To the uninitiated, yoga may seem like some esoteric art form; however, this simple, low-impact exercise is a great way for seniors to increase their balance and overall health.
If you’re interested in improving mobility and mental wellness through the art of yoga, this is the place to start. In this guide, we’ll expand upon the benefits of yoga for older adults and provide you with a handful of our favorite poses.
Yoga’s benefits for seniors are vast. For some, it alleviates the painful effects of osteoporosis and osteoarthritis while reducing the risk of heart disease. Others who practice yoga see improvements in mobility, strength, flexibility, stability, and posture. They also have fewer incidents of high cholesterol and a lower risk for depression.
Regular yoga practice has been shown to increase concentration and mental clarity. During yoga, you develop more effective breathing, bodily awareness, and a sense of presence. Even by simply syncing your breathing and movement –– a common action in yoga –– your mind’s ability to stay clear and engaged grows.
Strengthened Bones and Joints
While many people begin to lose bone density at age 50, yoga has been proven to slow bone thinning and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. It has also been shown to reduce the symptoms of osteoarthritis.
For older adults, falls are one of the most common causes of injury and even death, making it important for seniors to partake in exercises that improve balance. Yoga poses hone in on balance abilities in different parts of the body, decreasing your risk of a fall.
Yoga promotes stress reduction by helping you relax both mentally and physically. During yoga, your cortisol (stress hormone) levels drop, helping to calm you. Yoga’s deep breathing and meditative qualities all contribute to lower stress levels.
Reduced Back Pain
Yoga is very good at supporting the muscles that keep your spine in place. It also lets you stretch and relax each part of your back. In this way, nutrients can get into and strengthen the back muscles. There is also a large body of research that supports yoga’s effectiveness in relieving and preventing sciatica.
Our Favorite Yoga Poses for Seniors
To perform these poses, you will want to wear fitted, stretchy clothing. You will also need a yoga mat. While the average yoga mat is only about ⅛ of an inch thick, you can also find mats that are a full inch thick. Individuals with arthritis or other joint issues can find the most comfort and support from thicker mats.
When performing these poses, you’ll want to start slowly. If you’re unable to perform a pose perfectly, it’s okay to take it slow, gradually perfecting the pose rather than forcing it.
Commonly referred to as the foundation of all standing poses, the Mountain Pose provides a full-body stretch. Here’s how you do it:
Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart.
Keep your knees slightly bent in order to stabilize yourself.
Roll your shoulders up, back, and down, putting the most space possible between your shoulders and ears.
Allow your arms to hang naturally, and face your palms forward.
Lift your chest and keep your chin parallel with the floor.
Hold for four breaths.
Considered one of the most popular postures in the United States, the Downward Dog aids in balance and increases flexibility throughout the entire body. To perform this pose:
Begin on your hands and knees with your knees directly below your hips and hands just slightly in front of your shoulders.
Make sure your palms are flat on the floor, and curl your toes under so they’re on the ground.
Keep your heels off the ground, and use the leverage from your feet to push up and lift both knees in the air.
If you’ve done it correctly, your body should resemble an inverted V.
Exhale, and stretch your thighs backward — heels toward the floor.
Straighten out your knees, but be careful not to lock them. Instead, firm your shoulder blades, drawing them to your tailbone without locking them, and finding the length of your spine.
The Bird Dog pose involves simple movements that strengthen the core and improves posture and balance. It is also good for strengthening and stretching the lower back. To perform this pose:
Start on all fours with your weight distributed evenly.
To avoid neck strains, keep your eyes on the floor.
Reach your right arm in front of you and left leg behind you, extending it as far as you can. Hold this position for three to five seconds.
Squeeze your glutes while bending your right elbow and left knee to meet beneath your body.
Hold for three seconds, and repeat the entire exercise using your left arm and right leg.
If the typical Bird Dog pose is hard on your knees, try modifying it by using a stability ball.
The Sphinx pose is considered helpful for fatigue and great for strengthening the upper back. Here’s how to perform it:
Lie face down with your legs together and arms at your side.
Activate your leg muscles by pointing your toes toward the wall.
Place your elbows directly below your shoulders and your forearms palms-down on the floor parallel to each other.
Inhale and lift your upper torso and head away from the floor to form a mild backbend. You're now in the Sphinx pose!
Gently draw your belly away from the floor, creating a dome that rounds up toward your lower back. This helps support and distribute the curvature of your backbend evenly along the length of the spine. Hold for five to 10 breaths.
