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Yoga For Seniors: What You Need To Know

January 25th, 2022

Yoga for seniors can be a good way to get some gentle exercise, stretch your body, and benefit both your physical and mental health.

The origins of yoga can be traced back over 5,000 years to India; spirituality is at the heart of yoga practice, but you can simply use yoga as a form of physical exercise. Yoga places a big focus on stretching and breathing, which can be good for building strength, and reducing feelings of stress and anxiety.

Each yoga pose or asana has a sanskrit name, but don’t let this intimidate you; whether you choose to join a yoga class or try an online yoga video at home, every pose will be clearly explained and demonstrated before you have a go yourself for the first time. 

You can start yoga from a low fitness level, and there are options for people with limited mobility, such as chair yoga. You’re never too old to try yoga for the first time, but you should always speak to your GP before trying out a new type of exercise in later life.

What Are The Benefits Of Yoga For Seniors?

woman practising yoga at home

Yoga for seniors can have many benefits for both mental and physical health.

Yoga For Seniors: Physical Health Benefits

The physical benefits of yoga for seniors include:

Improved Balance

Yoga can help to improve core strength and balance, which may help seniors to prevent falls. A study carried out in India by the George Institute for Global Health saw 50 people aged 60-81 taking part in 27 one-hour yoga sessions over a three-month period.

Dr D Praveen, programme head of primary health care at the George Institute for Global Health India, explained: “The study results show that yoga is well accepted and resulted in improved ability to rise from a chair, weight loss, increased step length, and reduced fear of falling.”

Reduction In Lower Back Pain

There’s also evidence to suggest that yoga for seniors may have to reduce lower back pain, with the American College of Physicians recommending yoga as a first-line treatment for chronic low back pain.

May Ease Arthritis Symptoms

Yoga for seniors may also help with arthritis symptoms, according to a review of 11 studies from John Hopkins University. The paper found that gentle yoga could help to ease some of the discomfort associated with tender and swollen joints in individuals with arthritis.

Yoga For Seniors: Mental Health Benefits

The mental benefits of yoga for seniors may include:

Reduces Stress And Blood Pressure

It’s well known that focusing on your breathing, meditating, and taking the time to do something for yourself can help to reduce feelings of anxiety and stress. 

Research published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine assessed 17 studies on the effects of yoga on blood pressure, finding that the slow, controlled breathing that’s at the centre of yoga practice can decrease activity in the nervous system, helping with to manage blood pressure levels as a result.

May Improve Sleep

Another benefit of yoga for seniors is that it may help to improve sleep. In fact, 55% of yoga practitioners reported improved sleep after practising yoga, according to data published in the US National Health Statistics Reports in 2015.

The Best Poses For Gentle Yoga For Seniors

close-up of older woman meditating

Many beginners’ yoga poses can be incorporated into gentle yoga for seniors. There are plenty of gentle yoga poses that don’t require too much movement or flexibility. When you’re trying a new pose for the first time, don’t worry if it’s not perfect or you can’t quite copy the instructor – keep practising and aim to improve your flexibility over time.

Gentle yoga for seniors can take many forms, but here are four poses we recommend:

1. Mountain Pose

The mountain pose is one of the simplest yoga poses of all.

  • Simply stand with your feet apart and your shoulders back
  • Engage your core to keep your body tall and strong
  • Slowly breathe in and out, holding the pose for at least 30 seconds before relaxing

2. Tree Pose

  • Stand tall with your hands together in front of you, as if you were about to pray
  • Slowly bend one leg at an angle until you’re resting the sole of your foot on the opposite leg, as high up as you can manage
  • Hold the pose for a few inhalations and exhalations, then switch legs and repeat these steps on the opposite side

3. Warrior I Pose

  • Stand tall, and bend your right knee. At the same time, stretch out your left leg behind you
  • Raise your arms towards the ceiling and engage your core to keep your balance
  • Hold the pose for a few breaths, then relax and repeat the pose with the opposite legs

4. Savasana

Savasana is the sanskrit name for the resting pose that finishes many yoga sessions.

  • Simply lie on your back with your feet slightly apart and your arms loose at your sides
  • Breathe in and out slowly for several minutes to keep the relaxed feel of your session with you before you continue with your day

Chair Yoga For Seniors

chair yoga

Chair yoga can be an even gentler way to do yoga for seniors, making it a good option for people with limited mobility. 

The benefits of chair yoga have been explored in multiple studies, including a 2017 paper published in The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. This study found that people with osteoarthritis who did chair yoga for 45 minutes twice a week for an eight-week period experienced a significant reduction in pain, alongside an improvement in their walking speed. It was also found that pain was less likely to interfere in their daily activities, with these improvements continuing for three months after the research period.

All you need to try each of these recommended chair yoga poses for seniors is a comfortable chair and clothing you can easily move in.

1. Chair Raised Hands Pose

  • Sit with your back straight and your legs facing forwards, with your feet spaced slightly apart
  • Inhale and raise your hands towards the ceiling
  • Hold the pose for a few moments, then exhale and release your arms
  • Repeat these steps a few times over, taking the time to feel the stretch in your upper body

2. Chair Spinal Twist

  • Begin with your legs facing forwards and your back straight
  • As you breathe in, slowly twist your body to one side, keeping your legs facing forwards
  • Hold the pose for a moment, then exhale and turn back towards the centre
  • On the next inhale, twist your body to the other side
  • Alternate between both sides as you continue to breathe in and out slowly

3. Seated Side Stretch

  • Sit with your back straight and your legs facing forwards
  • As you inhale, stretch your arms towards the ceiling, and join your hands above your head
  • With your arms in this position, exhale and lean to the left
  • On the next breath, lean back towards the centre, then repeat the process on the other side

4. Seated Cat Cow Pose

  • Sit with your legs facing forwards and your back straight
  • As you inhale, begin to arch your back, and lift your head towards the ceiling (this is known as the cow pose)
  • As you exhale, round your back, and tilt your head downwards, towards your navel (the cat pose)
  • Continue to inhale and exhale deeply, alternating between the two poses

Getting Started With Yoga

woman carrying yoga mat

Once your GP has given you the go-ahead to try out yoga, you need to make sure you’ve got the right equipment and clothing before you get started. We recommend:

  • A yoga mat or a chair if you’re trying chair yoga
  • A water bottle to help you stay hydrated while you exercise
  • Loose, comfortable clothing that you can easily move in
  • If you’re doing yoga at home, YouTube channels such as Yoga with Adriene are a good place to start; her channel has sessions on yoga for seniors and she clearly explains each pose as you go
  • As you build your yoga confidence and want to try out a few more advanced yoga poses, you might want to start using yoga blocks

At New Care, we offer exercise sessions for residents in our care homes as part of our wellbeing programme, which is designed to benefit residents’ physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. Read more about our care services or contact us here to find out more.