Use Yoga to Rejuvenate and Age Well
Balance and Coordination
Yoga is a health-enhancing practice to those who are 50 years and older. A regular and safe practice of yoga lessens the negative impact of stress, and reduces levels of tiredness in healthy seniors.
Good balance can be challenging for some people. Aging brings changes easy to notice mainly during movement. As we age, we start facing physiological changes in energy, balance, speed, strength, endurance, and some health issues.
Balance starts to decline between 40 to 50 years of age. The National Institute of Health reports that one in three people over the age of 65 will experience a fall each year.
Balance is the ability to keep a position, recover and react from what could confuse or disorient us, and if someone falls to be able to fall without injuries. Coordination is the ability to do well a movement through space.
Balance and coordination depend on the collaboration of many body organs and systems including the eyes, ears, brain and nervous system, cardiovascular and musculature systems. A Harvard study found that exercise programs for seniors, and we can include here balance training with yoga poses, reduces falls that cause injuries by nearly 40 percent.
People of all ages are embracing the practice of yoga to improve health and overall well-being.
The American Osteopathic Association says that yoga provides a number of physical and mental health benefits, which includes “lower blood pressure, a reduction in back and other chronic pain, increased flexibility and muscle strength, stress relief, and increased concentration”.
The health benefits of doing yoga in a safe and regular way are supported by research proof.
A study was done in 2016 to explore if a 7-week yoga intervention could improve physical function, perceived stress, and emotional and mental wellness in senior participants.[i] This study was led by a panel of researchers that comprised Eric Lindahl, Katherine Tilton, Nicole Eickholt, and Lisa Ferguson-Stegall.
The key findings of this study were:
- Yoga can improve mental wellness, exhaustion, and stress levels in the elderly.
- These improvements can come about even if no betterment in physical function occurs.
[i] Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. Volume 24, August 2016, Pages 50-56.
Breathing Techniques or Pranayama
The breathing techniques in yoga can change the dimensions of the rib cage. This allows more air into the lungs. The rib cage benefits from increased expansion and contraction. This helps to prevent the loss of flexibility of the rib cage that comes with age.
Pranayama increases energy, purifies the circulatory system that carries oxygen, nutrients, and hormones to cells, and removes waste products body like carbon dioxide from the body. It helps promote mental clarity and well-being.
Sage Rountree wrote an article on the “15 Anti-Aging Health Benefits of Yoga That Will Make You Want to Start Practicing Now”. Her article was published in the Yoga Journal in July of 2017. One of her talking points in this article was on pain due to nerve issues.
Neuropathy is one of the common neurological disorders that affect seniors. This nerve disorder causes numbness and weakness, often affecting the hands and feet.
When nerves are damaged, they can cause pain, weakness, lack of feeling, restrictions, or itchiness and inflammation. In peripheral neuropathy, this is felt in the hands, feet, fingers, and toes.
There are methods to minimize chances of a neurological disorder. Controlling risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and lack of exercise is helpful. But an increased awareness of what worsens or relieves pain helps make better choices with movement practices. A safe and regular yoga practice helps seniors find out what works for their nerves as their body awareness improves with special techniques and a regular practice.
The more seniors become aware of what aggravates or alleviates pain or numbness, the better they become at making wise choices with their movements. Yoga allows them to explore their body in slow, safe movements. It gives them the opportunity to get to know what works for their nerves, as they are guided to move slowly and pay careful attention to the response of their bodies in each pose.
Yoga practice for seniors is somewhat different from regular yoga classes.
Props such as belts, blocs, chairs, blankets, and even the walls are used to help ease the practice. Detailed instructions are given and the pace is slow to accommodate their energy levels. Fewer poses are done and most of the time, the practice is made fun and targets the areas of concern and pain.
Questions & Answers
Is it a waste of time to start yoga in our golden age because our body has become rigid?
Yoga can be practised by people of all ages. The benefits start from the first class. It may take a while to undo the tightness, but with regular practice, you will notice an improvement in your flexibility and your range of motion.
What are the benefits for seniors people who have an injury or dealing with chronic pain?
Yoga for seniors lessens the negative impact of stress and improves breathing capacity, flexibility, and strength. This gives people a natural way to manage pain. Some seniors see a decrease in the need for pain medication.
Poses that hold the body for some time while supported by props, can provide noteworthy relief and relaxation in a therapeutic way.
Are there any medical condition for which yoga is not recommended?
Talk to the yoga teacher who will accommodate your request. For example, seniors with limited mobility can do yoga using a chair or the wall.
Yoga for healthy aging adapts regular yoga poses to suit the special needs of seniors including age and abilities. Seniors are met where they are.
How often should we attend yoga classes?
Usually, it is good to attend two to three classes a week.
What if a senior wants to do yoga alone at home?
Dr. Baxter Bell is the author and writer of the Yoga for Healthy Aging: A Guide to Lifelong Well-Being book. He teaches Yoga for Healthy Aging in an online yoga practice series. I have viewed several of his online classes and recommend his onine classes.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.