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Yoga for Seniors - The Only Resource You'll Ever Need

by Jessica Hegg May 01, 2017

Seinors doing yoga

According to the 2016 Yoga in America Study, there are now 14 million practitioners over the age of 50 in the US - making yoga for seniors the fastest growing yoga demographic! As we’re living longer than we used to, a high quality of life and good health is key for our Golden Years. And yoga...may just be the perfect activity to do so.

Nervous about getting started? It's time to relax :) We're here to help you learn which yoga is right for you, where to find it, & how you'll reap the rewards.

Which Yoga is Right for You?

Factors such as your age, level of fitness, medical health, and physical condition will all influence what type of yoga you choose. Personal preference also plays a role of course & it’s worth trying a few different classes and varieties to see which is right for you.

Remember, before beginning yoga or any other exercise regimen, you should always speak with your doctor.

Types of Yoga for Seniors

The list is endless when it comes to different types of yoga. There's beginner to advanced, hot to warm, strength to balance and so many more. If you're not familiar with the options, choosing a class can get confusing & even a little intimidating. Here are the best types of yoga for seniors to choose from:

Gentle Yoga for Seniors

The term ‘gentle yoga’ is used to describe a variety of different types of yoga which can be considered non-strenuous, less intense, meditative, or restorative. 

Gentle-style yoga classes are ideal for seniors, new practitioners, people with limited mobility, and those looking to reduce stress levels.

The following styles fall into the category of ‘gentle yoga’:

  • Iyengar - places an emphasis on tailoring postures to all abilities through the use of props for support and proper alignment. Teachers have a good understanding of anatomy and how to modify poses.
  • Viniyoga - an adaptive type of yoga, which tailors poses to each individual’s needs.
  • Kripalu - a practice which tailors postures to the individual, and allows each person to work at their own pace.
  • Sivananda - appropriate for beginners and those who require poses to be modified to their physical condition.
  • Hatha - often used to describe classes which combine different yoga styles to create a simple activity that’s ideal for beginners and those who want to stick to the basics.

Adaptive & Chair Yoga for Seniors

In addition to the various types of yoga, adaptive practices help seniors with even very limited mobility to do yoga. Adaptive yoga practices include:

Chair Yoga chair yoga for seniors

Chair yoga for seniors is a great way to modify more challenging poses ( Image Reference).

Ideal for those who cannot stand for long periods of time, or who cannot work on a floor mat. Poses are modified with a chair for balance or performed seated.  Chairs, walls, and other props are commonly used during class to provide additional support.

Water Yoga
      water yoga for seniors

      Water yoga for seniors is ideal for a low-impact exercise that is easy on the joints. ( Image Reference).

      Most commonly performed in a pool.  Water yoga is a gentle and low-impact activity, which is extremely beneficial for those with joint pain. These classes are often held at community centers or gyms.

        Other Types of Yoga

        If you’re looking for a more active style of yoga, and have reasonable flexibility and mobility, Anusara may be for you.

        Anusara means ‘flowing with grace’ and it focuses on experiencing joy in your life through yoga practice. Teachers of Anusara generally have a good understanding of anatomy and how to modify poses.

        More challenging forms, which require flexibility and are not recommended for beginners or those with mobility issues, include:

        • Ashtanga yoga
        • Bikram (hot) yoga

        Finding Yoga Classes for Seniors

        Learning yoga from books and videos is possible, but going to a class - particularly in the beginning - is advisable.

        Not only will you learn the proper form under the guidance of a qualified teacher, you will get helpful tips and pose modifications - all of which help reduce your risk of injury.

        Yoga classes for seniors are becoming increasingly popular - after all, seniors are the fastest growing demographic in yoga!

        To find yoga classes for seniors, check:

        • Local senior centers
        • Retirement communities
        • Community centers
        • Religious organizations
        • Health clubs and gyms
        • Local newspapers, wellness magazines, and events guides

        What to Know Before Your Yoga First Class

        Seniors doing yoga at home

        Using a chair for balance during your practice is a safe way to build strength & modify poses ( Image Reference).

        Going to your first yoga class can be daunting, but once you get there, you’ll probably find it’s a friendly and welcoming space! However, this brief overview of what you can expect may help put your mind at ease:

        What to Wear

        Comfortable and somewhat fitted clothing are ideal for yoga as many forms require you to bend and stretch into different poses. For this reason, baggy clothing is generally not a good idea!

