Restorative Yoga for Seniors
With over 5,000 years of history in ancient Indian philosophy, yoga has even become more commonplace today. People are engaging in the practice for different reasons, including improving health, building muscle strength, perfecting the body’s posture, enhancing flexibility, among other reasons.
The art involves performing a set of specific exercises known as poses or asanas. These are combined with mediation principles and specific breathing techniques. The beauty of this practice is that you don’t need to be a yogini or yogi to reap the benefits. Whether you’re young or old, fit or overweight, yoga can help you strengthen the body and calm the mind.
In fact, seniors can use yoga to restore flexibility and stability. There are gentle therapeutic yoga exercises that can improve the fitness levels of older people. They also include the concept of mindfulness and stillness, which can improve their sleeping patterns and overall body health.
In this guide, we’ll help you understand restorative yoga, its benefits, and the poses you can do.
What is Restorative Yoga?
Restorative yoga is typically the practice of asana, which emphasizes relaxing and receiving. Unlike typical yoga, this style of yoga doesn’t focus on strengthening or stretching. The asanas in this style are held for longer than in a conventional yoga class.
During a restorative yoga session, yogi use props to enhance their experience and attain a state of complete release and relaxation. Restorative yoga allows you to learn the art of relaxation while enhancing your ability to self-soothe. Seniors can use it to improve their healing capacity through re-balancing their nervous system and regulating their stress response.
Key Findings and Statistics about Yoga in Seniors
In the US, there are over 14 million adults over 50 years old who engage in yoga. Most seniors are practicing yoga as a way of incorporating physical activity into their daily routines. Others are doing it as part of their medical regimen.
Yoga is viewed as a safe means of increasing older people’s flexibility, strength, and functional capacity. The National Recreation & Park Association notes that yoga is a total-solution exercise for seniors. It offers several positive outcomes for older adults beyond the physical.
Seniors can also improve their balance when they engage in yoga, and this helps to reduce cases of falls. In one study by the University of Wisconsin–Madison, yoga helped reduce falls by 48 percent among the participants in only six months.
Health Canada recommends adults, particularly those 65 and over, engage in weekly sessions of yoga. This can be as little as 10 minutes daily, and the sessions should focus on moderate to slightly vigorous activities. Such efforts can help to improve the quality of their lives as they age.
Benefits in Seniors
Restorative yoga offers lots of benefits to seniors. For example, the poses improve strength, flexibility, balance, and posture. On the other hand, the breathing exercises energize the body and offer a way of calming the body during stressful moments.
Here are the specific benefits seniors can reap from engaging in yoga:
Results from different studies have indicated that yoga can modestly minimize high blood pressure. The 2016 Lifestyle Modification and Blood Pressure Study revealed that yoga reduced the resting blood pressure. The participants of the study attended two 90-minute yoga sessions every week for 12 weeks.
Research indicates that yoga is a “light-intensity” physical activity that allows people to be active and fit. This helps to reduce hypertension. Additionally, it reduces stress levels, which usually worsen high blood pressure.
Studies have identified specific yoga poses that help in minimizing hypertension. These include bound angle pose, downward-facing dog, bridge pose, and corpse pose.
Practicing yoga regularly helps to improve bone strength in seniors. There are specific asanas, such as Tree, Triangle, and Warrior II, that support optimal bone health.
In a study led by Dr. Loren Fishman, 741 participants were selected to help understand the impact of yoga on bones. The study focused on 12 different types of yoga poses, including warrior II, tree, locust pose, revolved triangle, among others.
After 10 years of the study, the data collected by the researchers showed that the participants who were engaging in daily yoga sessions experienced improved bone mineral density. Notable changes were experienced in the femur, spines, and hips.
Keep excess pounds at bay
Active and intense styles of yoga can help you shed off some pounds, and they may also prevent weight gain. Such techniques include Power Yoga, Vinyasa, and Ashtanga. These styles of yogas keep the body working during a yoga session.
One study revealed that restorative yoga helps overweight women to reduce excess pounds, and it works effectively for abdominal fat.
