I Should Go Do Yoga...for Seniors

If you're of a more mature age then the likelihood is someone, whether it be a health professional, family member or friend, has probably told you you 'should' be doing yoga. It's all very well them saying that, and you knowing that yoga carries many health benefits as you start to approach the later years (such as improving flexibility and joint strength, balance, stability as well as reducing blood pressure, anxiety, respiratory difficulties and keeping the mind active and sharp) but the thought of walking into a class full of 20-30 somethings wearing lycra just doesn't appeal...am I right?

Well here's where I come in. I've compiled 6 easy postures which you can practice at home which can form the start of your yoga practice.

To start with you'll need to prepare:

  • Set-up your yoga area: buy a nice non-slip mat which is thick enough to protect your joints and lay it out in a nice warm part of your home, preferably near a wall, but with enough space for you to move about
  • Compile your props: buy some foam blocks (or you can use a pile of books to start with), and have some blankets or cushions nearby, as well as a high-backed chair without arms
  • Set the scene: if you like to have background music then put some on, light some candles if you like and make the space nice and cosy
  • Breathe: start by sitting comfortably (this can be cross-legged or kneeling on the floor, using cushions or blankets if you need to, or sitting upright on a sturdy chair with your back straight). Take 20 even breaths in and out through the nose. The more even and smooth you can make these breaths the better; try to really focus on the feeling of breathing in and out, notice how the chest expands and contracts as you breathe.
  • Warm up: after your 20 breaths, warm up the neck and shoulders by drawing circles with the nose slowly, and then the shoulders and then the arms (extended out to the sides).

Once you're nice and warm we'll dive in:

Seated Cat-Cow

With your hands on your knees in a cross-legged position on the floor, or seated on a chair, inhale through the nose, pull back on the knees with the hands and simultaneously push the chest forward, creating a curve in the spine. Keep your shoulders, chin and jaw relaxed.

When you exhale, round the back, sucking the navel in and tucking the chin down towards the chest. You should feel a stretch in between the shoulder-blades. Continue curving the spine forwards and backwards with each inhale and exhale for as long as feels good; minimum 5 rounds. 

This posture warms up the muscles in the spine, easing stiffness in the back, improving spinal mobility and keeping your spine healthy by flooding it with lots of fresh blood.

Forward-Fold With A Chair

Chair yoga (yes it exists!) is amazing for those with a bit less mobility, or those who might be prone to injury. This is a modification of a forward-fold which I practice regularly as you remove any risk of damaging the lower back, and you stretch out the shoulders and the side of the body too!

Stand behind a high-backed chair with your hands on the back of it. Walk your feet backwards, so you come into an L-position, with the torso parallel to the floor, the arms fully extended and the legs fairly straight. Don't lock out your knees, keep some integrity and a slight bend in the knees by contracting the thigh muscles. Your feet should be hip-distance apart.

Sink the chest down towards the floor. You'll feel a stretch in the back of the legs, the lower back, side of the torso and underneath the armpits. Find a point where you feel a nice stretch but no pain and hold there for 10 even breaths in and out through the nose.

Warrior 2 With A Chair

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This posture is great for building up strength in the legs and arms if you struggle with balance. By all means, try the posture without the chair first and if you feel stable then you can continue to practice this way, but this is a nice alternative if you feel a bit wobbly.

Sit on the chair normally and then open your left leg to the side, opening up the hips. Bring your foot to flat on the floor on the left side of the chair with your toes pointing at 90 degrees to the direction in which you're facing.

Now slide your buttocks to the right so the seat of the chair rests underneath your left thigh. Extend the right leg out to the side, bringing the sole of the foot flat to the floor, toes pointing in the direction you're facing. Press down through the outside of that right foot so the leg straightens.

Extend the hands out to the sides at shoulder height, engaging through the fingertips and then turn your head to look over the middle finger of the left hand. Suck the belly in and keep the legs and arms engaged.

Breathe evenly through the nose for 5-10 breaths. Once you've finished, do the same on the opposite side.

Supported Tree Pose

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When I first started working with one of my older private clients she insisted that she would never be able to stand on one leg in Tree Pose. I don't tend to shy away from a challenge so I introduced her to this version of Tree Pose and now she loves it! Use the wall or a door frame when you're first starting out and hold onto the wall with the hand corresponding to the leg you are lifting. Keep the other hand on your hip.

Use a block on it's lowest height (or stack of books works just fine too). Bring all of your weight into your left leg, pressing down evenly through the whole of the foot, engaging the inner thigh, pelvic floor and lower abdomen. This will give you the stability to lift your right foot off the ground and bring the ball of the foot and toes to rest on the block.

Fix on one point in front of you and breath for 5-10 even breaths in and out through the nose, then try the other leg.

Once you feel comfortable you can increase the height of the block/stack of books and/or start to practice away from the wall.

This posture improves balance, strengthens the legs and pelvic floor, exercises the brain and improves focus and concentration!

Shoulder Stretch at the Wall

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Trust me, hunching is not just reserved for teenagers and office workers; some of the worst hunched shoulders can be found in the more mature yoga student too. You can practice this kneeling (pictured), standing or seated on a chair, with the wall side-on to you.

Stand or kneel in front of the wall as close to it as you can. Bring your left palm and inner forearm to the wall with the elbow bent out to the side. Start to turn towards the right, stretching the front of the left shoulder.

Go to where you feel a stretch, but no pain, and take 10 even inhales and exhales through the nose. Change arms and repeat.

Reclined Spinal Twist

This posture eases back pain and also stretches the outer hip muscles and the muscles in the side of the torso. Laying flat on your back bend the knees and draw them up so they're at 90 degrees above your hips. 

With your hands out to the sides to support you, engage your abdominal muscles to lower the knees down to the right hand side of your body. Use blankets and blocks to support the knees if they don't quite reach the floor, or if there is a gap between the knees. Make sure the left shoulder stays glued to the ground.

Breathe here for 10 even breaths in and out through the nose. Engage the abdominal muscles to draw the knees back up to centre and then gently lower down on the other side. If you don't engage the abdominal muscles you'll run risk of pulling a muscle in your back!

And there you have it! 6 postures to strengthen the legs and core, ease back pain, improve balance, stability and focus and help with hunched shoulders and all-round immobility in the upper body and spine!

If you'd like more advice about how yoga can help you please feel free to contact me at yougodoyoga@gmail.com. Private classes are available in the Brussels area or via Skype.