For many over 60s, taking up a new form of physical exercise can seem like a daunting prospect. When safely practised and led by an expert instructor, yoga, even for beginners, has the power to make positive changes to the mental and physical health of those who take the time to practise it.
The meaning of yoga is taken from the Sanskrit word ‘yuj’, meaning to join or unite. The ultimate aim of this ancient practise is to achieve a happy and balanced life by uniting the body with the mind. Although the earliest written record of the principles and practises of yoga can be traced back to India around 2,000 to 2,500 years ago – many believe that yoga has been practised in India for more than 5,000 years.
While it started centuries ago, yoga’s relevance to present-day has perhaps never been more important. Studies suggest that yoga for older people has a positive effect on many chronic conditions that older adults tend to suffer with. Yoga may be beneficial in reducing heart rate and blood pressure though controlled relaxation and breathing techniques – whilst the physical poses can aid in alleviating the symptoms of arthritis, ease back pain and help to improve strength and balance. As well as physical health, yoga reaps immense benefits for mental health and well-being, which has become even more important in a year like 2020.
A key requirement before starting to practise yoga, for both beginners and experts, is that you begin at the right level, don’t progress too fast and ensure that you have made any appropriate modifications to suit your own body. Don’t just head straight for the nearest walk in class, take the time to do a little research into yoga practitioners in your area. Many yoga studios and instructors will have props, rests and exercises tailored to the needs of older adults and will be able to advise you on how to get the most out of each session without doing any unwelcome damage to your body. As the way we learn is increasingly digitised, it is also possible to take part in online yoga courses, which enable you to learn and develop in the safety and comfort of your own home.
Because there are thousands of yoga poses – you can completely tailor your experience to your level of movement and capability level. Hatha yoga is the most widely practised form and is an ideal starting point for an entry level introduction. Slowed down, focusing on gentle movements and breathing exercises, Hatha yoga is perfect for older adults to get a taste of the key health benefits yoga can provide.
Top 6 Health Benefits of Yoga for Seniors
1. Reduce Stress
Practising yoga allows you to slow down and take the time to yourself. Traditional yoga teaching allows you to use your breathing to quieten your mind, creating calm and bringing balance and relaxation.
2. Encourages Sleep
There’s no doubt that a better night of sleep gives a better quality of life. The more rested you feel, the more energy you have to take on the day. A combination of the physical demands of the yoga exercises and the breathing and relaxation techniques will improve sleeping habits naturally.
3. Chronic Pain Relief
For those suffering with chronic pain in muscles and joints can benefit from the stretching exercises and controlled muscular activity that yoga encourages. Researchers at Duke University, North Carolina discovered that yoga was effective in relieving pain caused by osteoarthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome and chronic back pain. The fluid movements in yoga allow otherwise painful joints to be exercised without strain.
4. Increased Flexibility, Strength and Improved Posture
As our bodies age, our flexibility naturally declines. Yoga acts as a gentle way to stretch muscles and oil joints - and is an excellent low-impact exercise option compared to high impact cardio exercises like running or weight-lifting. The stretching poses in yoga can increase your range of motion because it exercises areas of the body that wouldn’t necessarily get a work out through other activities.
5. Boost Brainpower
When your body is functioning better, your mind will follow suit. Practising yoga just a few times per week will give a boost to your mental and spiritual health. A 2019 study from the University of Illinois demonstrated that practising Hatha yoga three times per week dramatically increased cognitive function after just 8 weeks in the participants who were all aged between 55 and 79.
Always consult with your GP before beginning any new exercise routines and ensure to find a class and instructor for your fitness level and physical requirements.
6. Improve Your Mental Health
As well as boosting your brain capacity, yoga has been incredibly positive at maintaining physical functions and well-being with adults over the age of 60. A 2019 study from the University of Edinburgh found that older adults who practice yoga are more likely to be in good mental and physical shape. The stresses of 2020 may at times seem overwhelming, but yoga can be a great means of finding inner calm and peace.
Let us know if you’ve tried out yoga by tweeting us @ChurchillRL – we’d love to hear about your experiences!