Today’s seniors are bending the conceptions of retirement, literally. More and more baby boomers realize the benefits of staying active and limber in their golden years. Yoga is quickly becoming the group exercise of choice among retirees.
Yoga is a holistic practice combining physical poses with mindfulness, breathing techniques, and meditation. The combination of these practices promotes functional mobility, self-discovery, and helps re-balance the nervous system. Studies have found a yoga practice to correlate with both physical and mental wellness positively. It’s uncontroversial that yoga can improve strength, flexibility, and endurance, but studies have also found that regular practice may help:
- Lower the risk of cardiovascular disease
- Recovery from strokes and surgery
- Prevent falls
- Manage arthritis, pain, and inflammation
- Manage diabetes
- Manage digestive issues like IBS
- Improve sleep quality
- Facilitate the grieving process
- Manage depression and anxiety
While some of the benefits on this list can be derived from other fitness programs, yoga outperforms other exercises on several key metrics. For example, one study found that elderly adults assigned a yoga practice experienced more significant improvement in regulating feelings of anger and anxiety, as well as increases to their sense of well-being and self-efficacy than those in an exercise control group. This is not to say that going for a run or lifting weights is not beneficial, but it appears yoga is unique in its scope and its ability to address a broad spectrum of wellness indicators.
Because yoga is not a purely physical practice, there is the flexibility to adapt one’s practice to meet one’s needs. This is a significant factor why yoga has become so popular with seniors. Yoga practices range from the physically demanding yoga to gentle Yin and chair yoga. It also encompasses conscious breathing and meditation exercises, providing practice options appropriate for those of limited mobility. Many teachers have developed senior-specific practices, and the scientific community has assisted in this regard, conducting studies that identify poses and techniques suitable to senior’s needs and bodies.
If you are a senior and are interested in trying yoga, I’d suggest starting with a gentle senior class at your local community center. These centers will typically offer a wide range of yoga options to meet any level from very gently chair yoga to more challenging poses. Seniors with physical limitations should focus more on Hatha yoga, which involves more stretching and breathing for stress relief. This form of yoga is also one of the least taxing on your joints and can be suitable for those who are disabled or less fit. There are also many online yoga resources that you can try in the comfort of your own home. However, it is very important to consult with your doctor before starting a new exercise program, particularly if you have significant health concerns or injuries. It’s also recommended to start in a class environment where a supervisor will be available to assist with determining your physical capabilities. As you gain strength and flexibility and begin to feel comfortable with the various poses, the classes further down the list will become more accessible to you. And remember: yoga poses should never hurt. Move out of a pose if it is causing any pain. If you feel pain, stop immediately.
In short, there IS a yoga practice available to you, no matter your age, nor your physical limitations. And with the boon in senior-specific classes available, there’s never been a better time for seniors to discover yoga!