Yoga for Seniors
I started practicing Yoga about a year ago when I was experiencing muscle spasms in my hips. They were uncomfortable and sometimes bordering on painful. I had heard that yoga was a really great way to improve your flexibility and range of motion, so I figured I would try it out. What I didn’t know was that there was actually a much bigger list of benefits. Furthermore, some benefits are specifically relevant regarding yoga for seniors.
What Is Yoga?
Yoga is an ancient practice from the Himalayan region in Asia where the practitioners use different postures, known as asanas, to stretch and strengthen the body. The original and main goal of practicing the asanas was to strengthen the body, as well as make sure it was healthy enough in order to sit in meditation for long periods of time.
The word yoga actually means "union", and this is fitting because the goal of practicing yoga goes beyond a strong and healthy body; another important aspect of yoga is to build a strong and healthy mind, and also to bridge the mind with the body.
How Can Yoga Help You?
Yoga has been shown to have huge health benefits in those who practice. A 2004 study found improvements in blood pressure, upper body and core muscle strength, flexibility, and stress and health perception in a group that practiced yoga twice a week for six weeks.
Another study concluded that "yoga can be beneficial in the primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease".
A study from 2019 looked into the benefits of yoga for stroke victims, and it found that yoga helped to return connection and a feeling of health throughout their bodies and minds.
There are many other published studies in scientific journals that all conclude yoga is extremely beneficial in reducing stress, improving happiness and also helping with the prevention or recovery from serious illnesses like a stroke, cancer, heart disease, arthritis and diabetes. This is why adding yoga to your life can be extremely beneficial as a senior.
There are so many different and new styles of Yoga popping up in North America, that it seems like there is a new kind available every single day. Some examples of styles of yoga are Hot Yoga, Flow, Ashtanga, Hatha, Tantra, Vinyasa, Iyengar, Yin, Yang, Restorative and so many more.
But maybe you’re like me and you want to know where it all came from, what’s the original yoga? Well, all of the yoga styles that we see today can be linked back to the original six styles of yoga which are: Ashtanga, Raja, Hatha, Mantra, Bhakti, Jnana and Karma.
In North America, the most common out of these six are Ashtanga and Hatha Yoga. These two types focus on the use of the different poses to create a clearer mind and stronger body.
Of all the other styles listed before, the most common styles would be Vinyasa also known as Flow, Hot Yoga and Restorative yoga. That’s still a lot of different kinds to choose from, so it can be really overwhelming trying to pick the right style of yoga for you, your needs and your abilities. So how do you choose?
Well, I believe for anyone who is retired, there is one very important factor in this decision: that you choose the style that will be most beneficial for you long-term.
Choosing the Right Style
As I said above, there are so many styles available to choose from. But how do you know which is best for you as a retiree, especially if it’s something you haven’t even tried yet?
Although it can be very fun, I don’t believe Flow and Vinyasa yoga provide a lot of benefits for seniors. This is because practitioners only hold the poses for a short period of time (usually no more than 10 seconds) before moving on to a new posture. This means that you are not really stretching and strengthening the muscles and connective tissues like you would with other styles.
Hot Yoga, again while fun, is ill advised if you have any problems with blood pressure or your heart.
Restorative and Yin Yoga can be very soothing and great for calming the mind; both focus on using more passive yoga poses to help relax the body. Practitioners can hold these poses for a long time, usually for over two minutes. These styles are great for relaxing the body, but they do not provide practitioners with the mental toughness that can come from doing a more difficult pose.
That brings me to the styles that I think are the most beneficial for seniors, and that are the original styles: Ashtanga and Hatha Yoga. Ashtanga Yoga is a gentle flow and progression from easy to more and more difficult poses.
Hatha Yoga is a slower paced style that focuses on holding the poses for a slightly longer period of time (longer than Flow, but shorter than Restorative). This is extremely beneficial because the postures are held just long enough to stretch out the muscles and strengthen the connective tissues. In my opinion, Hatha yoga is the best yoga for anyone, seniors included.
One final and very important point on yoga is that if you are choosing a class to go to, it is best to find a seniors focused class, taught by an instructor who has trained specifically in yoga for seniors. They will have a better and more thorough understanding of how to help you based on any physical or medical conditions you may have. They will also be able to provide better modifications for poses.
So, what are you waiting for? Get out there, have some fun and reap the health benefits that yoga will surely provide you with!
- Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies (Physical and perceptual benefits of yoga asana practice: results of a pilot study)
- European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention & Rehabilitation (Yoga in cardiac health (A Review))
- Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice (Perceived benefits and barriers to yoga participation after stroke: A focus group approach)