        However, any type of exercise pants or leggings works well, along with a fitted top. Yoga is generally done barefoot, although non-slip yoga socks are available.

        What to Bring

        Yoga Essentials

        Yoga class essentials include your mat, water bottle, towel, and bag ( Image Reference).

        You can turn up to your first yoga class empty handed if you wish, but you may want to consider bringing some of the following items:

        • Water Bottle
        • Medical ID bracelet
        • Doctor’s details - to give to your teacher in case of emergency
        • Mat (most venues provide the use of mats for free or for a nominal fee)
        • Towel
        • Sandals (easy to slip off before entering)

        Yoga Etiquette

        This varies from venue to venue, but general yoga etiquette tips include:

        • Arrive 10 minutes early - this gives you plenty of time to check-in, discuss any concerns with the teacher, and find your space in the room.
        • Remove your shoes - because yoga involves a lot of floor work, it’s considered hygienic to leave your shoes at the door, or place them in your bag before entering the studio.
        • Turn off your phone - the yoga studio is a place of relaxation, where the stresses of life are left at the door.
        • Watch the mats - stepping on another person’s mat isn’t considered polite, as it’s important to keep these clean.
        • Stay for the entire class - it may be tempting to leave class during the last few minutes of the final relaxation (savasana) because it may feel like you’re not doing anything. But the relaxation aspect of yoga is an important piece, and may play a role in all the health benefits attributed to the activity.

        Other Useful Yoga Tips for Seniors

        • Eat a light snack an hour or so before class - heavier meals may cause you to feel sick during practice.
        • Stay hydrated - drink plenty of water before and after class.
        • Make your teacher aware of any health concerns you have - that way they can tailor poses to your specific needs.
        • Tricks for balance - If you’re struggling with your balance, try focusing your gaze on a specific spot, or ask for a prop for extra support.
        • Don’t push yourself - it’s really important to take things at your own pace and build up strength and flexibility gradually. You can always choose to do the child’s pose or quietly sit and meditate during any of the more challenging postures.
        • Ask questions - this is probably the most useful tip! Always ask your teacher or fellow students if you want more information about yoga etiquette. For advice on postures, it’s best to check with your teacher.

        Benefits of Yoga for Seniors

        A growing body of scientific research is beginning to confirm what yogis have known for millennia - yoga offers a wealth of benefits for everyone…and seniors are no exception!

        Some of the health benefits associated with regular yoga practice include:

        • Yoga for Weightloss

        Although yoga isn’t the first activity that comes to mind when you think of weight loss, studies show it may actually help offset weight gain and promote weight loss.  Yoga increases your heart rate, burns fat, and builds muscle. Practicing yoga regularly is a great way to get the exercise you need to speed up any slow metabolism symptoms that may be causing weight gain.

        • Improved Balance & Posture - Meaning Less Falls

        The importance of good balance for seniors should not be underestimated. Not only is it one of the first things we start to lose as we age, it’s key to preventing falls - the  leading cause of injury and death among older adults.

        The slow and precise movements of yoga, along with its strengthening and challenging poses, help maintain balance and improve posture into old age.

        2013 study found that older adults who participated in 12 weeks of twice-weekly yoga classes enjoyed improved balance, mobility, and agility when moving from sitting to standing.

        • Relief from Aches and Pains

        Chronic pain is common among older adults, particularly the pain associated with arthritis and joint problems - but yoga can offer some natural relief.

        2001 study conducted at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center looked at the effects of yoga on those with chronic pain, caused by conditions such as osteoarthritis and migraines.

        Participants took part in 90-minute yoga sessions three times a week for four weeks, before being asked to rate their moods and severity of their pain. Most of the participants experienced decreases in pain, with many being able to reduce their intake of pain medications.

        Since then, several other studies have had similar results:  2013 research reports that yoga may be able to to decrease pain, improve mobility, and enhance overall health in older adults; and a  2015 study highlighs its ability to ease pain and improve vitality and mood in sedentary adults with arthritis.

        • Improved Sleep

        Many older adults have trouble falling asleep, and get less than the recommended 7 to 9 hours a night.

        Regular yoga sessions may provide a safer alternative to medications, which aren’t without their side effects.

        Recent  research found that seniors with insomnia experienced significant improvements in overall sleep quality, fatigue levels, and general well-being with regular yoga practice. Other  studies have shown that older adults in nursing homes who practice yoga enjoy improved quality of life and sleep quality.

