The benefits of yoga for older people

As people mature and grow older, the temptation arises to settle down perhaps a bit too much. Retirement years are there to be enjoyed, to put one’s feet up and let people with more energy run around to do things. For older people, life slows down.

While not necessarily a bad thing, a sedentary life can lead to various issues with people’s physical health. Joints start to seize up, muscles start to wither, and even people’s mental faculties can be affected. As such, many older people try to find various ways to keep themselves up and active. Along with traditional methods such as gardening or walking, yoga is becoming popular amongst older Britons as a means of keeping fit and healthy for longer.

The reasons why are quickly becoming obvious. Yoga is proving to be a highly effective means of remaining active and healthy even long into one’s retirement years.

Why yoga?

Yoga is smarter than the average exercise.

It’s a holistic series of stretches, movements and poses that developed over the centuries in India, as an offshoot of Vedic meditation practices. While initially conceived as a means of Hindu religious ritual, largely focusing the practitioner’s mind to better focus themselves on inner and outer mysteries, it has long been attested to have numerous benefits on a more physical level as well.

Many stories have floated around for as long as it’s been practiced about how yoga practitioners enjoy great health and mental wellbeing.

This isn’t just anecdotal anymore either. Studies into yoga have shown that practitioners do enjoy numerous benefits, some of which may be especially useful to older people.

Whether or not you can achieve any spiritual breakthroughs with yoga, it has been noted to provide other advantages such as:

  • Improved mobility – unlike more strenuous activities like running or cycling, yoga encourages movement in a gentle manner. This not only reduces the chances of injury but can help manage other joint issues such as arthritis. In some cases, you can see an increase in mobility up to 34% after just a few months.
  • Better balance and core strength – falls are a common cause of injury among the elderly. Yoga places great emphasis on learning one’s centre of balance and carefully strengthening the core muscles. As such, older people can greatly benefit from improved balance through yoga.
  • Reduced anxiety and improved mindfulness – yoga was, as we mentioned, developed to aid in meditation. Part of the movements involve focusing on one’s centre of gravity, controlling breathing, and drawing attention away from distractions. Many people come away from yoga feeling refreshed, at ease, and de-stressed. This also improves quality of sleep!
  • Improved respiratory function and circulation – partially as a result of the aforementioned mindfulness, yoga “thins” the blood and improves circulation. As a gentle yet effective exercise, it also keeps the heart working. Meanwhile, as part of the focus on breathing, yoga teaches people to breathe deeply and effectively. As such both the lungs and the heart can see a marked improvement in function.
  • Fewer strokes – finally all this combines to a healthy brain as well as a healthy mind. Meditation helps keep the mind alert and clear. Memory improves and thinking becomes sharper. Meanwhile, the improved breathing and circulation significantly decreases the chance of stroke and other such complications in the brain, which are common issues among older people. It is also thought to be very beneficial for people who suffered a stroke in the past.

Beginner yoga poses for seniors

So now that we’ve explored how yoga can help older people physically and mentally, where do we start? While classes are always the most effective way to learn any discipline, you can also start practicing yoga in your own home by looking up online classes on YouTube, for example. All that’s required is a clear space, a comfortable mat and cushion, and a moment’s peace.

Start off with some of these poses and work from there.

The mountain pose

Do not be deceived by its simple appearance. The Mountain Pose, or ‘tadasana’, is a crucial position in yoga. It forms a starting and finishing point for all other movements, and on its own can improve posture, balance, and breathing.

Downward dog

This pose targets the upper and lower body at the same time, improving balance and working as a full body stretch.

The tree pose

A step up from the tadasana, the Tree Pose is used to help strengthen the core and leg muscles, improving balance and self-awareness. It helps stretch the muscles of the leg and can also help relieve sciatica or flat feet.

The bird dog pose

A more intense exercise, the Bird Dog pose places more emphasis on core strength and balance than the other exercises. It does wonders for the legs and arms too. Remember to control your breathing with this one and take things slowly.

The sphinx pose

This pose places more emphasis on the back, strengthening the spine and improving posture. It also stretches the shoulders, chest and lungs.

The warrior 2 pose

Named after an incarnation of Shiva, the god of creation, destruction and restoration, the Warrior 2 pose is a very deep stretch for the legs, groin and hips. Use of the pose will also help develop stamina and improve digestion.

The triangle pose

Practicing the triangle pose will help you strengthen the muscles in the thighs and hips, while also toning the knees and ankles. It is thought to improve digestion and relieve the symptoms of menopause.

The child pose

Like the Mountain Pose, the Child Pose is often a resting position between more challenging poses. While it still gentle stretches the muscles in hips, legs, and ankles, it also calms and relaxes the mind and body. This will help you prepare to move into more difficult stances as the session progresses, without actually stopping the work out.

It’s important to stress that yoga is good for people of all ages and for all fitness levels. For example, it can also be the right type of exercise for Care Professionals who want to add a bit of mindfulness to their lives.

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