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Age Gracefully: What You Need to Know About Yoga for Seniors

yoga for seniors

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

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

Step-by-step:

  1. Begin in tabletop position, on the hands and knees.
  2. Start out by spreading the fingers wide and creating a stable base. Hands should be shoulder width apart.
  3. Tuck the toes under and extend the legs, sending the hips up toward the sky. Find an upside down “V” shape.
  4. Feet should be hip width apart, and the knees can be bent to make this more comfortable.
  5. Feel for pressing the heart back toward the thighs and pressing the heels down toward the mat, although they may not touch the mat.
  6. 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

Cobra pose helps to alleviate low back pain, stretches the shoulders, chest and abdominals, and elevates mood. Stimulates the thymus, helping boost immunity.

Sanskrit: Bhujangasana

Step-by-step:

  1. Begin in tabletop position, on hands and knees.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Place the palms under the shoulders.
  5. As you inhale, feel for pressing the tailbone down toward the heels and reaching the heart forward as you lift the chest.
  6. Roll the shoulders back away from the ears. Keep actively pulling the heart forward by gripping with your fingertips.
  7. 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

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.

Sanskrit: Garudasana

Step-by-step:

  1. Begin standing with the feet hip width apart or closer.
  2. Take a deep breath in and reach the arms out into a T-shape.
  3. 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.
  4. 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

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.

Sanskrit: Simhasana

Step-by-step:

  1. 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.
  2. Take a deep breath in through the nose.
  3. 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.
  4. At the same time, open the eyes wide and cross the eyes gazing up towards the third eye.
  5. Take five Lion’s breaths or more.

Warrior II pose

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

Step-by-step:

  1. Begin standing tall at the top of your mat.
  2. Inhale and lift the right knee, as you exhale take a big step back with the right foot. Widen your stance as necessary.
  3. Plant the right foot down with the foot turned out to the right.
  4. 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.
  5. Square your torso to the left. Keep the shoulders stacked on top of the hips.
  6. 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.
  7. Draw the tailbone under slightly and engage the abdominals in. Avoid letting the tailbone stick out and avoid sticking the belly out.
  8. Eye gaze, or drishti, is focused beyond the left middle finger.
  9. 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

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

Step-by-step:

  1. 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.
  2. Sit facing away from the mat with the right hip directly against the wall.
  3. 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.
  4. Scoot yourself up toward the wall so that the legs lie flush against the wall.
  5. The hips should feel slightly elevated on the blankets. Keep the chin away from the chest and the shoulders relaxed.
  6. Allow the arms to open out to the sides and let the palms face up.
  7. 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. 

Adriana Lee
Adriana Lee
Adriana's yoga journey began at a young age and continues to inspire her every day by healing mind, body and spirit through the breath. She received her 200 Hour RYT through Frog Lotus Yoga's center, Suryalila, in Adalusia, Spain. She also trained an additional 50 hours with Heba Saab at Body Heat Hot Yoga in Las Vegas, NV. She continued training with Heba by assisting and acting as a mentor to her 200 Hour trainees. She trained with Cameron Shayne in Miami and received a 50 Hour certification in the Budokon Yoga system. She is also a certified Pilates instructor and a Reiki Level 2 practitioner. Her yoga practice has brought sweetness and authenticity into her life and her intention is to share that sweetness and help her students strive to be their own authentic selves.

5 Comments

  1. JanieG says:

    Good article but one of my pet-peeves is people writing about Seniors but using photos of 20 year old’s. If you want to attract our population use some of us in the demonstration pictures! Janie 67 year old Yoga teacher.

  2. Mary E Birnbaum says:

    Fifty year olds are not seniors in any state of the union. I believe it is important to make a disctinction between middle aged students and seniors, students over 62. Many seniors can’t do the postures pictured here supposedly for seniors. It would be more valuable to show postures modified for beginners with injuries–common as people age. Too, a discussion of problems common to seniors and postures that address these issues would be pertinent. Finally, instead of young models who are at peak fitness, let’s see postures for elders modeled by senior students.
    I am a senior who teaches gentle yoga. I participate in vigorous vinyasa class for my own practice, but I modify the postures significantly to accommodate my own increasing vulnerability to stress and injury.
    I have serious questions about how well younger teachers (under 45) really understand the needs and abilities of elder students. Old age is real.

  3. David LeBeau says:

    I teach a senior/chair vinyasa yoga class for those whose age or injuries preclude the more conventional classes. Student ages are mostly in the 65 to 86 range and they cannot do many of the poses shown in the photos. I would be inspiring and educational to show actual seniors doing Down Dog with a chair, Sitting Eagle, Sitting Spinal Twist. We have a huge Baby Boomer age cohort that will need teachers trained to help them navigate those serious senior years.

  4. Lenore Hervey says:

    I absolutely agree with the three comments above. I am 63, teach other seniors my age and older and would not choose the above poses, or would have to significantly adapt the poses shown. There are so many other options, and those shown are just not appropriate, except for “Legs up the Wall” which is perfect. You guys can do better. Try again soon.

  5. Laura Binczak says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the article above. We greatly appreciate your input!

    We would love to have images of students over the age of 60 share photos of themselves in the poses shown above, however, we do not have those images at our disposal which is why we have chosen to use our personal images even though the people shown in the images are young. We want to show the “correct way” to practice the poses listed above as opposed to the “incorrect way”.

    The writer of this article is very familiar (if not specializes) in yoga for seniors, the poses listed above are all poses she recommends which of course might not be everyone’s recommendation. However, we believe that each teacher has their own preference/style and what one teacher thinks is correct might not be correct to someone else. The writer has provided warnings as well as “things to look out for” under each pose.

    If you click on the poses presented above you will be lead to our “Pose Library” where we list each one of these poses with more in-depth information such as benefits, contraindications, modifying tips, teaching cues, variations, and more tips on how to safely perform each pose.

    Since you are all very familiar with yoga for people over the age of 60, we’d love to have you send in images that we can then present in this article as well as any tips or advice you may have to the poses presented.

    Namaste.

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