Yoga for Seniors

Learn about the benefits of yoga for seniors

You are likely seeing a larger number of seniors walking through your yoga studio doors. Are you prepared to serve them? What are some of the benefits and contraindications of yoga for seniors? Are there appropriate yoga breathing techniques and pose sequences for older adults? And what can we do to appropriately adapt our yoga classes to accommodate them?

Here are some overall guidelines to consider when designing a yoga class for active seniors:

*Incorporate pranayama, gentle asanas and meditation in every class.
*Teach proper spinal alignment for every pose.
*Avoid poses that require forward spinal flexion, twists and lateral flexion (for any client with diagnosed or suspected osteoporosis).
*Advise students to move gently through and within poses.
*Incorporate spinal stabilization exercises in every class.
*Include yoga mudras to develop fine motor conditioning in the hands.
*Feature poses that are comfortable and steady.
*Encourage participants to rest whenever needed.
*Urge students to use a chair or wall during balance exercises to reduce the risk of falls.

The following chart provides two different sample vinyasas, or yoga pose sequences. Each vinyasa can be used as part of a yoga class or expanded into a full class by simply repeating the poses two to four times, as desired. Vinyasa #1 is designed for active seniors who do not suffer from osteoporosis. Because this sequence includes forward-bending poses, it is contraindicated for osteoporosis clients. Vinyasa #2 is a better choice for these clients.

Vinyasa #1: Includes Forward-Bending Poses

Yoga Pose/Sequence

Purpose/Benefit

Notes

Seated Easy Cross-Legged Pose

Establishes neutral spinal alignment.

Provide yoga blocks, blankets or bolsters as needed to support tight joints and facilitate neutral alignment.

Pranayama: Breathing

Promotes internal focus; calms the mind; slows breathing; warms the body.

Use props described above. Option: Incorporate positive affirmations and stress reduction guidelines.

Seated Spine Extension and Flexion

Prepare joints for deeper work to follow; develop kinesthetic awareness of movements of spine.

Option: Include raising and lowering of arms, and teach coordination of shoulder girdle.

Seated Hip Internal and External Rotation

Involve rhythmic movement of hip through full range of motion.

Place hands behind back to support spinal alignment and assist balance.

Reclining Big-Toe Pose

Increases hamstring flexibility, joint mobility and back decompression.

Use strap around foot to facilitate pose. Keep pose dynamic by gently moving leg back and forth in hip socket.

Quadruped, Cat and Cow Poses

Take spine through full range of motion; provide weight bearing for the shoulders and wrists.

Reinforce stabilization of shoulder girdle while performing movement. Place folded towel under knees for cushioning.

Downward-Facing Dog Pose

Stretches back; strengthens upper body; releases spine.

Distribute weight evenly over whole hands; lift tailbone while engaging abdominals. Use chair or table top to facilitate pose.

Mountain Pose

Reinforces standing neutral posture; indicates imbalances.

Align from mat up. Keep shoulders relaxed. Option: Do pose against wall to teach alignment and support balance.

Warrior 1 Pose

Strengthens back extensors and legs; challenges balance.

Align hip bones to face forward. Lift back heel to facilitate alignment and challenge balance. Add shoulder squeeze to strengthen muscles between shoulder blades and stretch chest and anterior shoulders. Option: Perform with chair or stability ball for support.

Bridge Pose

Opens shoulders; strengthens legs.

Keep feet and knees hip width apart. Use yoga strap above knees, as needed.

Corpse Pose

Decompresses spine; supports relaxation.

Let legs roll open from hips. Let arms roll open from shoulders, palms facing up. Support back if needed by placing blanket under knees.

Vinyasa #2: Safe for Clients With Osteoporosis

Yoga Pose/Sequence

Purpose/Benefit

Notes

Corpse Pose

Begins breath work; decompresses spine.

Teach breathing technique; allow time for inward focus. Support pose with pillows or bolsters as needed.

Supine Shoulder Press

Strengthens shoulder girdle; stretches front of shoulders.

Coordinate movement with breathing. Support arms with towel folded under elbows, if needed.

Supine Shoulder Stretch

Strengthens shoulder girdle; stretches latissimus dorsi.

Keep entire hand on floor, with abdominals engaged. Use opposite hand to support arm, keeping elbow up and close to head.

Rib Lift

Strengthens back extensors; stretches anterior muscles.

Combine with shoulder press for more advanced variation. Very weak students can use bolster for support.

Supine Bridging

Strengthens core muscles; stretches quads.

Vary by lifting heels, adding leg raises or moving bridge. Place yoga block between thighs, or use yoga strap.

Alternate Prone Hip Extension

Strengthens hip extensors and lower back.

Add opposite arm raise for variation. Option: Perform pose standing against wall for support.

Cobra Pose

Stretches anterior muscles; relieves compression of thoracic vertebrae.

Move carefully through range of motion.

Mountain Pose

Reinforces standing neutral posture; indicates imbalances.

This is the foundation point for standing balance work. Option: Perform pose against wall to teach alignment and support balance.

Tree Pose

Challenges balance; builds stability of the ankle, knee and hip joints.

Reinforce neutral alignment. Use chair or wall for support if needed.

Warrior 2 Pose

Strengthens legs; opens chest; extends back.

Use chair for support if needed.

Mountain Pose With Reverse Namasté

Opens front of shoulders; strengthens between shoulder blades and spinal extensors; stretches wrists.

If wrists are too tight, simply clasp hands behind back and retract shoulders, or use yoga strap.

Legs Up the Wall Pose

Decompresses spine; improves circulation; assists relaxation.

Restorative posture. Use blankets or bolsters as needed.

Sample Yoga Breathing Practice
This simple exercise can reduce stress, teach mindfulness and relieve spinal compression. It is beneficial for senior clients with arthritis, hypertension and osteoporosis.

1. Lie on your back, knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Keep knees and feet hip width apart. (Place a yoga strap around the thighs to assist with this alignment.) Use a small pillow to support the head, placing it in such a way that the face is parallel to the floor.


2. Place one hand on the chest and the other on the abdomen. Breathe, letting the abdomen expand naturally during inhalations and contract without force during exhalations. Keep the chest as still as possible throughout the breath.

3. Keeping the breath steady, bring the arms to the sides, slightly away from your body, palms up. The elbows and shoulders should be at the same level. If the elbows are lower than the shoulders, place a folded towel under the elbows for support.

4. Spend several minutes in this position, taking slow, deep, unforced breaths.

5. When ready to come out of this position, roll onto one side, using the hand of the arm on top to push up to a seated position.

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