        • Increased Strength

        Yoga is well known as a gentle yet effective exercise for increased strength and flexibility. By using your own bodyweight, you can enjoy the benefits of strength training with a lower risk of injury.

        People with rheumatoid arthritis, and those without it, were both  found to enjoy increased hand grip strength following yoga.

        And in  a review of 18 studies, yoga was found to increase strength, aerobic fitness, and a sense of good health in older adults.

        • Lower Blood Sugar

        Fluctuating blood sugar levels are an issue for many people, but over time it can lead to a variety of health issues - including type 2 diabetes. Get yours under control through a healthy diet and exercise regimen.

        In  one study, patients aged 30 to 60 with type 2 diabetes were asked to take part in 40 minutes of yoga daily, for 40 days. The majority of participants showed a significant decrease in fasting blood sugar levels at the end of the study.

        • Easy Breathing

        Thanks to its combination of breathing exercises and relaxation postures, yoga may be able to improve lung function.

        Specific chair yoga exercises were used on  86 people with asthma to help control episodes of breathing difficulties - with 70% of the episodes being relieved within 30 minutes. Many of the patients were able to use the techniques they learned to manage future episodes instead of reaching for their medications.

        • Yoga for Seniors with Arthritis

        According to the  National Osteoporosis Foundation, half of all adults age 50 and older are at risk of breaking a bone. Weight-bearing activities - such as yoga - are key to preserving bone mass. Its low-impact poses and stretches can help prevent osteoporosis or provide pain relief from existing bone problems.

        2009 study indicates yoga’s ability to build bone density over a two-year period in seniors with osteoporosis or osteopenia.

        It’s important to look after your joints too! Yoga practice can increase fluid between the bones, lubricating the joints and helping prevent or manage carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis.

        • Reduced High Blood Pressure

        Did you know that one in three US adults suffers from high blood pressure, or hypertension - a serious condition that can increase your risk of heart attack, stroke, or kidney failure?

        While reducing salt intake is one sure-fire way to lower your risk, yoga is another.

        When adults with mild to moderate high blood pressure began practicing yoga daily, researchers  discovered a decrease in their levels of blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglycerides after just three months.

        More impressively,  a review of 17 studies reported significant reductions in blood pressure thanks to three core principles of yoga: postures, meditation, and breathing.

        • Less Stress & Increased Energy

        Yoga doesn’t just benefit the body - it has a profound impact on our mental and emotional health too. It relieves stress and lowers cortisol levels.

        It’s thought that the slow, controlled breathing which is central to yoga practice decreases nervous system activity, allowing a sense of calm to flood the body and mind.

        2014 study reports that people with stress-related symptoms who began practicing yoga experienced feelings of calmness, along with greater self-awareness and self-esteem.

        This builds on  2010 research showing that a 12-week yoga intervention provided greater improvements in mood and anxiety than going for a walk.

        • Brain Benefits

        Keep your mind sharp as you age simply by moving your body!

        Research has found that yoga can boost both brain function and cognitive ability in older adults. Practicing hatha yoga 3 times weekly for 2 months was shown to improve cognitive ability in sedentary seniors. They demonstrated more accurate scores on tests of information recall, mental flexibility, and task-switching.

        • Increase in Social Health

        A wealth of  research exists to suggest socialization increases life expectancy.

        Getting out and active with others in your area at a local yoga class can help establish a sense of community and friendship.

        How to Practice Yoga at Home

        How to Practice Yoga Home

        Use yoga DVDs or search youtube for videos to follow along & practice yoga at home ( Image Reference).

        If you can’t find a class in your area, or would simply rather practice from home, it’s possible to do this.

        However, you should be aware that your risk of injury is higher, and you may not be performing postures correctly, which can put undue strain on your back, hips, and other joints. 

        Many books and DVDs are available to help you learn yoga postures, or you can make your own flow with the poses outlined in the next section.

        Search Youtube - Yoga for Seniors

        Youtube is flooded with yoga flows designed for seniors.  Do a search of your own or check out the following links that may be helpful for beginners who wish to practice from home:

        Chair Yoga for Seniors and Beginners (20 minutes)

        Actively Aging with Energizing Chair Yoga (30 minutes)

        Easy Yoga Senior Exercise Video (9 minutes)

        Full Length Gentle Yoga Class for Beginners and Seniors

        7 Beginning Yoga Exercises + Poses for Seniors

        Some of the best poses for beginners and seniors are detailed below. Remember to only go as far as you can with each of the postures. Every pose can be modified to meet your needs, but it's good to consider getting professional instruction rather than going it alone. 

