It is a cruel irony that in retirement, a time when people find that they have more free time than ever before, the aging process makes it harder to enjoy pleasurable activities. Yoga, however, is one of the best ways for seniors to improve their health and well-being so that they can enjoy their golden years as much as possible.
As the body ages, bones and joints become less supple, muscles atrophy, and the senses of hearing and sight are not as sharp. That doesn’t mean that seniors have to accept physical deterioration! A holistic exercise and lifestyle program, like yoga, can slow, halt, or even reverse some of the physical changes associated with aging. Unlike many other exercise programs, yoga takes place in a compassionate rather than a competitive environment. While some physical activity programs say “no pain, no gain,” yoga encourages everyone to work with their physical abilities and improve their strength and flexibility without risking injury. Yoga can improve the physical and mental well-being of a person at any age and any stage of fitness. It is one of the best activities for seniors interested in improving their health and enjoyment of life.
Precautions and Adaptations of Yoga Poses
Seniors who are interested in yoga should speak with their doctor to learn of any limitations that may prevent them from doing some of the asanas (poses) in yoga classes. People with high blood pressure should avoid poses that place the head lower than the heart. Seniors should avoid inverted poses like head stands, and they should always listen to their bodies. Yoga integrates body and mind and improves body awareness, and a good yoga instructor will never ask a student to push beyond pain. Pain is the body’s way of saying that it’s time to back off a bit, and all yoga students are encouraged to heed their body’s messages. Fortunately, many yoga poses can be adapted for those with lower levels of flexibility and strength. Some community centers and private yoga studios offer classes specifically for seniors. People who are unable to rise from the floor unassisted can do chair yoga. The use of props like cushions is encouraged with many forms of yoga, because it allows people to try poses they may be wary of. Yoga can even be adapted for people who use wheelchairs and people who are confined to bed. Even the gentlest hatha yoga class improves circulation and flexibility and teaches breathing and meditation techniques that are useful in all areas of life. Seniors who regularly engage in yoga and who listen to their bodies and know when to stop will reap enormous benefits from their yoga practice.
Yoga and Joint Problems
Arthritis is one of the most common ailments associated with aging. Decades of wear and tear take their toll on joints. The temptation is to stop moving to avoid stressing joints, but this only adds to the problem. As a person becomes more sedentary, the muscles that support the joints atrophy, making injury much more likely when an arthritic joint is used. The smooth, gentle movements of yoga allow people with joint problems to strengthen their muscular system while increasing flexibility, which is another property that deteriorates when a person becomes sedentary. Yoga does not include intense, pounding movements the way running, aerobic dance, and some other forms of exercise do. Therefore the joints benefit from movement and increasing body strength without a high risk of injury. Asanas can be adapted for people with mobility or joint problems, allowing them to benefit from regular exercise. As fitness, flexibility, and strength increase, a person may be able to try more asanas or go further in their practice of the asanas they have learned. Sedentary lifestyles are like a downward spiral: movement is painful or causes injury, so a person stops moving. The muscles and joints deteriorate further, making a person even more sedentary. Yoga is a terrific way to break this cycle and improve health.
Yoga and Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is another common problem in older people. Yoga practice addresses high blood pressure through breathing and meditation techniques. As a person progresses in yoga practice, they learn to use breathing and guided imagery to let go of negativity and cope with anxiety naturally. Combined with improved circulation and fitness, these coping mechanisms help control problems with blood pressure. Yoga students should never stop taking their blood pressure medications unless their doctor tells them to, but they may find that regular yoga practice helps them maintain better control of their high blood pressure. Many seniors who practice yoga find that they develop better posture and balance and have more confidence and a brighter outlook on life. This leads to an overall sense of better physical and mental health. Yoga addresses the body and mind as one, and since it encourages overall healthy practices, it is a wonderful way for seniors to make the most of this special time of life.
Read on, and find out how to Improve your Life whether you are a Beginner in Yoga who never has rolled out a yoga mat before or have been doing yoga for years. Alternatively, read other in-depth articles, like Yoga for Children.