As a form of exercise, yoga has become all the rage, spawning yoga studios, clothing lines and for some proponents, an entire lifestyle. What's the magic behind this discipline of poses and controlled breathing? Is yoga truly a beneficial form of exercise, or is it just some swami mumbo jumbo?
Yoga can, in fact, be good for adults of all ages, especially seniors. Studies have shown that yoga can be extremely helpful when it comes to combating stress, fatigue and pain. Some yoga poses increase core strength and balance, which reduces the risk of fall-related injuries. Other poses can alleviate senior-related health issues such as menopause. Above all, yoga is a form of exercise that can help seniors feel younger.
Even though you may never be able to bend yourself into a pretzel, learning some simple yoga poses can improve your overall quality of life. If you're just starting out, look for a beginning class taught by a certified yoga instructor. Good instructors will help you attain correct body positioning and encourage you to learn your body's limits. You may not able to perform all the poses or hold them for very long, but good teachers understand that and encourage you to do your best. Yoga books and DVDs are other tools that can help you reap the benefits of yoga.
What types of yoga poses should you learn to help battle common senior ailments? Read on to learn more about exercises that can improve your health.
Getting older can certainly come with its fair share of aches and (back) pains, but yoga can strengthen the muscles that support your back. "Most postural habits are due to either chronically stiff muscles, or chronically weak muscles," says certified yoga teacher Zach Biegun, who is based in Ithaca, New York. "The thing that makes yoga so good for back pain is that it addresses both issues in a systematic way."
According to Biegun, the One-legged Wind Releasing pose is a good, gentle stretch for the mid- to low back and hips because it stretches all of the muscles in those areas, which helps resolve low back pain.
Here's how you do it:
- Lie down on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor.
- Hug your right thigh to your chest, using a strap or belt to assist you, if necessary.
- Straighten your left leg along the floor, keeping your foot flexed.
- Keep your pelvis and right buttock on the floor (or, if you're unable, keep your left leg slightly bent).
- Breathe deeply until you feel the muscles relax, and then stay a few breaths longer.
- Repeat on the other side.
You may find that one side may take more or fewer breaths to relax, so pay attention to what your body's telling you.
Other poses aimed at reducing chronic back pain include relaxation pose, forward fold and seated forward bend in a chair.
Seniors know that other aches and pains can also get in the way of an active life. Read on for yoga poses that target other types of pain.
Maybe it's not just your back, but also your legs, hands and joints that need extra care. Some yoga poses target areas of the body prone to aches and pains. According to yoga instructor Biegun, the key is to build both strength and flexibility, because one without the other can set you up for injury.
One good pose for addressing aches and pains is the Staff pose. This position helps strengthen the muscles in the mid-back, improving posture. It also strengthens the quadriceps to help stabilize the knees.
To perform this pose, you'll need to do the following [source: Yoga Journal]:
- Sit on the floor with your legs stretched out in front. It may help to sit with your shoulder blades against a wall with a small rolled-up towel between the wall and your lower back.
- Pull in your belly and sit up tall.
- Place your hands on the floor next to your hips, fingers pointing toward your toes.
- Without hardening your abdomen, flex your thigh muscles while pressing them down toward the floor, rotating them inward and drawing your groin muscles toward your tailbone.
- Flex your ankles, pointing your toes toward your body.
- Imagine your spine is a staff pressing into the floor, and try to hold this position for two to 10 deep breaths.
Other yoga poses alleviate different types of pain. For aches in the fingers and wrists, try some yoga finger stretches or wrist stretches.
Although yoga's slow-moving poses are nothing like aerobics, they can actually benefit your heart. Read on to find out more.
It's well known that cardiovascular exercise helps your heart, but yoga can improve your heart's functions as well. In a study by the Yale University School of Medicine, researchers found that adding three days of yoga and meditation to a weekly routine may reduce your risk of heart disease [source: Peck].
One yoga pose that can be good for your heart is the Chair pose. "Chair pose can be a great addition to [a routine] since it's a rather challenging pose that engages many areas of the body at once and therefore requires the body to amp up blood flow and breath to get more oxygen to those areas," says Biegun.
To perform the Chair pose, you'll follow these simple steps:
- Stand with your feet together.
- Inhale, swinging your arms out to the side and above your head, with palms facing inward.
- Exhale and bend your knees so that your torso and the tops of your thighs create a right angle -- you should look like you're getting ready to sit in a chair, with your tailbone tucked under.
- Hold this position for up to a minute.
- Stand upright while inhaling, then exhale and lower your arms back down.
If this position is difficult at first, use a wall for stabilization. After bending your knees, let your tailbone touch the wall. As you get stronger, you can stop using the wall and gradually work up to deepening the knee bend.
