The statistics for the ever-growing ranks of yoga practitioners in the U.S. are staggering: according to a Yoga Journal article, 8.7 percent of adults, over 20 million people, already practice yoga, and 44 percent of non-practitioners are interested in trying yoga soon. The number of practicing yogis has grown about 30% in the past few years and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down soon. While the majority of today’s yoga practitioners fall within the age range of 18-44 years old, this doesn’t mean that yoga is a ‘young man’s game!’
About 3 million yogis in this country are over 55, and with the Baby Boomers approaching and passing retirement age, that number is sure to increase. While the health benefits of yoga for seniors are many and varied, the benefits for seniors are specifically noteworthy. Here are the Top Five:
- Balance – Prevent falling, build confidence.
One common concern among the elderly is the increased risk of falling. A bad fall can lead to broken bones or other serious injuries, which are increasingly hard to recover from as we age; conversely, the fear of falling can lead seniors to stop venturing out, which can lead to loneliness and isolation. Yoga, with its many balancing postures, helps people improve their balance, thus mitigating the risk of falling and boosting the confidence of seniors. In this way, a regular yoga practice can have a positive impact on the elderly both physically and emotionally.
- Muscles – Use ‘em or lose ‘em.
As we age, our bodies have an increasingly hard time building and retaining muscle mass and keeping the joints flexible. According to the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons, It’s very important to continue moving and flexing to help slow this aging process and to continue normal activities of daily living. This ‘use it or lose it’ theory is just one more reason a yoga practice can be especially useful for seniors – yoga classes are designed to take our muscles and joints through their full ranges of motion, thereby maintaining strength and flexibility as long as possible.
- Rehabilitation – Supplement PT before and after surgeries.
It is increasingly common for adults in the U.S. to need hip, knee, or other joint replacement surgeries. With these major surgeries often comes a long and painful path through physical therapy to rehabilitation. A regular yoga practice both before and after surgery can help ease this process by gently guiding the body through poses specifically designed to restore strength and flexibility to recovering joints.
- Deep breathing – Strengthen lungs, improve brain functioning.
At any age, one of the most significant benefits of yoga to the human body is the expanding of the lungs through specific breathing exercises. These deep, sustained inhalations and exhalations increase lung capacity, improve brain functioning, and help with the removal of CO2 from the body. This allows for freer physical movement, helps with clarity of thought, and, according to Harvard Health Publications, can even help stabilize blood pressure and reduce symptoms of anxiety. Through guided breathing, a regular yoga practice can drastically improve physical and mental wellbeing for seniors.
- Community – Having fun together!
Last, but certainly not least, practicing yoga is fun! As previously mentioned, isolation and loneliness are serious concerns for many seniors, and group yoga classes can be a chance for them to engage with peers, laugh, and spend time outside their homes. Having an activity to look forward to and friends to share it with can be a great source of comfort and enjoyment.
The joy of yoga for seniors isn’t limited to the seniors themselves, either – the yoga teachers working with these communities find great joy in their work, too! Pam Milner, a teacher at Yoga Pod College Station recently shared her thoughts on this.
When asked about her favorite aspect of teaching yoga to seniors, Pam was quick to respond, “Their enthusiasm & willingness to do what is needed to stay independent!” Indeed, this eagerness to stay healthy and active later in life is a key motivator for elderly in trying something as new and unusual as yoga. Pam said that frequently her students don’t understand what yoga really is or think that it’s a religious cult. This can be a big roadblock to engaging seniors in classes, but teachers can help dissuade any concerns about what a yoga class is.
For those interested in teaching yoga for seniors, Pam says, “It’s all about understanding their limitations and being patient.” Always prompt students to voice concerns, be honest, and mention health issues. “It’s ok to be honest with whatever concerns they may have, and it’s critical that they let the studio and teacher know about their health status so they can be guided appropriately.”
Ultimately, teaching yoga to seniors is a practice that brings joy to the whole community. “[The senior students] are so thoughtful, and they constantly thank me for being their teacher,” says Pam.
So encourage the seniors you know to add yoga to their routines, or, if you yourself are a senior, grab your mat and try some yoga today!