        Remember to discuss with your physician for approval before beginning your new yoga regimen. 

        The Tree Pose

        Tree pose
        Tree post helps improve balance and build strength ( Image Reference).
        1. Stand tall on your left leg.
        2. Bring the sole of your right foot as high up your left leg as you can (hold onto something for support if needed). 
        3. Place your hands together, as if you are praying. Hold for 30 seconds.
        4. Repeat with the other leg.

        Watch a video of the Tree Pose

        Chair Pose

        Chair Pose
        The Chair Pose improves posture by lengthening the spine and builds strength in legs & core ( Image Reference).
        1. Stand with your back against a wall and your feet hip-width apart.
        2. Bend your knees.
        3. Slide your back down the wall until your thighs are parallel to the floor (as if you’re sitting on an invisible chair).
        4. Gently suck in your stomach and hold the pose for 20 to 30 seconds.

        Watch a video of the Chair Pose

        Warrior 1

        Warrior 1
        Warrior 1 is a commonly used pose that helps to build strength and balance ( Image Reference). 
        1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and arms by your sides.
        2. Turn to the left, step back with one foot so your feet are about 3 feet apart.
        3. Point the right foot outward at a 90-degree angle.
        4. Raise both arms near your ears and look up.
        5. Breathe in deeply 3 times and return to standing position.
        6. Repeat with opposite foot.

        Watch a video of the Warrior 1 Pose.

        Warrior 2

        Warrior 2
        Warrior 2 is a great pose to strengthen legs and ankles ( Image Reference).
        1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and arms by your sides.
        2. Turn to the left, step back with one foot so your feet are about 3 feet apart. Ensure your heels are aligned with one another.
        3. Point the right foot outward at a 90-degree angle.
        4. Breathe in deeply and raise your arms out to the sides to shoulder height, parallel to the floor.
        5. Breathe out and bend your front knee until your thigh is parallel with the floor.
        6. Turn your head and gaze across the tips of the fingers of your right hand.
        7. Hold pose for up to 30 seconds. Repeat with other leg.

        Watch a video of the Warrior 2 pose.

        Child's Pose

        Child's pose
        Child's pose is often used for resting when transitioning between more challenging poses ( Image Reference).
        1. Begin on your hands and knees (put a blanket or towel under your knees if needed).
        2. Widen your knees and keep big toes touching (tight hips will make it difficult to spread knees, go as far as you can and work to loosen hips)
        3. Lean back and rest buttocks on heels
        4. Extend arms forward, with palms face down on mat
        5. Breathe deeply for 30 seconds.
        6. Sit up straight to lengthen spine then repeat

        Watch video of child's pose

        Cobbler's Pose

        Cobbler's Pose

        The Cobbler pose is great to improve flexibility while opening your hips and groin ( Image Reference).
        1. Sit with a straight back. Spread your legs apart.
        2. Bend your knees and bring your feet toward your pelvis, allowing the soles of the feet to touch.
        3. Rest your elbows on your thighs, gently pressing them to the floor.

        Watch a video of the Cobbler’s Pose.

        Alternate-Nostril Breathing

        Alternate-Nostril Breathing
        Practicing alternate nostril breathing can help to relieve fatigue ( Image Reference).
        1. Place the tips of your right index finger and middle finger between your eyebrows.
        2. Place your ring and little fingers on the left nostril
        3. Place your thumb on the right nostril.
        4. Press the thumb on the right nostril and breathe through the left.
        5. Change and press on the left nostril and breathe through the right.
        6. Repeat for five minutes.

        Watch a video of Alternate-Nostril Breathing here.

        Beginning Yoga for Seniors: 

        Clearly, yoga is deserving of its reputation as a calming and healing experience. Not only is there a whole host of physical and mental benefits to be gleaned from regular yoga practice, there are a variety of yoga types suitable for seniors of all abilities - whether practiced in a group setting or at home.  

        Remember to discuss yoga with your doctor before beginning, particularly if you are not very active, or if you have any specific health conditions.  

        Namaste!

        Jessica Hegg
        Jessica Hegg


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