Written by: Shelia Olson
Yoga and meditation are mind-body practices that have numerous benefits for people of all ages. These activities are becoming increasingly popular in senior populations to help combat the common ails of aging and improve flexibility, agility, confidence, and cognitive ability. Plus, yoga and meditation have been shown to reduce chronic pain and help seniors manage the symptoms of common age-related diseases including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Keep reading to learn how you can get started with these simple wellness activities.
1. Commit to Regular Practice
It’s easy to start yoga or meditation but much more difficult to maintain these activities in the long term. You’ll miss out on tons of amazing benefits if you don’t commit to a regular practice. Make it as easy as possible to do yoga every day. This could mean picking up a quality yoga mat (a quality mat will run you $50 - $100), shopping for some comfortable yoga clothing, or clearing out a special space in your home for your practice. Try not to meditate or do yoga among restricting furniture or distracting clutter—this can make it difficult to tap into a sense of calm. One idea is to transform a rarely used room, such as a dining room, into a yoga space.
2. Join a Local Yoga Class
Though you can follow yoga videos at home, beginners are recommended to attend in-person yoga classes (the national average cost of a yoga class is $12). In class, you can talk with your instructor about any specific concerns you may have. That way, they can offer modifications and adaptations to address certain physical conditions or workaround movement limitations. Instructors are also there to help you adjust your poses to optimize their benefits and prevent you from getting hurt. For seniors, this is especially important since fragile bones and tight muscles may put you at greater risk of injury. An in-person class also gives you an opportunity to socialize and connect with others around a shared interest.
3. Learn How to Avoid Injury
A recent study revealed that yoga injuries are becoming increasingly common, and older adults are especially at risk. The wrists, lower back, shoulders, elbows, knees, and neck may be subject to compression or overstretching if you push yourself too far. One of the simplest ways to avoid injury is to practice proper alignment and be ready to back out of a pose if starts causing pain. Aaptiv recommends slowing down your practice and moving in and out of poses carefully.
Don’t force yourself into a deep stretch. Even if you can't achieve complicated poses, performing easier variations will still do wonders to improve your flexibility, balance, and strength. Choose slow-moving yoga that’s good for beginners, like Hatha, Yin, and Iyengar yoga.
4. Pick a Few Simple Yoga Poses to Practice at Home
If you want to enhance your yoga practice, choose some poses to work on at home whenever you have some spare time. DoYouYoga recommends several yoga poses that are low-impact and extremely beneficial to seniors. For example, Mountain pose can help you achieve balance and straighten your posture, Bird Dog is great for strengthening the back and core muscles, and Cobbler’s pose is fantastic for hip flexibility.
5. Don’t Forget to Breathe
Breath plays a crucial role in both yoga and meditation. In meditation, beginners find it helpful to maintain awareness on the breath as the mind gets used to focussing on a single thought. If you notice your mind wandering, gently redirect your attention back to the breath. Try to pull the air deep into your stomach when you breathe. Deep breathing may be uncomfortable at first if you’re used to taking shallow breaths, but it will eventually become more automatic.
Practicing breath awareness can help you be mindful of your body's reactions to events in your life so you can use meditative breathing as a tool to reduce anxiety or other negative feelings. Deep breathing during any activity—yoga, meditation, going grocery shopping, or simply watching TV—will help reduce tension in the chest, calm your nervous system, and increase blood flow to your digestive system.
Taking control of your health and wellness is something to be proud of. It’s not easy to change up your life and adopt new activities like yoga and meditation, especially if you’re comfortable with your daily routine. But when you start noticing all the improvements to your physical and mental health, you’ll never want to stop!