Yoga is for everybody, and everybody.
No matter your age, there is a yoga practice for you! Beginning a yoga practice can be intimidating for anyone, but it can be especially tricky for those with mature bodies. However, with the benefits that yoga for seniors provides, make it worth practicing.
Anti-Aging Benefits of Yoga
Practicing yoga does a lot for the body as you age, not to mention what it does for the mind. As a yoga teacher, I have noticed that some of my most dedicated students are over the age of 50. These same students tend to be the ones that tell me what a difference they feel in their bodies after just a few weeks of regular practice. It’s easy to feel the difference!
Retains youthful glow.
Yoga helps to keep you looking and feeling young. By reducing stress, yoga for seniors prevents and minimizes the appearance of wrinkles. Deep breathing practiced in yoga improves circulation leading to healthy, glowing skin. Facial toning exercises, such as Lion pose (Simhasana) help the skin retain elasticity
Eases aches and pains.
Yoga has been known to alleviate pain for a wide range of conditions and injuries. By stretching and strengthening the body, a regular asana practice can help with joint and muscle pain.
Helps with mental acuity.
Practicing yoga can help improve brain function by increasing blood flow to the brain, as well as by reducing stress and calming the mind. Postures such as Eagle pose (Garudasana), create balance between the right and left hemispheres of the brain. This is called hemispheric synchronization, or hemi-sync.
Boosts your immune system.
When the nervous system is in “Fight or Flight” mode (sympathetic nervous system), the body focuses on pumping blood into the extremities in order to survive the perceived threat. It takes time for the nervous system to adjust back into “rest, digest, and heal” mode (parasympathetic nervous system).
By helping to reduce stress and teaching breathing techniques, yoga for seniors helps keep the nervous system in “rest, digest, and heal” so that the body can maintain homeostasis and stay healthy. Yoga postures that focus on twisting or stimulating digestion can also help boost immunity. Poses such as Cobra pose (Bhujangasana), stimulate the thymus—which is responsible for generating T-cells, an important type of white blood cell that helps your body fight off sickness.
Assists with weight control.
The physical practice of asana helps to strengthen, tone, and stretch the body. This aids the body in weight loss and building muscle. Yoga’s digestive benefits also help to maintain a healthy weight.
Helps with balance.
Falling is the single greatest cause of injury in the elderly population. Falls can cause a myriad of health problems. As you age, balance can become more of a challenge. This is largely due to muscle loss, illness, and often caused by certain medications. A regular yoga practice can help to build muscle and improve balance. Props, such as a chair or the wall, can be used to help with balance as you get stronger.
Results in better sleep.
There have been numerous studies done on the effects of poor sleep on the brain. These studies suggest that poor sleep can lead to impaired cognition as you age. Insomnia can also cause other health problems such as heart problems, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, and weight gain. Luckily, yoga for seniors can help! Studies show that a regular yoga practice, even just twice a week, can improve sleep.
Yoga Poses for Seniors
Downward-Facing Dog helps to stretch and strengthen the body, the shoulders, wrists hands, and ankles. It helps to open up the shoulders and the backs of the legs. It is also a gentle inversion.
Sanskrit: Adho Mukha Svanasana
- Begin in tabletop position, on the hands and knees.
- Start out by spreading the fingers wide and creating a stable base. Hands should be shoulder width apart.
- Tuck the toes under and extend the legs, sending the hips up toward the sky. Find an upside down “V” shape.
- Feet should be hip width apart, and the knees can be bent to make this more comfortable.
- Feel for pressing the heart back toward the thighs and pressing the heels down toward the mat, although they may not touch the mat.
- Stay for 5 -10 deep breaths.
Things to look out for: If you have arthritis in the wrists or hands, use a chair to modify by standing facing a sturdy chair and placing your hands on the back of the chair, or on the seat of the chair for more sensation. If you have a history of heart disease, it is recommended that you keep your hands on the back of the chair (top).
Cobra pose helps to alleviate low back pain, stretches the shoulders, chest and abdominals, and elevates mood. Stimulates the thymus, helping boost immunity.
- Begin in tabletop position, on hands and knees.
- Slowly lower down to the belly by bending the elbows and keeping them close to the ribs. Try to lower down all in one piece engaging your core on the way down.
- Reset the legs by lifting up one straight leg at a time and internally rotating them and releasing the back down to the mat with the toes facing in slightly and heels out. This will create space for the sacrum and avoid any crunching in the lower back. Press down through the tops of the feet.
- Place the palms under the shoulders.
- As you inhale, feel for pressing the tailbone down toward the heels and reaching the heart forward as you lift the chest.
