April is Stress Awareness Month, and family caregiving can certainly be a stressful experience. Yoga is a great form of exercise for seniors – and their caregivers. Many yoga postures can increase flexibility, mobility, strength, and balance through low-impact movement. Psychologically, it can help keep your mind sharp and increase positive emotions, mindfulness, and self-awareness.
It is tempting to look at some of the extreme yoga poses depicted in movies and think that it is not an activity for older adults. However, a good yoga instructor will find poses that work for any of their students. The benefits are not derived from hitting a specifically difficult pose but in moving one’s body mindfully toward that pose within your own individual limits. Also, yoga focuses on breathwork, which can be done by almost anyone.
A yoga class taught by an instructor that is aware of the challenges and limitations of an older student can yield many benefits:
- Balance: Falls are one of the most common causes of injury in older adults. Balance poses give our bodies more “tools” to stay steady.
- Stress Relief: The calm mindfulness of yoga can center your thoughts and even provide moments of clarity.
- Mobility: Working slowly through ranges of motion can increase overall mobility, in turn increasing independence and self-confidence.
- Strength: Slow, controlled movement forces the muscles to work harder, thus building your strength as you work through the postures.
- Flexibility: Many of the poses focus on working through a range of motion. Increased flexibility and muscle tone can help protect your loved one (and you!) from accidents.
- Bone Density: A recent study showed a connection between yoga and increased bone density in seniors who have osteoporosis or osteopenia. Increased bone density leads to fewer fractures than seniors who don’t practice any muscle-improving exercises.
Yoga works on a healing premise that brings the mind, body and breath together to perform various poses. For example, as a mood booster, poses that open the chest and pull shoulders back, such as the Bridge or Modified Bridge poses, counteract the fact that, when stressed or anxious, we tend to round our shoulders and cave inward. Body language experts have determined that even moving into a posture that conveys strength, power, and confidence will inspire that feeling within ourselves.
About half of Americans over the age of 65 have a disability related to hearing, vision, or walking. More than 87% of seniors take at least one prescription drug and nearly 60% take 3 or more.
All of these can affect balance and the ability to understand or work through complex steps. It is important to find a yoga instructor who is familiar with some of the challenges of older adults. A certified yoga instructor should be familiar with adaptations to the traditional poses and attentive enough to step in to guide your loved one through these adaptations. Classes that are set up with a competitive feel may not be appropriate for someone who needs the extra attention.
Yoga can be adapted even to students who are chair-bound, with a variety of spine and hip strengthening exercises taking place in a seated position. As your loved one gains strength, the chair can become a stabilizing prop for leg and ankle poses as well.
While yoga is highly adaptable to various needs, it can be riskier for some conditions:
- Unregulated blood pressure
- Advanced Parkinson’s Disease
- Advanced Alzheimer’s Disease
- Spinal degeneration
- Medications that cause dizziness
Consult with your or your loved one’s physician to determine if yoga is an appropriate activity. Sometimes, if it is something your loved one has their heart set on, it can still be accomplished in a one-on-one class with an instructor who is familiar with their health challenges.
When looking for a class or instructor, there are many types of yoga to be aware of:
- Ashtanga, Vinyasa, or Power Yoga tends to be fast paced and requires a lot of poses where the hands bear weight.
- Hatha, Lyengar, or classes that are alignment-focused tend to be slower and allow for a greater number of adaptations.
- Kundalini classes are often primarily done in a seated position and work with breath and chanting.
- Yin, Restorative, and Chair yoga tend to be floor- or chair-based to help with adaptations.
Try to find an instructor who is open to meeting with you and your loved one ahead of time to take note of physical challenges, including past injuries, so that they can best help them through the poses. Avoid instructors who believe that every pose is accessible to every person. The ultimate achievement of a particular pose should not be the goal of a yoga practice.
If you are a family caregiver and feeling stressed, consider contacting us at Assisting Hands Home Care serving Columbus, OH. We offer care from several hours a week to 24/7 care. Get in touch and we’ll connect you with one of our Care Managers who can assess your unique situation and offer a plan to meet your needs – and decrease your stress.
Sources: ClearCare, Duke Integrative Medicine, Chopra, Philips Lifeline, Yoga International