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Yoga Loves Seniors
Yoga. The word conjures an image immediately in most of us. I picture a svelte, flexible young woman bent and twisted into an elaborate yoga pose. She looks more than a little like a contortionist. The woman looks patient and comfortable as she smiles and holds her pose for the count. Sheís not sweating, wobbling, or panting, the way I imagine that I would if I attempted that pose. I chose not to take yoga classes for fear of looking and feeling ridiculous. That changed after my elderly father started to practice yoga.
Dad signed up for a yoga class after hearing from his wife that it could help him with his chronic joint pain issues. He found that yoga not only helped with the joint pain, but improved his balance, posture, energy level, and flexibility as well. In addition, his chronic pain had caused him to be less than cheerful much of the time. Since the yoga relieved much of his discomfort, his mood was much more positive.
Why is yoga so good for seniors? There are many reasons, but there are three that are especially important to older adults:
1. Yoga is excellent for balance issues. As people age, they fall more due to a loss of balance. A young person that falls simply gets up. When a senior falls, he might find that his life will never be the same. Seniors often have brittle bones that can crack or shatter from the impact of a simple fall. Many of the most common yoga poses focus on strength in addition to building a personís sense of balance. Seniors start the class needed to hold onto the wall, but at the end of the term, they find themselves standing on one foot without holding onto the wall.
2. Yoga is good for the mind. There is a lot of deep breathing involved in yoga. Oxygen is good for the brain. Our brain takes up about 3% of our body mass, but uses over 20% of the oxygen needed for our body to operate properly. Most of us donít breathe deeply on an automatic basis. Yoga poses require deep breathing with every pose. As a result, lots of oxygen is carried from the blood to the brain. Seniors find that their mental energy is higher, and their thinking is clearer and quicker.
3. Yoga strengthens the abdomen and back muscles, or the core muscles. When the core is strong, and the spine is properly aligned, then the brain can receive messages more efficiently. In addition, the exercises done to strengthen the core will also help with balance and deep breathing. Seniors will find their posture improved, their abdomen and core will look longer and leaner, with will give them a more youthful and energetic appearance.
Yoga is not easy, but it is gentle, and there is a yoga class for every body type, regardless of impairments. People in bed can practice certain poses. People in wheelchairs can practice yoga. Yoga can be done standing, and on the floor. If a senior canít exercise, but can only breathe, then yoga can help them to breathe properly and deep. Itís not necessary to take a class at a gym. There are books and DVDís for those that prefer to exercise at home. YouTube videos offer a variety of yoga workouts for seniors. Many fitness clubs offer ďsilverĒ yoga classes, ďgentleĒ yoga, or yoga with another name that is designed for seniors or others that are at risk for injuries.
Before signing up for a class, make sure itís senior friendly. When you start in a class, meet the instructor and let him/her know that you would like to be offered a modified pose in addition to the regular pose. That way, if a pose is too challenging, the instructor will be aware that s/he needs to show another way to achieve the stretch or pose. Most seniors can practice yoga, and once they do, most will only regret that they didnít start sooner.
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