Along with improving your heart, yoga can also lower your blood pressure. Next up, learn a pose that won't get your pulse racing.
The Yale University study we mentioned earlier followed participants through six weeks of thrice-weekly yoga and meditation practice. Along with reduced risk of heart disease, participants also discovered that yoga and meditation significantly decreased their blood pressure.
Consider including the Seated Forward Bend pose in your routine to help reduce blood pressure, and use a chair to avoid overtaxing your back.
- Sit on a chair, keeping your knees together and your feet flat on the floor.
- As you exhale, bend forward, rounding your shoulders and bending your back forward one vertebra at a time.
- Let your arms hang by your sides.
- Hold this pose for three breaths.
As you do this pose, your chest should make contact with your thighs, with your forehead near your knees.
As you grow stronger and more flexible, you can remove the chair and execute this position as a standing forward bend. Those with bad backs should be careful when doing this pose.
Other positions that may help you lower your blood pressure include the Big Toe pose, Bridge pose and Downward-facing Dog.
Did you know that yoga may also help you fight osteoporosis? Read on to learn a pose that could give you stronger bones.
Women have an increased potential for developing osteoporosis, a disease that causes bones to become brittle and prone to breaking, as they age. Weight-bearing and balance exercises can help you reduce the possibility of bone fractures by maintaining bone strength and promoting joint agility.
Many yoga positions, including the Revolved Triangle pose, are perfect for maintaining bone strength. In this standing position, you'll need to do the following:
- Place your left foot forward and your right foot behind you so your feet are about 3 to 4 feet (0.9 to 1.2 meters) apart.
- Rotate your feet outward slightly, so that if you drew an imaginary line between them, your left heel would connect to the arch of your right foot.
- Hold your arms out to the side, and square your hips forward.
- Exhale while bending forward from the hips and rotating your torso to the left, keeping your belly pulled in.
- Place your right hand on the floor on the outside of your left foot and stretch your left arm over your head, looking upward if possible.
- Hold for three breaths.
- Straighten and repeat on the opposite leg.
This pose requires some flexibility, but you can easily modify it by using a chair or block to support yourself if you can't bend all the way to the floor.
But take note: If you have back problems, avoid this pose.
Instead, practice some other seated or standing weight-bearing poses like Hero, Wide Angle and Wide-legged Standing Forward Bend poses.
Yoga can also help women fight the symptoms of menopause. Keep reading to learn a cool pose to ward off hot flashes.
One yoga pose that can help you keep your cool is Downward-facing Dog. Here's how to do this inverted pose:
- Start on your hands and knees, with your knees directly below your hips and your hands a little in front of your shoulders.
- Exhale and push up onto your hands and feet, with your hips in the air. Your body will make a triangle with the floor with your legs straight, your knees not locked and your heels reaching toward the floor.
- Keep your palms flat, your fingers spread apart and your shoulders broad. Your head should be in line with your spine.
- Inhale and exhale in this pose for up to three minutes.
You can also do this pose with one leg in the air. If you can't bend over all the way, place a chair against a wall and bend into a V shape, using the chair to support your hands.
Other great poses to deal with menopause include Legs-up-the-wall and Extended Triangle pose. In general, standing poses also do wonders to combat irritability.
When some women have menopause, they also get insomnia. Read on to discover a pose that can help you sleep better.
When counting sheep or drinking a glass of warm milk doesn't help you fall asleep, try some yoga poses to help you get some z's.
The Legs-on-the-wall pose is very helpful for those who just can't seem to get some shut-eye. You'll need to have a thick pillow or blanket that you can roll up and use as a support for your lower back. If you have back problems, don't try this pose without the help of a teacher.
- Place your support prop about six inches away from a wall and have a seat on one end, with your side facing the wall.
- Exhale and swing yourself into a lying position, with your legs on the wall, the support under your lower back and your head and shoulders on the floor.
- You'll have the proper form when your torso arches back and your chin is off your chest. Keep your shoulder blades wide.
- Let your arms fall to your sides, with elbows bent and palms facing up.
- Stay here for five to 15 minutes.
- Should your feet start tingling, bend your knees and let the soles of your feet touch. Slide them down the wall until they're close to your hips.
- When you're ready to come out of the pose, carefully slide off or remove the support.
- Roll to your side and take a few breaths before exhaling and sitting up.
Forward bend poses are also good ones to try when you need help falling asleep.
Need to sharpen your balancing act? Let's look at a pose that can improve your balance.
Many seniors worry about taking a spill that could cause a bone fracture, potentially changing their quality of life forever. Some yoga poses build up strength in your lower body to help you maintain your balance.
Warrior I is a pose that builds up power in your legs and hips. If you're new to yoga, you can perform Warrior I against a wall. As you progress in the pose, you'll eventually be able to do it on your own two feet.