Yoga involves meditation and controlled breathing exercises to help the body relax. It’s a mind-body practice that helps to reduce stress and lower your heart rate. According to Steve Hickman, PsyD, executive director of the University of California San Diego Center for Mindfulness, there’s enough evidence that yoga can help with mood disorders and stress.
Researchers believe that yoga affects the levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. GABA is a calming neurotransmitter, which helps in calming the body during anxious moments.
Protect your joints
Seniors suffering from joint conditions, such as arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome, can benefit from yoga. It incorporates several exercises that help the condition, including conditioning, strengthening, and stretching.
There are specific types of yoga that are recommended for joints, especially if you have arthritis. They include Iyengar, Hatha, Yin, Vinyasa, Hot, and Bikram. Bear in mind that yoga stretches muscles, so it’s advisable to stop if it gets uncomfortable.
Build strength and balance
Yoga also helps seniors build strength and improve their balance. These elements are crucial in assisting seniors to lead a healthy and safe everyday life.
In one study, researchers found out that yoga had a positive impact on people aged 60+ years. The study revealed that yoga improved strength and balance in the lower body.
In another study, 79 adults performed 24 cycles of sun salutations six days a week for 24 weeks. Over 50 percent of the participants experienced an increase in upper body strength and endurance.
Sharpens your mind
As noted before, yoga involved meditation, which is known for its cognitive benefits. Researchers from Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, found a direct connection between cognition and breathing exercises.
The researchers noted that yogic breathing exercises and meditation improve the ability to focus, resulting in reduced emotional reactivity and mind-wandering. They discovered that these exercises impacted the levels of noradrenaline, which is a substance released by sympathetic nerve fibers, and it increases alertness, memory retrieval, and attention.
The breathing and meditation exercises involved in yoga also helps to improve mood. A study by Richard Davidson Ph.D. (University of Wisconsin) discovered that yoga increased activity in the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain known for emotional responses, including happiness.
It’s also believed that consistent yoga practice improves circulation in the endocrine glands. As a result, this boosts the function of the hormones that play a role in reducing depression, thus improving the overall mood of an individual.
Restorative Yoga Poses for Seniors
In any form of physical activity, safety is vital, particularly for seniors. There are certain kinds of exercises that might be risky or challenging for older adults. In yoga, there are specific asanas that are gentle and accessible to seniors.
It’s easier to reap the benefits of yoga when you identify the right poses, and here are the best options:
Child’s Pose (Bālāsana)
Also known as Child’s Resting Pose, Child’s Pose is a kneeling asana that’s ideal for reducing fatigue and stress. It stretches your hips and the lower back for optimal flexibility.
Instructions: Kneel on the floor and sit on your heels with your big toes touching. Widen the knees to your comfort level and bring your forehead down just in front of your knees. You can stretch your hands in front of you, or you can rest them alongside the torso.
Seated Cat Cow (Upavistha Bitilasana Marjaryasana)
This pose is done while seated, and it’s the variation of the cat-cow pose. It’s ideal for calming the mind, relieving stress, opening the chest, and stretching the spine, back, upper neck and abdomen.
Instructions: Sit in a stable chair toward the middle and keep the feet flat on the ground. Place your hand on the thighs. Breathe in and arch the back with the chin slightly lifted, and then breathe out while rounding the back. Repeat as much as you can.
Reclining Bound Angle Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana)
Also known as Reclined Cobbler’s Pose, the Reclined Bound Angle Pose enhances general blood circulation and stimulates the heart. It also relieves mild depression and stress.
Instructions: Lie down on your back. Bring the soles of your feet together to touch, allowing your knees to bend. Then stretch your hands on the sides with the palm facing up. Stay in this pose for one to five minutes.
Legs-up-the-wall (viparita karani)
This pose helps to ensure the proper flow of fluids within the legs. As such, it helps to reduce the build-up of fluids, which makes the legs appear swollen.
Instructions: Sleep down on your back, while parallel to the wall. Then raise your legs onto the wall to put them in an upright position. Stay in this pose for about five to 15 minutes, depending on your comfort level.
Corpse pose (savasana)
The Corpse pose aims to put the body in a neutral position, and it helps to relax the body and calm the brain. It also reduces insomnia, fatigue, headache, and mild depression.
