With over 300 million people practicing yoga worldwide, the physical benefits and emotional joy that it brings is undeniable. However, trying yoga for the first time can still be quite daunting, even more so when you’re older.
If you’re on the fence about beginning yoga for seniors, this article may help you make a decision that will completely change your life!
In this article we explore:
- 9 Benefits of Beginning Yoga for Seniors
- 5 Best Types of Yoga for Seniors
- 7 Tips to Get Started
- 4 Common Issues and Appropriate Solutions
Benefits of Beginning Yoga for Seniors
#1: Stronger Ligaments
Aging is often accompanied by joint pain due to the weakening of ligaments caused by stress, chronic conditions, and tissue degeneration. The best way to combat it is to strengthen the systems supporting the joints. Yoga is an accessible and adaptable solution for aching joints.
#2: Menopause Symptoms
As women get older, they are often faced with the unpleasant symptoms of perimenopause and menopause.
Thankfully, yoga has been shown to reduce the severity of various conditions caused by hormonal changes, from a weakened pelvic floor and hot flashes to mood swings and mental fog.
#3: Better Balance
Strengthening your ligaments and improving mental focus result in better balance and coordination. This is especially important in seniors, as it can significantly reduce the risk of slip and fall, and consequent injuries.
#4: Improved Sleep
Yoga has been proven to have a positive effect on various aspects of sleep quality in seniors. In addition to anecdotal evidence, studies have shown that yoga can help older people fall asleep faster, enjoy uninterrupted sleep for longer, and reduce fatigue.
#5: Cognitive Function
Our mind is subject to aging just as much as our body. Yoga can be helpful in maintaining mental clarity, as well as improving cerebral functions such as memory, focus, decision-making, and processing information.
The unfortunate side effect of getting older is the lack of interaction with other people. Making friends can be difficult, and opportunities become limited as you age.
Finding a yoga class, especially one aimed at seniors, is a great way to find like-minded people and fulfill the quota for social interaction.
#7: Functional Independence
As much as being cared for is wonderful, no one ever wants to feel like a burden. Another social benefit of yoga is its ability to prolong a person’s independence, both in a physical and cognitive sense.
#8: Respiratory and Cardiovascular Health
A variety of breathing techniques available through yoga practice, along with rhythmic, functional movement lead to improved respiratory function, more stable blood circulation, and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
#9: Mental Well-Being
Across the board, yoga has been an effective tool for managing mental health and preventing mental health crises. It can reduce stress, ease symptoms of depression and anxiety, and even help with trauma and grief.
Best Types of Yoga for Seniors
A low-paced and “passive” practice, Yin Yoga is known for extended pose holds and its calming, meditative nature. Don’t let that fool you, the deep tissue stretches can be pretty challenging, but the way you feel afterwards makes it totally worth it.
If you’re looking for a type of yoga that is more spiritually inclined, Kundalini is a great option. It involves less physical movement than the average yoga class, but Kundalini makes up for it with breathwork, meditation, and musical chanting.
It is truly a beautiful practice for anyone who wants to connect with their spiritual side.
The signature feature of Iyengar Yoga is its commitment to proper alignment. This style of yoga encourages the use of props to accommodate practitioners or varying levels of experience and physical composition.
Most importantly, it ensures that the poses are performed safely and diligently.
Classes that are specifically aimed at senior practitioners are usually a modified version of Hatha Yoga.
They combine movement and breathing in the same way as a conventional yoga class, while considering the effect that aging has on the body and providing appropriate variations.
If your mobility is limited, you may consider an adaptive yoga practice that uses a chair. Chair Yoga is a great way to make the practice more accessible for people with injuries, chronic conditions, paralysis, and various disabilities.
Tips for Senior Beginners
Before you get started, there are a few things you need to know. The more prepared you are for the practice, the more enjoyable and beneficial you will find it.
#1: Speak to Your Doctor
Consult your physician before embarking on your yoga journey. This is a good idea for people of any age.As much as a good yoga teacher can try to accommodate you, they are not medical professionals. A doctor familiar with your medical history should be able to advise you more accurately and warn you against any movement that could harm you.
#2: Find the Right Teacher
Find a teacher who knows what they’re doing. Your first point of reference should be a teacher who specializes in classes for the older population.
However, if no such classes are available in your area, you can still attend a public yoga class, as long as the teacher is competent and familiar with specific issues you may face.
#3: Choose the Best Class For You
Your yoga experience will be colored by a variety of factors, including the pace and difficulty of the class, the teacher’s skill and personality, the environment in which you practice, and even your mood on that particular day.
Don’t be afraid to try a few different classes to find your groove.
In addition to many different types of yoga, each teacher will have their own individual approach. Give yourself a chance to fall in love with yoga and experience the amazing benefits it brings!
#4: Communication Is Key
Disclose any specific conditions that may affect your practice to your teacher. This will allow the teacher to modify the practice to be safe and productive for you.
Additionally, should something go wrong during the lesson, knowing the cause of the issue can be instrumental in finding a solution.
Make sure that the teacher has a record of your emergency contacts. It is also a good idea to tell your loved ones where you’re going so that they know when to expect you back.
#5: Research the Venue
Researching the venue in advance is key, especially if you are going to need accommodations. Be on a lookout for things like disabled access (parking, bathrooms, ramps or lifts), appropriate on-site facilities, and an easy way to travel to your class.
You should also check that the venue allows you to clearly see and hear the teacher, and does not use incense or scented candles that may cause a reaction.
#6: Dress Appropriately
Even when the temperature of the venue is predetermined, it is very important to manage your internal thermostat. It can be hard to predict the way our body would react to certain actions or environments, which means preparation is key.
If there is a chance you might overheat, don’t lock yourself in with long sleeves and thick, unbreathable fabric. Give yourself the option to take off a layer of clothing if necessary, and be sure to stay hydrated.
On the other hand, if you’re prone to feeling cold, it’s a good idea to have an extra layer at hand, along with warm socks for Savasana. Many studios also have blankets available for this exact purpose.
#7: Choose Comfort
Remember, at the end of the day this is your practice. Accommodate your body and soul in any way that it needs. Take your time and you’ll be fine.
Yoga is never entirely risk-free, even for strong and physically healthy people. As an older practitioner, you’re likely to come across certain challenges. Here are a few common problems faced by senior yogis, and a way to overcome them.
- Impaired balance. Unfortunately, unsteadiness, vertigo, and changes in one’s vision can make certain yoga poses difficult. To help you balance, you may hold onto a wall or the back of a chair.
- Joint pain. From weakened bones to various types of arthritis, your joints may not take kindly to kneeling, pressing down through the palms, or even standing for prolonged periods of time.
One way to help yourself is to add a folded blanket for extra cushioning or practice with a thicker yoga mat.
- Endurance. As you age, your energy levels and the ability to sustain them will decline. This is why it is important to pace yourself.
Avoid comparing yourself to other people in your yoga class, even if the class was specifically designed for senior practitioners. Just listen to your body and slow down when necessary.
- Muscle stiffness. While yoga is undoubtedly a great way to improve your overall mobility, some asanas will be difficult to achieve without assistance.
In yoga, props are your friends and biggest supporters, so make sure to have a couple of blocks within your reach when you need them.
Now that you know more about yoga for seniors, it’s time to take a leap of faith and book your first yoga class!