Yoga is appealing to people of all ages and all cultures, all around the world. This is unsurprising since the benefits of yoga touch upon many aspects of health, including physical, mental and emotional health. Not only this, but yoga is very adaptable which makes it perfect for older adults who may have limited mobility, various aches and pains, or even those who have never particularly been into physical activity previously.
The first image that may come to mind when yoga is mentioned is a complex pose such as the firefly which requires immense stability, flexibility and balance, but yoga was developed to be much more than that and beginners can reap the benefits from more basic poses.
The benefits of yoga for older adults
Whether we like it or not, we’re all growing older. Growing old can certainly be considered a blessing, but the biological ageing process can come with some drawbacks due to various mental, emotional, cognitive and physical changes and declines.
Some physical changes which older adults may be affected by, particularly during exercise, are musculoskeletal changes. Muscles can become more rigid and muscle fibres can decrease. The bones can also be more prone to breaking due to becoming more brittle with age and joints can lose lubrication, making some movements painful. These factors can result in people becoming less flexible, less mobile, and slower at moving around as they grow older in age. These physical changes can make day-to-day activities more difficult, and can even cause some older adults to become isolated at home if mobility is a struggle.
Yoga is beneficial to the health of older adults because it is a more relaxed form of exercise compared to anything more rigorous or high intensity where agility is required. In addition to not aggravating the effects of ageing and risking damaging the joints or bones, yoga can also help reduce the effects of ageing and has even been evidenced to improve cellular ageing.
Breathing exercises during yoga can increase lung capacity while also reducing stress by signalling to the parasympathetic nervous system for the body to calm down. This can also help older adults to sleep better at night by having reduced stress levels.
Older adults are more prone to having postural issues, and people may even shrink during their lifetime due to compression of the spinal disks over time.
Yoga can help to prevent this process by building core strength which can help improve posture. Yoga poses which extend the spine may also help with this.
Is yoga safe for older adults?
As listed above, there are many benefits of yoga for older adults. Some people may worry whether yoga is safe for older adults, particularly those with reduced mobility. Yoga does not put the body under and stress in the same way that cardio exercise such as running can do for example. The bones, joints, tendons and ligaments are not under strain during yoga.
Older adults who suffer from dizziness however may wish to opt for adaptive yoga which we will discuss shortly.
The best way to practice yoga safely as an older adult is to join a class where the instructor has completed not only a yoga teacher training course, but also has a qualification in adapting yoga for older adults.
The best form of yoga for older adults
Adaptive yoga is an umbrella term for yoga which is made more accessible for people with various health conditions, physical disabilities, or older adults. Essentially, yoga is adapted to be easier for those with limited strength, balance, or mobility. The yoga asanas in adaptive yoga are usually carried out using a chair, although specialist yoga studios may have more advanced equipment such as aerial silk.
Seated spinal twists are one example of a yoga pose which is completed from a seated position in a chair. This makes it easier to maintain balance and hold the pose more comfortably.
A chair can also be used to adapt standing yoga poses, such as the tree pose. The chair can be placed below the elevated knee for balance and support, and a cushion can also be placed on the chair for comfort.
Yoga is beneficial to more than the physical health of older adults
Older age and retirement are often associated with a more sedentary lifestyle, however the benefits of exercise in older age are persuasive enough to encourage at least a light form of regular exercise. Yoga is perfect for older adults since classes can provide a social element and build a community for older adults who may be more likely to experience loneliness. On top of this, yoga helps improve mood. Additionally, yoga is excellent for maintaining mobility and strength which will help prevent decline with older age. Overall, yoga can improve the health of older adults holistically, while also being a manageable and enjoyable form of exercise.
Older adults who have any concerns about taking up yoga and how any health conditions they have may affect them during a new exercise should consult a medical professional for advice. It is also recommended that older adults attend classes where the instructor is qualified to teach yoga to older adults.