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Yoga For Seniors

By Aadil Palkhivala

Aging and health problems seem to go hand-in-hand.  Arthritis, high blood pressure and decreased mental cognition are just a few of the more common ailments people face as they grow older. Yoga, one of the most ancient healing practices around today, holds the key to helping fight off age-related diseases or at least help those afflicted to better cope.  It focuses on both our inner and outer lives while addressing our physical, mental and spiritual well-being.  For seniors living a yogic way of life, the benefits are truly amazing.

Here are some of the ways yoga is improving the lives of seniors:

Balance

Balance is the ability to control and maintain the body’s position whether in motion or remaining still.  As people grow older, they may have trouble with their balance.

Asana (poses) help cultivate the tiny muscles around the joints, which are critical in the development of balance. These poses also strengthen the ankles and hips, which help balance. Inversions rebalance the energy in the ear canal, making sure the coppola (inner ear) gets enough blood supply. Inner ear problems are known for causing balance problems.

Bone Density

Any bone not used by putting pressure on it starts to lose density. Yoga teaches how to put weight on our bones safely to build the density back. When combined with a sound nutrition program, the proper food builds strong bones. The key is not only what’s in the food, but how the body absorbs the nutrients. In the case of bones, the biggest myth is that milk is good for building bones, but in reality, the phosphorus in milk depletes bone mass.

Memory

There are two primary reasons for loss of memory as we age. The first is an inadequate supply of blood to the brain. This may be caused by a subluxation in the spine. The second reason is tension or scarring in the meninges, which puts pressure on the brain and prevents synapses from firing properly.

Yoga brings blood flow to the brain. It helps keep cranial sutures mobile so they don’t cram the meninges. It assists the movement of the spine, preventing subluxations and reversing ones that are already present.

Flexibility

Aging makes it harder for our bodies to move around compared to 20 or 30 years previously. 
This is why flexibility is so important the older we get. What many people don’t realize is that flexibility by itself can actually be dangerous. The key to flexibility is including alignment and strength to cultivate the joints. Purna yoga doesn’t just aim to make us more flexible, but to balance flexibility with strength.

Muscle Mass Deterioration

As the human body ages, muscle mass deteriorates. Traditional muscle-building activities such as weight lifting, however, can place undue stress on our bodies as we get older and may end up causing injuries. Yoga, on the other hand, is a safe and gentle way to help build and maintain muscle mass well into our senior years.  While a yoga practice will not make you look like a young Arnold Schwarzenegger, when practiced properly it is an effective means of maintaining and developing muscle mass. It also provides the added benefit of combining lean muscle mass with flexibility (as discussed above), which is much more beneficial to an aging body than building bulky, tight muscles that lack flexibility.

Endurance

Yoga is a panacea for people who are over age 60 if for no other reason than endurance. Yoga teaches movement of the body in a safe and aligned way. It relieves tension in the diaphragm and rib cage, which helps the heart pump more easily. Through the practice of mild inversions (upside down poses) blood is pumped into the heart. In fact, some research shows that you pump more volume of blood through your heart in 5 minutes of inversions than in 30 minutes of jogging!

Stress

According to Dr. Hans Selye, one of the foremost researchers in the world on how stress affects the body and founder of the International Institute of Stress at the University of Montreal, “Every stress leaves an indelible scar and the organism pays for its survival after a stressful situation by becoming a little older.”

Stress presents itself in a number of ways including headaches, muscle stiffness and tightness, fatigue and anxiety. Chronic stress, as discovered by Selye, can lead to a number of degenerative diseases, including coronary thrombosis, brain hemorrhage, hardening of the arteries, high blood pressure, kidney failure, arthritis, peptic ulcers and cancer.  Yoga is one of the most effective, natural ways to relieve the body of stress and enhance spiritual well-being.

Getting Started

The best way to get started with yoga is to find a qualified teacher near you. Bear in mind that not all teachers are created equally. Make sure you find a teacher who is a certified instructor.  A certified instructor has more than 2,000 hours of training and continuing education, whereas a non-certified teacher may have as little as 200 hours of training.

Also very important is to find a teacher with whom you feel comfortable and who you feel is more interested in your progress and development along the path of yoga than in their ego-based opinion of doing things “their way.” Some teachers (usually the least experienced) believe that there is only one “right” way to do poses. This could not be further from the truth.  Everybody’s body is different, and an excellent teacher will recognize how to guide your body so that you are learning and growing at a pace that is safe and effective. Never, no matter what a teacher says, force your body into doing a movement that causes you pain. Much of yoga is listening to your body. Let it be your true teacher.

Yoga is not to be performed. Yoga is to be lived. Yoga can help make our golden years the very best they can be.