If you have this idea that yoga is only for those who are young, fit, and able to contort as if they’re double-jointed, then you are in for a surprise. Yoga has become a hugely popular fitness activity for both young and older people alike.
Per The Good Body, between 2012 and 2016, the number of people engaged in yoga grew by more than 50% and continues to trend upward today. Seniors comprise a substantial increase, having risen in numbers by 300% in that same period and continue to increase.
Yes, you read right: 300%.
Seniors already know that exercise helps them ward off pain, improve mobility, and stay healthy longer. Yoga has proven one more way to enjoy the benefits of better range-of-motion, increased strength, expanded lung capacity, as well as feeling a greater sense of wellbeing.
You don’t have to cart around a yoga mat or even greet people saying “namaste” to join in and begin a yoga practice. Yoga can be modified for you no matter your physical level which makes it perfect for you regardless of age.
Here we highlight a brief history and some basics to immerse you into the world of yoga, along with some easy beginner poses you can try at home. As with any new exercise you want to do, consult with your doctor before you begin.
The Backstory of Yoga in the U.S.
It might feel like yoga is a new trend for those of us in the U.S., but per History its introduction is attributed to a Hindu monk named Vivekanada who came to Chicago in 1893. He provided lectures about yoga for the World’s Columbian Exposition. The concept he described, however, was rooted primarily with a philosophical focus rather than the posed-based version people associate with yoga today.
By the 20th century, a physical activity focused yoga came into practice offered Swami Kuvalayananda. He saw the correlation between a yoga and its benefits for medicine. This yoga, termed Hatha, became popular in India in the 1930s and largely favored in the United States.
Yoga rose in popularity by the 1990s with a mainstream audience when it was picked up by fitness gurus and celebrities.
The Language of Yoga
The purpose of many yoga styles is to help people cultivate a mind and body connection through stretching, breathing, strengthening, and balance by way of poses (called ansanas). There are over a dozen different types of yoga practices.
Here we highlight a few that you’ll see most often:
- Hatha – Features a slow-paced series of sitting and standing poses. The focus is stretching, not boosting your heart rate.
- Iyengar – A methodical and precise form of yoga with an emphasis on form. Participants use tools like bolsters and straps to help them achieve the poses with correct alignment.
- Kundalini – This is often called “yoga of the awareness” and can be appealing for those interested in a spiritual practice as well as the physical benefits.
Other popular types of yoga like Bikram and Ashtanga are more intense, which might not be best for seniors. There are always, however, modifications that can better suit a style for you. Chair yoga is one example where yoga poses are modified for those who cannot make the up and down transitions.
Basic Yoga Poses
Yoga for you should never push you or injure you but offer you the benefits of stretching and breathing. These are some basic poses which you should only do if you’ve been cleared by your physician to start.
Training in a group setting at your local gym, studio, or senior community center is also helpful. You’ll enjoy learning while being observed by a professional, and can make some new friends in the process.
Here are a few poses to give you an idea of what you might find in a class:
Benefit: A natural way to stretch your entire body and give yourself a boost of energy. Helps reduce back pain and stiffness.
- Stand up with feet firmly planted and use a wall for brace if needed.
- Raise your arms overhead and reach as though you’re trying to touch something just out of reach.
- Extend the stretch and breathe in and out a few times.
Benefit: Helps with balance and core strength.
- Stand straight with a long back and feet planted and aligned. Your arms should hang straight along either side of your body.
- Take a few breaths and find an object on which to focus your attention.
- Slowly shift your weight to your left leg and begin to raise your right foot off the floor. Align the sole of your right foot with the inside of your left thigh. Your toes should be pointing down and your pelvis should be completely straight. Repeat using the right leg for balance.
This can be modified in several ways depending on your needs. For additional balance try keeping a chair nearby to support you if you tilt. If you have weak knees you can do the pose while laying on your back. If you have problems with your lower back, try the pose against a wall for support.
Benefit: Helps to stretch hips, thighs, and ankles. Reduces stress and fatigue.
- Begin on your hands and knees. Center your breath and begin to let your thoughts slow down.
- Spread your knees wide apart while keeping the toes of your right foot touching the toes of your left. Sit into the pose and rest your buttocks on your heels.
- Sit up straight and lengthen your spine up through the crown of your head.
- On a deep and relaxed exhalation, bow forward, draping your torso between your thighs. Your chest should rest between or on top of your thighs. Allow your forehead to come down to the floor. Keep your arms long and extended with your palms facing down.
- Press back slightly with your hands to keep your buttocks in contact with your heels. Lengthen your body from your hips and reach with your arms to extend the stretch further.
- Soften and relax your lower back. Breathe slowly.
- To release from the pose, gently use your hands to bring your torso back upright and sit back on your heels.
Benefit: Tones the abdominal muscles while strengthening the arms and spine.
- Begin on your hands and knees with your wrists directly under your shoulders. Breathe smoothly.
- Spread your fingers and press down through your forearm and hands. Do not let your chest collapse.
- Gaze down between your hands, lengthening the back of your neck and drawing your abdominal muscles toward your spine.
- Tuck your toes and step back with your feet, bringing your body and head into one straight line. Keep your thighs lifted, and keep your hips sinking. Your back should be straight and continue straight down your legs without your backend dipping.
- In contrast, if your butt sticks up in the air, realign your body so your shoulders are directly above your wrists.
- Draw your pelvic floor muscles toward your spine as you contract your abdominal muscles. Keep your head in line with your spine.
- Extend the straightened stretch for while you breathe smoothly for five breaths.
It’s never too late to make the most of what you have. Perhaps in your youth you took the marvel of your body’s abilities for granted, but now you are wiser you can begin to care for you.
Whether you embrace it as yoga or just consider it exercise, stretching and focused breathing are both tools that can help you feel better instantly. Speak with your doctor, pick your place to learn, and then get out there and strike a pose!