- Roll the shoulders back away from the ears. Keep actively pulling the heart forward by gripping with your fingertips.
- Stay in this pose for 5-10 deep breaths.
Things to look out for: Use caution or avoid this pose if you have any recent wrist injuries or carpal tunnel, avoid this pose if you have had recent abdominal surgery or back surgery.
Eagle pose is great to practice balance - though it is recommended to do so next to a wall for balance or one on one with a yoga teacher. Eagle pose is great for opening all major joints, it also strengthens the legs, core, and arms, and stretches the shoulders and hips. Eagle pose helps with mental acuity by syncing up the right and left hemispheres of the brain.
- Begin standing with the feet hip width apart or closer.
- Take a deep breath in and reach the arms out into a T-shape.
- Cross the arms across the body with the right arm on top of the left. Eight hug your shoulders, place the backs of the hands together, or if available cross at your wrists.
- Bend the knees and lift the right leg high up and over the left. Options to Eagle pose wrap the legs are to place the toes on the mat to help with balance, place the toes on the outside of the shin, or hook the toes all the way behind the calf. To modify, step the foot on top of a block outside of the left ankle.
Things to look out for: Students with knee injuries should use caution and avoid the full expression of the pose with the toes wrapped behind the calf. Instead practice with the foot on a block or toes on the mat. When first learning this pose, for safety, practice near a wall. Another option for students that have difficulty balancing but still want the other benefits of the pose is to practice this pose seated in a chair.
Lion pose stimulates blood flow to the face, which gives you a healthy glow and prevents wrinkles. It also helps to tone the facial muscles, stimulates the eyes, and helps with speech impediments. This pose also stimulates the platysma, helping to keep it firm as you age which prevents wrinkles in the corners of the mouth and neck.
- Begin in a comfortable seated position. Traditionally this pose is done seated on the knees, however if this causes discomfort sit in a more comfortable way.
- Take a deep breath in through the nose.
- Open the mouth as you exhale and stick out the tongue as far out as you can, reaching the tip of the tongue down toward the chin.
- At the same time, open the eyes wide and cross the eyes gazing up towards the third eye.
- Take five Lion’s breaths or more.
Warrior II pose (Virabhadrasana II), strengthens the legs, opens the hips, strengthens and tones the arms, and opens up the chest for better breathing. This pose helps to build balance as well and is an energizing pose that helps to build stamina.
Sanskrit: Virabhadraasna II
- Begin standing tall at the top of your mat.
- Inhale and lift the right knee, as you exhale take a big step back with the right foot. Widen your stance as necessary.
- Plant the right foot down with the foot turned out to the right.
- Bend the left knee stacking the left knee over the ankle. If available, the left thigh will be parallel to the floor. Open the knee out to the side so that the left knee tracks over the big toe.
- Square your torso to the left. Keep the shoulders stacked on top of the hips.
- Open the arms out into a “T” with the palms facing down. Squeeze all five fingers together on each hand. Firm up the triceps while maintaining the shoulders relaxed away from the ears.
- Draw the tailbone under slightly and engage the abdominals in. Avoid letting the tailbone stick out and avoid sticking the belly out.
- Eye gaze, or drishti, is focused beyond the left middle finger.
- Stay for 5-10 breaths and repeat on the other side.
Things to look out for: If balance is a challenge, this pose can be practice standing behind a chair. One hand can stay on the chair for support. For neck injuries, rather than turning the head to look over the fingers, keep the chin squared over the sternum gazing in the same direction as the torso is facing. Use caution if you have high blood pressure.
Legs Up the Wall pose has many benefits, including helping with anti-aging. This pose helps with anxiety, sleep, can help with depression, blood pressure irregularities, headaches, back pain, hip pain, and much more.
Sanskrit: Viparita Karani
- This pose can be tricky to enter, so take your time. Begin by setting up your mat with the short end against a wall. Place a folded blanket or two on the end of the mat closest to the wall.
- Sit facing away from the mat with the right hip directly against the wall.
- At the same time, swing your legs up toward the wall and lie down on the mat. This may take several tries, just be patient with yourself.
- Scoot yourself up toward the wall so that the legs lie flush against the wall.
- The hips should feel slightly elevated on the blankets. Keep the chin away from the chest and the shoulders relaxed.
- Allow the arms to open out to the sides and let the palms face up.
- Option to loop a strap around the calves to keep the legs in place without having to activate muscle. Another option is to place a sandbag on top of the feet to add weight to the pose.
Things to look out for: Avoid this pose if you suffer from glaucoma or another serious eye condition. For back injuries, use caution and preferably practice the pose with an experienced yoga teacher.