Instructions: Lie down flat on your back, and keep your legs slightly spread. Stretch your hands on the sides of your body with your palms facing up. Inhale and exhale deeply as you release all tension in your legs. Do this exercise at least for five to 10 minutes.
Supported Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
The Supported Bridge Pose is viewed as a healing pose, and it’s believed to promote the parasympathetic nervous system. It helps to open the chest for seamless breathing, and it can also offer some relief to back pain. The pose works the hip, hamstring muscles, back, and core abdominals.
Instructions: Sleep on your back and keep the soles of your feet flat on the floor. This allows you to bend the knees. Place a yoga block under your back, just under the sacrum, and stretch your hands on the floor alongside your body. You can stay in this position for several minutes to reap the benefits of a passive backbend.
Supported Forward Fold (Paschimottanasana)
You can also improve your flexibility with the Supported Bridge Pose. It helps to stretch the back and leg muscles. When done correctly, the pose can alleviate headache, fatigue, and anxiety.
Instructions: Sit down on the mat with your legs stretched on the flow. Place a bolster or rolled blanket under the knees. Place a pillow on the thighs. Then inhale deeply, and exhale slowly as you fold your head over the pillow. You can repeat this step several times.
Supine Spinal Twist (Jathara Parivartanasana)
The Supine Spinal Twist pose helps tone the spinal column and reduce stiffness in the shoulders and spine. It also has a calming effect on your mind and body as it releases emotions and tensions.
Instructions: Lie down in a supine position, bend one knee, and place it across the other leg. Use your hand to push the bent knee down to touch the floor. While doing this, both of your shoulders should stay squared and keep your head facing the opposite direction. Repeat the process with the stretched leg.
Supported Fish Pose (Matsyasana)
This is a chest-opening pose that’s commonly used with deep breathing exercises. It’s also a counterpose for Shoulderstand, and it helps with energizing the body.
Instructions: Lie down on your back and bend the knees with the soles on the floor. Keep your arms alongside the body with the palms facing down. Lift your hips and place your hands just under the upper buttons. Inhale while lifting the chest and use your elbows and shoulders for support.
Keep the chest elevated, but lower the head to touch the floor. While using the elbows as support, use breathing motions to lift and relax your chest. Hold this pose for as long as you can.
Tips for a Safe Yoga Practice
Making yoga safe for seniors is important. Yoga is meant to be simple, but it’s easy to get hurt when a particular pose is new, unfamiliar, or challenging. Here are safety tips you should keep in mind:
- It’s not a competition- Keep in mind that yoga isn’t a competitive sport. Don’t compare yourself with other yogis or yoginis. Work at your pace and focus on a few poses at a time.
- Warm the muscles up – Before any yoga sessions, it’s advisable to warm the muscles up. Jumping into a full pose without warming up can stress your muscles.
- Use props if necessary – Everybody is different. Some people can’t perform the full stretch of specific asanas. In this case, learn to use props, such as chairs, block, pillow, bolster, or anything else that works for you.
- Understand your limits – The phrase “no pain, no gain” is popular in the fitness world. Don’t buy into it. Learn to find your edge and understand your body.
- Work with a good teacher – Be sure to work with a teacher who encourages you to do your best. Some teachers would want to push you beyond your limits.
- Function is more important than form – It’s common for people to want to get a particular asana right the first time. How the posture looks is not as essential when getting started.
Seniors already have weak muscles and bone structure. Therefore, it’s vital to encourage safe forms of yoga. Even as you challenge yourself, be sure to find the line between the challenge and straining.
Yoga is celebrated for its benefits, and some doctors even recommend it in some cases instead of prescribing medication. It can help with lowering blood pressure and heart rate and reducing anxiety. It’s so relaxing that it improves your sleep quality, which is usually an issue for seniors.
More older people, especially women, are practicing yoga for a variety of reasons. As you get started with yoga, focus on gentle poses as you learn more and get used to the practice. The right teacher will suggest the ideal poses for you, depending on your needs and unique case.
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National Institute on Aging Funds Study to Understand Effects of Yoga Practice on Health Among the Elderly
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