the past few years there has been significant growth in research addressing the impact of yoga on health and wellbeing.
A recent study funded by the National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCAM)measured the physical demands associated with seven commonly practiced yoga poses in older adults. Findings from this study will be used to help design evidence-based yoga programs for seniors, for the purpose of achieving a clinical goal.
Seniors aged 65 years and over are increasingly drawn to yoga, and studies such as the one above are crucial in terms of safety for this uniquely vulnerable group. Many seniors must consider at least one chronic health condition, and research into safety for seniors is helping yoga teachers around the world teach yoga to seniors with a reduced risk of injury.
A study published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine, which examined the effect of yoga on lower back pain. The Indian-based study found that practicing yoga is more effective than physical therapy at reducing pain, anxiety and depression, and improving spinal mobility.
Research into the relationship of yoga, body awareness, and body responsivenessResearchers found heightened body awareness can improve how well people take care of themselves.
A study exploring the therapeutic effects of yoga and its ability to increase quality of life. Researchers found yoga encourages one to relax, slow the breath and focus on the present, shifting the balance from the sympathetic nervous system and the flight-or-fight response to the parasympathetic system and the relaxation response.
A study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiologysuggesting that yoga may help prevent against heart disease. The study was based on 37 randomised studies that focused on the reduction of key risk factors for heart disease - body mass index, cholesterol, blood pressure, weight, and heart rate.
If you’ve been browsing a noticeboard or perusing the classification pages of your local paper, you’re most likely confused about the different types of yoga being offered in your area. Think of this not as a bad thing!
One of the great things about yoga is that it’s so adaptable to different populations with diverse physical abilities and needs. Though you may envision yoga as a young lean woman that’s totally at ease being twisted up like a pretzel, older people (and those less flexible) can enjoy yoga practice just as much. They may even benefit from it more!
The kind of yoga to look for depends on your age, current level of fitness, and physical ability. When enquiring about a class talk to the teacher about your capabilities to ensure the class is right for you. Many teachers are willing to make some adaptations to better suit your needs. Common practices include:
Hatha yoga is a generic term that refers to any type of yoga that teaches physical postures. Nearly every type of western yoga class is hatha yoga, and it generally means a basic introduction to the most popular yoga postures. If you are starting to exercise for the first time (or after a long break) or have already lost significant muscle tone and flexibility, you should start with a gentle hatha class. You most likely won’t work up a sweat, but you should leave class feeling longer, looser and more relaxed.
Iyengar is a very meticulous style of yoga, with utmost attention paid to finding the proper alignment in a pose. This is especially important in seniors that find they’ve already lost some of their flexibility.
In order to help each student find the proper alignment, an Iyengar studio will stock a wide variety of props - blocks, blankets, straps, chairs, bolsters, and a rope wall are all common. Iyengar teachers must undergo rigorous training, therefore if you have an injury or chronic condition to consider, Iyengar yoga can be a great choice.
Viniyoga (not to be confused with vinyasa yoga) is all about adaptation. Essentially it means that the teacher will work individually with each student, making a personalised yoga program for them based on factors such as health, age, and physical condition. It also takes into consideration past injuries, chronic conditions and any medications you may be taking.
Viniyoga takes a holistic, therapeutic approach to improving general health and wellbeing. Because the practice is so adaptable, it makes yoga available to those with physical limitations.
In a Kriplau class, each student learns to find their own level of practice on a given day by looking inward. Kripalu (a relatively new form of yoga) is a gentle form of hatha yoga, with a compassionate approach and emphasis on meditation, physical healing and spiritual transformation.
It teaches students to observe their thoughts without judging and to accept and love themselves as they are.
Chair yoga is a general term for practices that modify yoga poses so that they can be performed from the comfort of a chair. Many of the basic body mechanics of the individual postures are retained, and from their seats students can do versions of twists, hip stretches, forward bends, and mild backbends.
Chair yoga is a great way to stretch out tired muscles and improve muscle tone as well as sleep.
Like most forms of water exercise, aqua yoga is low impact, making it a great form of yoga for people with joint pain. It helps improve strength, flexibility and range of motion, without putting pressure on existing aches and pains.
Since the body bears less weight in the water, the muscles are relaxed and can be stretched and strengthened with less incidence of injury.
Yin yoga is a slow-paced style of yoga with poses held for longer periods of time - five minutes or more per pose is typical. Yin yoga targets the connective tissues, such as the ligaments, bones and even joints of the body that normally are not exercised, such as the hips, pelvis and lower spine.
Suitable for almost all levels of students, yin yoga perfectly compliments yang styles of yoga that emphasise internal heat and the stretching and strengthening of muscles.
Other popular variations of yoga, which are suitable only for those with good physical ability and flexibility include:
Ashtanga consists of six established and strenuous pose sequences - the primary series, second series, third series and so on. It involves rapid movements that flow from one pose to the next, and each series of poses is linked by the breath.
Ashtanga is a hot, sweaty, physically demanding practice.
In a Bikram class, you will sweat like you have never sweated before. Classes are held in artificially heated rooms, where you will perform a series of 26 poses two times in 40 percent humidity.
Bikram is hugely popular making classes easy to find, but they’re not for the faint hearted.
The practice of kundalini yoga features constantly moving, invigorating poses. The fluidity of the practice is intended to release your body’s energy using a combination of meditation, mantra, physical exercise and breathing techniques.
The primary objective is to awaken the full potential of human awareness.
Vinyasa yoga is one of the most lively forms of yoga, with teachers commonly playing music to keep things “upbeat”.
Vinyasa teachers choreograph their classes to smoothly transition from pose to pose, and the intensity of vinyasa is similar to ashtanga.
If you are considering practicing yoga in a bid to help you get through your senior years a little healthier and happier, there are certain things to consider. These include: