Gentle Yoga for Seniors
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Gentle yoga exercises help seniors maintain flexibility and strength to prevent falls or fractures. Lung capacity is improved with yoga breathing exercises, and arthritis pain is reduced by gentle stretching, according to Suza Francina, author of “The New Yoga for Healthy Aging.”
Standing Forward Bend
This pose promotes a healthy heart, enhancing circulation to your upper body, says Francina. It increases the blood flow to your brain and releases tension from your neck and shoulders. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Bend forward from the hip joints rather than the waist. Lengthen your torso as you relax into the position. Cross your forearms and hold your elbows, or bring your hands or fingers to the floor in front of you. Press the heels into the floor and lift the sit bones toward the ceiling. Feel the release in your neck and shoulders. Maintain the pose for at least 30 seconds, unless you feel too much pressure in your head and eyes. Very slowly, return to standing upright.
Legs On The Wall
Known as yoga’s great rejuvenator, this pose relieves swelling in the legs, balances your blood pressure and benefits your heart function, according to Francina. She recommends resting in this pose for about ten minutes every day. Your legs will rest vertically against a wall. Begin by sitting on the floor with your side facing a wall, just a few inches away. Then turn and swing your legs up onto the wall, letting your upper body and head rest on the floor. You could try placing one or two folded blankets or a firm round bolster under just your rib cage area, while your upper back, shoulders and head stay on the floor. This will open the chest and relax the shoulders for better breathing.
Cow and Cat Exercise
Yoga’s low impact movements can be helpful in prevention or treatment of low back pain, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. This exercise alternates between cat pose with your spine arching up and cow pose with your spine sinking down. Start on your hands and knees with your knees at least 6 inches apart. Round your spine up toward the ceiling and tuck your chin toward your chest. Hold for 2 breaths, then slowly sink your spine down for cow pose. You may want to lift your chin and sit bones to get more curve in the spine. Hold this for 2 breaths, then alternate back and forth at your own pace, inhaling in cow pose and exhaling in cat pose.
During our normal daily activities, we exhale about half-way, leaving our lungs half-filled with stale air, writes Dr. Kristin Shepherd in "Yoga Journal." By exhaling purposefully and completely, we can then allow a huge, effortless inhalation, Shepherd says. Breathing fully and completely clears the mind and energizes the entire body. Try this full exhale while lying on your back or seated with your spine tall and straight, shoulders relaxed. Take a few slow, deep breaths and then relax for a few minutes before getting back up, so you won’t become dizzy from the breathing.
This promotes a flexible spine and healthy digestion, according to "Yoga Journal." Sitting cross-legged with your spine erect and your shoulders level, place your right hand on your left knee and slowly turn to your left. Hold for several breaths, relaxing the shoulders on each exhale. You may want to sit up a little taller and twist a little further, before coming out of the pose. Then repeat, twisting to the right.
Relaxation pose, called Savasana, means "dissolving" in Sanskrit language. The pose stimulates blood circulation and relieves fatigue, asthma, insomnia and indigestion, according to "Yoga Journal." Lying on your back with your arms by your sides, palms facing up, take a few slow, deep breaths. Be fully aware of your abdomen rising and falling with the breath. Then allow your breath to normalize, feeling the air in your nostrils. Notice how the inhale feels cooler than the exhale. Let go of tension with each exhale, relaxing shoulders, jaw, neck and any other area that may feel stiff or tight. As your body weight rests on the floor, enjoy the inner stillness for several minutes. Then bend your knees and roll onto your right side to give your heart plenty of room. When you feel ready, slowly and gently come out of the pose.
Stretching in the afternoon or evening may be preferable for arthritis sufferers. You can stretch more easily after having time to loosen up stiff morning joints. Only stretch as far as your body will readily allow. Never force a stretch or movement in yoga. Get your doctor's OK before starting a new exercise program.
Ann Marina is author of "Preserve Your Brain" and has been writing/educating on natural health topics for 30 years. A certified brain fitness and yoga instructor, she holds a Bachelor of Science in speech and language from West Virginia University.