The Savasana pose has a variety of health benefits, including fatigue and headache reduction. To perform it:
Start flat on your back with your legs slightly separated and your arms at your side, approximately 45 degrees from your torso.
Relax your legs so your feet can fall to either side.
Face your palms upward, but allow them to relax, letting your fingers curl naturally.
Clench your shoulder blades for support.
Release any tension you’re holding in your limbs. Let your entire body relax, including your face. Allow your body to feel heavy and breathe naturally. Let your mind go blank, focusing on your breathing.
Hold for five to 10 minutes.
If you tend to experience lower back pain or neck pain, you may want to modify this exercise by adding a pillow or bolster under your knees or neck for support.
Chair Yoga Poses for Seniors
While regular exercise is one of the best methods for seniors to maintain a healthy lifestyle, joint discomfort, aching muscles, fatigue, and other issues can make exercise more challenging. Compared to traditional yoga, chair yoga offers an easier way to practice one’s stretching, flexibility, and breathing. It’s low-impact and is safe for most seniors, even those recovering from injuries.
The ideal chair for chair yoga is stable, armless, and firm in the seat. You should begin workouts sitting on the edge of your seat with your feet on the floor, hip-width apart.
The Seated Cat Cow pose strengthens the spine and stretches the abdomen, aiding digestion. It also warms the spine, which improves the oxygenated blood flow between the vertebrae and makes neck and back movement easier. To perform this pose:
Sit up straight in the middle of your chair with your feet and knees aligned.
Put your hands on your knees.
Keeping the rest of your body still (including your hips), inhale and arch your back, opening the chest and slightly lifting your chin.
Breathe out and round your back, bringing your chin toward your chest.
Your final position should resemble how a cat appears during a big, post-nap stretch.
Circles open the hips and relax your spine, encouraging deep breathing and reenergizing your body. To perform:
Sit up straight in your chair.
Without moving your upper body, circle your hips clockwise five to 10 times.
Perform the same movement counterclockwise five to 10 times.
Sun Salutation Arms
The Seated Sun Salutation Arms exercise lengthens the spine and releases tension in the shoulder and neck while improving alignment and posture. To perform this pose:
While seated, sit up and inhale deeply.
Lift your arms upward, pressing your palms skyward.
Exhale, placing your arms back at your sides.
Repeat five times.
High Altar Side Leans
This spine and shoulder exercise is great for posture, opening the lungs, and reducing lower back pain. It’s also useful for strengthening the core. To perform it:
Sit upright and raise your arms in front of you, interlacing your fingers.
With your palms facing the ceiling, raise your arms straight above your head.
Bend right and hold for three to five breaths.
Bend left and hold for 3-5 breaths.
The Eagle Arms pose helps alleviate tension in the upper back, shoulders, elbows, and wrists. To perform it:
Sit upright for the entirety of this exercise.
With your arms at shoulder height, wrap your left arm under your right arm as high as possible.
Double cross your forearms and press your palms together. If your palms can’t touch, simply press the back of your hand.
Raise your elbows skyward and relax your shoulders.
Hold this position for five to 10 seconds.
Assisted Neck Stretches
Assisted neck stretches relieve tightness in the shoulders, neck, and upper back. To perform this exercise:
Reach your right arm over your head until your palm is on your left ear.
Allow your head to lean toward your right shoulder until you feel a stretch.
Hold for five seconds.
Relax, then repeat the exercise with your left hand and shoulder.
Yoga and Fall Prevention
Yoga is an effective way to build one’s balance and overall fitness while aiding in fall prevention. In addition to making some home modifications, yoga can be an effective tool to help one age in place safely.
To learn more about our favorite ways to exercise, take a look at our helpful guides:
Yoga is ideal for older adults and is specifically recommended for women aged 60 and over since it has been shown to increase bone density, decrease inflammation, increase flexibility, and offset age-related cognitive difficulties.
Starting yoga at 70 is easier than you might imagine. First, consider your fitness level and speak with your physician about any health issues that might impact the type of yoga you select. From there, you can get started in a variety of ways, including face-to-face classes at your gym or following a video program at home.
If you are new to yoga, plan on doing two or three 20-minute yoga sessions per week. Then, as time goes on, build up your workout by 10-minute intervals until you reach 60 minutes.
Amie has been writing about senior care products and services for the last decade. She is particularly passionate about new technologies that help improve the quality of life for seniors and their families. Seeing her parents and grandparents age made Amie ask herself, “Would this be good enough for my loved ones?” In her spare time, Amie enjoys outdoor adventures and spontaneous road trips. Learn more about Amie here