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Teaching Mindfulness, Learning Peace: The Benefits of Yoga for Seniors and Caregivers

Older adults have discovered yoga in a big way. Nearly 3 million older Americans benefit from doing yoga in many ways, including improved sleep quality and mental health; enhanced posture, mobility, and balance; and greater confidence. Considering the rapidly expanding senior population, yoga can help many millions of older adults who suffer from chronic joint and muscle pain as well as depression, loneliness, and anxiety, all of which are common maladies among older adults. It’s also highly beneficial for caregivers.

According to the Mayo Clinic, yoga helps caregivers feel more confident in their roles and experience less depression and anxiety than those who don’t do yoga. Yet, older adults should approach yoga cautiously and in careful consideration of their physical health before joining a class (experienced instructors should always ask about your health status). There’s no need to worry about having to contort yourself into painful-looking poses; there are many forms of yoga, including low-impact classes specifically designed for older adults.

If you are thinking about getting started with yoga, consider the following tips.

Senior-Friendly Classes

Look for classes aimed at seniors. Community centers and senior care facilities often offer senior-friendly yoga classes, including chair yoga, a popular version among older adults who have limited mobility. Check into any class before jumping into it — just because it’s called “beginner’s yoga” doesn’t always mean it’s ideal for people new to the practice, particularly seniors. The poses may still be too challenging and even unsafe for seniors, depending on your physical condition. Talk to the instructor before joining a yoga class for beginners to ensure it’s the right fit for you. An experienced teacher should be able to help you ease into the routine.

Yoga at Home

If you’re more comfortable doing yoga at your own pace and on your own time, consider setting up an in-home yoga studio in a room where you can easily move furniture around and accommodate yoga mats and pose routines. Start by checking out a yoga DVD for beginners to get an idea of what it entails and what you’ll need to do to gain the full benefit. Look for Relax into Yoga for Seniors – Safe and Simple Practices for Older Adults, Yoga for Seniors Level I and II, Lilas! Complete Yoga Fitness Beginners & Seniors, and Healthy Yoga for Seniors (Beginner). And don’t forget YouTube, a good resource for senior yoga learners and their caregivers.

Even if you don’t feel like doing yoga, you can still enjoy the benefits of simple stretches, many of which you can do from a seated position. Not only can stretching help settle tension within your mind and body, but research also shows that a few simple stretches can lower stress and anxiety.

Don’t Overdo the Poses

Yoga is a physical, meditative discipline that seeks mindfulness through enhanced flexibility and muscle strength. But as a senior beginner, there may be poses you shouldn’t try until later (or not at all), which an experienced yoga instructor should know. For instance, poses that position your head below the heart may be dangerous for seniors who suffer from high blood pressure.

As a general rule, don’t force yourself to try anything that looks too difficult. You can also ask your instructor how to adapt poses so they’re not uncomfortable (as a general rule, yoga should never be painful). There are also senior yoga courses designed by doctors and experienced yoga instructors that feature chair and gentle poses.

Yoga can be an excellent form of physical and mental exercise for older adults and caregivers who are unable to engage in more strenuous exercise activities. Its emphasis on making a mind-body connection can help you find emotional peace and attain a strong sense of personal well-being. Yoga offers a freer, happier, and more fulfilling life for seniors who lack the flexibility and mobility to enjoy activities that make them happy.

Jason Lewis is passionate about helping seniors stay healthy and injury-free. He created StrongWell to share his tips on senior fitness.

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