- Face a wall and spread your legs so that one set of toes are touching the wall, and the other leg is stretched back, with toes pointed outward.
- Square your hips to face the wall and keep your torso upright.
- Stretch your arms out straight and slightly up so that they press against the wall, keeping your shoulders down.
- Exhale and bend your front knee until it's at nearly a right angle.
- Inhale as you come up.
- Repeat this twice before switching to the other leg.
Once you're strong enough, you can ditch the wall support and raise your arms above your head, palms facing inward.
Keep reading for one of yoga's greatest benefits.
One of yoga's biggest benefits is that it stretches your muscles and improves your flexibility -- keep in mind you don't need to be able to tie yourself in knots to become more flexible.
Performing yoga poses helps stretch muscles, ligaments and tendons, which removes lactic acid and alleviates stiffness and pain. As you practice yoga, you'll also discover an improvement in your joints' range of motion over time.
For flexibility in your legs, try the Legs in V pose:
- Sit on the floor with your legs comfortably spread apart in a V shape. It doesn't matter if the V isn't that wide to begin with; it's more important to stretch comfortably.
- Grab a bunch of firm pillows and place them in front of you.
- Lean forward, keeping your neck long, and use the pillows to support your upper body. Breathe six times, allowing yourself to hang and feel the stretch along your legs.
Pigeon and lying down twist are other good poses for flexibility. To stretch out your arms, try the Garuda Arms pose.
Read on to learn a great stress-relieving yoga pose.
People who preach the adage "take a deep breath and relax" are on to something. Many yoga poses help you relax and feel your body. Certified yoga teacher Zach Biegun says that final relaxation pose, called Savasana (pronounced "sha-vah-suh-nuh") is "perhaps the most important yoga pose. The point of Savasana, also known as Corpse pose, is to relax. It's the few minutes at the end of a physical practice where you just [lie] down and, rather than thinking, spend time feeling."
Relaxation pose isn't just simply lying down, though.
- Lie on the floor, using a pillow to support your head.
- You may want to cover yourself with a blanket to keep from feeling cold.
- Keep your feet about a foot (0.3 meter) apart and relax them.
- Your arms should be by your sides, with palms facing up.
- Keep your shoulders down and point your shoulder blades toward your spine. (If this position is uncomfortable for your back, slide a blanket underneath your knees or bend your knees until you feel comfortable.)
- Inhale and exhale slowly and deeply, focusing on your breath as you fully relax each part of your body.
- Once you're completely relaxed, rest in total relaxation as long as you'd like.
Now that you're fully relaxed, you'll probably find you have more energy to enjoy your golden years.
For more yoga exercises for seniors, take a deep breath and move on to the next page.
Hot yoga was founded by Calcutta-born Bikram Choudhury in the 1970s. HowStuffWorks looks into this cool practice.
- The A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia. "Osteoporosis." PubMed Health, U.S. National Library of Medicine. Nov. 8, 2010. (May 16, 2011)http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001400/
- Biegun, Zach. Certified yoga teacher, RYT-200. Personal correspondence. May 14, 2011.
- Folan, Lilias. "Lilias! Yoga Gets Better With Age." Rodale Books. 2005.
- Gavalas, Elaine. "The Yoga Minibook for Longevity." Simon & Schuster. 2003.
- Kooperman, Sarah and Lisa Ackerman. "Yoga for the 50+." American Senior Fitness Association. 2005. (May 16, 2011)http://www.seniorfitness.net/YOGA.htm
- Krucoff, Carol. "How to Find a Good Yoga Instructor." AARP Bulletin. Jan. 14, 2011. (May 16, 2011)http://www.aarp.org/health/alternative-medicine/info-01-2011/how_to_find_a_good_yoga_instructor.html
- Mayo Clinic. "Yoga: Tap into the many health benefits." Jan. 16, 2010. (May 16, 2011)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/yoga/CM00004
- Nett, Jaki. "Poses for Osteoporosis." Yoga Journal. 2011. (May 16, 2011)http://www.yogajournal.com/practice/943
- Peck, Peggy. "Yoga and Meditation 3 Times a Week Improves Heart Disease Risk." WebMD. Nov. 8, 2004. (May 16, 2011)http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/news/20041108/yoga-gets-hearts-healthy
- Peters, Leslie. "Poses for Insomnia." Yoga Journal. 2011. (May 16, 2011)http://www.yogajournal.com/practice/1467
- Yoga Journal. "Chair Pose." 2011. (May 16, 2011)http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/493
- Yoga Journal. "Downward-Facing Dog." 2011. (May 16, 2011)http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/491
- Yoga Journal. "Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose." 2011. (May 16, 2011)http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/690
- Yoga Journal. "Standing Forward Bend." 2011. (May 16, 2011)http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/478