For many older students yoga is a means for alleviating discomfort once day-to-day activities have become more difficult. Simple movements that we take for granted when we’re younger can become challenging as we age and yoga can be an effective method for regaining functional mobility.
For this reason it is important, when teaching older students, to be careful with cues and poses that bring joints into their fullest range of motion. Modifications should be offered in each and every pose.
The simple act of placing hands flat against the wall in right angle pose, for example, may not be within the available range of motion for an older student. This being the case, placing hands flat on a table or the back of a chair may make the pose more accessible.
Similarly, students may become unsteady on their feet as hearing loss, poor eyesight or loss of strength and flexibility negatively impact on balance and co-ordination. Standing poses, particularly postures like tadasana (mountain pose), trikonasana (triangle pose), prasarita padottonasana (standing straddle forward fold) and uttitha parsvakonasana (extended side angle) can – because of their grounded quality – help to re-establish a strong connection to the earth and improve balance and confidence. This can then be challenged and extended in poses like vrksasana (tree pose), which you might offer with the wall for support.
All of these poses can be offered with the support of a chair. This is often a helpful tool for students in any or all poses because it brings the ground closer, making each pose more accessible. Students can rest their front hand on the back of a chair in trikonasana and uttitha parsvakonasana and can rest both hands on the chair in tadasana, prasarita padottonasana and vrksasana.
Yoga for Seniors with Back Pain
We spend many hours a day in a seated position, on a couch, in the car or at a desk. The cumulative effect of this over many years can be a rounded back and sunken chest. Our upper bodies are pulled forward and this can become pronounced as we age, and may be a leading cause in back pain Through a regular yoga practice we can begin to retrain our postural muscles, which can improve breathing and cardiovascular output; simply speaking, we can create more space for the breath. These habitual postural misalignments can cause myriad problems but often occur so gradually as to go unnoticed. With the exception of those who have many years practice at an exercise discipline that promotes body awareness many find the establishment of a mind-body connection difficult when it comes to movement. Without this awareness, misalignments can become injuries.
Through yoga’s emphasis on mindful movement it is possible to begin the slow process of retraining the body and lessening the impact of these deep behavioural misalignments. Movement lubricates our muscles, ligaments and joints and so we find that the more we move (gently at first) the more we can move, staving off one of the first visible signs of aging – stiffness – growing taller, standing stronger and improving our quality of life.
In part two of Yoga for Healthy Aging we will take a look at the effects of stress on the body as we age, and how Yoga helps us to combat this…
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