Many people with hectic schedules only find the time for activities like yoga in retirement. Though the tendency is to become more sedentary, retirement is the perfect time to pick up healthy habits that will promote longevity.
Our senior population is growing rapidly as is their interest in leading active, fit lives. On the whole, we live longer than we used to, and we all want high-quality living and good health to be a part of our older years.
As we grow older, however, we typically become more susceptible to ailments that are linked to ageing, and, as a result, we tend to move less. The less we move, the more susceptible we become to a variety of ailments, and so it becomes a truly vicious cycle.
Although many of us feel that we should follow the advice of “taking it easy” as we grow older, that is actually what we shouldn’t do. Extended periods of sitting lead to muscular shortening, tightening and weakening. Lack of weight-bearing activity contributes to osteoporosis. Lack of movement and stretching leads to joint deterioration and loss of flexibility.
There’s no doubt that physical activity is good for people no matter what their age. But sometimes, certain limitations prevent a senior from engaging in more commonplace forms of exercise such as walking, spinning, or lifting weights.
There are three key components to a good workout for seniors: low impact cardio, resistance training, and stretching. Yoga has the potential to cover all three of these bases.
Even seniors with very limited mobility can still do yoga through adaptive practices such as chair yoga, where all the poses are done with the support of chairs.
The Benefits of Yoga for Seniors
The benefits of yoga for seniors are much the same as those for the general population: increased muscle tone, balance, strength, and improved mood. Through pranayama (breathing exercises) lung capacity is increased. You can expect your posture to improve and you may sleep better. If you experience stress, yoga can help counteract that too.
As you age and become less active, you may notice you are not as flexible as you were at a younger age. Yoga enhances flexibility and joint range of motion through physical poses that stretch muscles and lubricate joints. Those suffering from arthritis and other stiff-joint conditions can also benefit from yoga. Even a short period of doing yoga might be all you need to start feeling more limber and mobile.
An improved sense of body awareness is also often seen in people who practice yoga regularly. For a senior, this enhanced awareness can translate into an increased confidence in their ability to get around without falling as balance is many times one of the first things we start losing as we age, and falling is a high risk for complicated injuries.
A lot of research has been done on the benefits of yoga, and yoga has been shown to:
- Improve sleep quality and improve depression
- Reduce stress
- Help control blood sugar in people with diabetes
- Enhance respiratory function
- Help alleviate arthritis pain
- Increase bone density and prevent osteoporosis
- Improve balance
- Moderate chronic pain
Fit the Pose to the Person, Rather Than the Person to the Pose
One of the great things about yoga is that it is so adaptable to different populations with diverse physical abilities and needs. Though the popular image of yoga may be a young person twisted up like a pretzel, those who are older and less flexible can enjoy and benefit from a yoga practice just as much.
A teacher who is aware of a person’s physical capabilities will be able to modify poses so an elderly person doesn’t get injured or become frustrated.
When teaching elder students, it is important to remember that these are people who have somewhat different needs than students in regular yoga classes. They may have complicated health issues, injuries and scar tissue and may be taking medications that could affect their circulation or balance. They may have extra weight that could make some poses risky.
Many current elders may not have used their body in meaningful ways for many years. Be aware not to come to teach with a fixed idea of what they “should” be able to do. Instead, fit the practice to their body, always starting from where they are and taking them slowly from there.
Elders have a lot of experience and wisdom in them. Remember to draw on their wisdom and encourage them to listen to their bodies and do the same. They deserve respect for their experience and all the years that they have spent giving to the world.
Focus on the participants’ success. Encourage them and praise their efforts. Create a supportive environment, and your students will want to come back for both the health benefits and the psychological perks.
Always Better Together
Attending a yoga class regularly also establishes a sense of community and friendship with teachers and fellow students. These types of social connections have been shown to be surprisingly important for maintaining health and well being as we age.
Keep in mind that seniors often lack physical contact in their lives. Offer them modifications that encourage them to use each other for support and balance, when appropriate, to increase physical contact.
Many people speculate that any form of group activity, be it yoga or otherwise, is mood-elevating for seniors as they may be living alone and/or have limited social interaction due to physical limitations. The social aspect of attending a yoga class is invaluable as a contact group provides a sense of belonging.
Yoga is also something that an older person and their caregiver may want to do together. practising partner yoga may help form or solidify the bond between a caregiver and their elderly loved one.
Because of the far-reaching health benefits that have been reported, many insurance companies now cover the cost of yoga and other therapies that were previously considered “alternative”. In some countries you can even get tax benefits on physical activities, including yoga, you choose to use to enhance your health and fitness.
The number of Yoga participants, both young and old, is expected to continue to increase as a result of the proven health benefits of this ancient practice. And we, therefore, should respond in turn, by focusing efforts on learning how to implement Yoga for the health and well-being of the ageing population.
Gopala has been teaching Yoga for children and adults, as well as meditation and yoga philosophy, since 1995. He was a monk in the Sivananda Yoga Centers in Israel and the Bahamas for ten years, from 1994-2004, where he completed his Yoga Teacher Training and Advanced Teacher Training, and also helped train Sivananda teachers. While living in the Bahamas, Gopala was the general manager of the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat on Paradise Island, for four years. From 2004 to 2007, Gopala created, managed and taught yoga and alternative spa programs in Los Cabos, Mexico and New York City.
He also continued studying yoga for kids at Karma Kids in New York and Itsy Bitsy Yoga in Massachusetts, and Circus Yoga with Erin and Kevin O’Keefe. Gopala also studied healing with tibetan bowls with Avraham Benor and is a Reiki master. In 2008, after studying with Rabbi Joseph Gelberman, Gopala was ordained as an Interfaith minister. In 2009, Gopala was certified in Thai Yoga Massage by the Ritam School of Healing Arts and Saul David Raye. In 2007, Gopala and Katya founded the studio Yoga LeShalom (Hebrew for “Yoga for Peace”) in Tel Aviv, Gopala’s hometown. Yoga LeShalom is a studio for the whole family, where the daily schedule included drop-in yoga classes for adults, yoga for kids, Ma and Baby, and Family Yoga. That same year, Gopala began focusing on training yoga teachers for kids, and Rainbow Kids Yoga was born! In late 2008, Gopala and Katya relocated to the United States, although Gopala continues to visit Israel to train teachers there. Gopala has taught yoga for kids in such diverse settings as public and private schools, kindergartens, and preschools, summer camps, orphanages, yoga studios, juvenile detention centers, hotels, spas, at birthday parties, and in private classes. His playful, patient and warm teaching style has created a training course that has been described by graduates as “magical”, “inspiring”, “very practical,” “transformative”, and “an unforgettable journey.” Gopala now only teaches our 200 Hr teacher trainings, allowing him time to work on much-awaited Yoga for Kids books, games, and projects, have a home, and spend time with his growing family.