Beginning Yoga for Seniors
Keep active in a safe way with yoga.
As a senior, you might feel as if you’ve earned the right to take it easy. However, if you want to stay healthy long into your golden years, you must continue to stay active — but in a way that makes sense for your age.
Yoga helps mitigate the effects of tight joints and muscles, loss of flexibility, low back pain, poor blood circulation, sleep problems and additional common complains in the senior population. Just be sure to start with beginner poses that are gentle and safe for all ages.
Five Beginner Poses
These poses might be simpler than others, but they still pack a punch when it comes to improving balance, stability, flexibility and other physical health markers.
The beginner pose Warrior I stretches your hamstrings and hips while strengthening the legs. Skip this pose if you have hip, knee, back or shoulder injuries. To do this pose:
- Get into a high lunge pose by stepping one leg forward, positioning the knee over the ankle, while straightening the back leg. Set the back foot down flat at a 45-degree angle.
- Bring your hands to your front knee and take a moment to draw the torso back slightly.
- Bring your hands to your hips, relax your shoulders and bring the shoulder blades toward each other, opening the chest.
- On an inhale, bring the arms up and over your head with the palms facing each other. Touch your palms together and cross the thumbs.
- On the exhale, press into your feet. Hold for three to six breaths.
Warrior II is the natural progression from Warrior I. Once you've master Warrior I, move to this position, which goes even further in strengthening your legs and opening your hips and chest.
- From Warrior I, move your front foot slightly forward and keep it pointed straight ahead. If your knee protests, move onto another pose.
- Rotate your torso, so your hips and shoulders are face the side wall, perpendicular to your front foot.
- Extend your arms so they reach to the front and back of your mat, parallel to the walls and in the same plane as your extended legs.
- On the inhale, sink into your front knee as you deepen the bend in your hips. Pull your head up, lengthening the spine. Hold for three to six breaths.
As the foundation of all standing poses, the Mountain pose will improve your posture and balance. To complete the pose:
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Lift up your toes, spread them wide and return them to the floor. Distribute your weight evenly on the feet.
- Squeeze your thighs and tuck your tailbone slightly, aligning your hips with your ankles. The legs should be straight, but without the knees locked.
- On the inhale, pull your head up toward the ceiling, extending the spine.
- On the exhale, drop your shoulders, open your chest, turn your palms outward and reach your fingertips toward the floor.
The mountain pose helps with balance.
The tree pose can be problematic for those with balance problems or chronic knee or hip injuries. To improve balance, start by holding the pose for a very short period of time and work your way up to longer holds. Keeping your gaze fixed on one point in front of you helps with balance. You can also begin by holding onto a wall for stability.
- From the mountain pose, shift all your weight into your left leg. Bend your right knee slightly, turning it toward the right wall and resting your right heel on your left ankle.
- Slowly slide your right foot up your left leg. Go as high as you can, but don't be dismayed if you can't bring it up very high right now without losing your balance. Do avoid putting the foot against the knee joint -- keep it either below or above it.
- If you feel comfortable, place your hands in front of your heart in the prayer position, palms together.
Work on your core with the Bridge position. Use a block to modify the pose, if that makes it more comfortable for you.
- Lie on your back, bend both knees and place your feet hip-width apart on the floor. Position your arms so that they're next to your body with the fingertips reaching toward the tops of the heels.
- On the inhale, press your feet into the floor and lift your hips up. If necessary, slide the block under your hips to support your weight.
- Press your arms and shoulders into the ground, opening and lifting your chest.
- To release, remove the block, exhale and roll your spine down to the floor.
Finish your practice with Savasana, often performed in Corpse pose. Lie on your back with your arms and legs extended. Your body should be symmetrical on each side. Focus on relaxing one muscle at a time while noticing as you breathe in and out.
As a senior, you might not be able to hold a yoga pose as long as you could in your younger years. Therefore, you might want to reduce the length of time that you hold the asana, or pose. You gain strength from even 10 or 15 seconds in a pose, and you can repeat it, if desired. Additionally, be careful about doing poses that require a lot of wrist strength; a senior’s wrists are often weak.
Kelsey Casselbury is a freelance writer and editor based in central Maryland. Her clients have included Livestrong, School Nutrition magazine, What's Up? Media, American Academy of Clinical Chemistry, SmartBrief and more. She has a formal education in personal training/nutrition and a bachelor's degree in journalism from The Pennsylvania State University.