So everyone knows we can all benefit from increased exercise and stress reduction. Any doctor or therapist will tell you that. But of the many forms of exercise and relaxation that are talked about today, how does a person decide what to pursue? It can be quite confusing. Yoga, which has been around for thousands of years, is considered one of the best methods of achieving relaxation and improvement in various physical conditions including emotional conditions, high blood pressure, headaches, and arthritis among others. Interestingly though, most people have heard of it, but are not so familiar with it.
So what is it and is it relevant and beneficial specifically for seniors?
Yoga is a form of exercise that adapts to one’s personal needs and functioning level; therefore it can be done by everyone including children, pregnant women, and senior adults. It makes the body physically stronger, the mind calmer and less stressed, and helps a person to function at his/her best. How? Through various physical positions that a qualified instructor teaches one how to achieve, each position will target specific parts of the body and help to strengthen it. These include the nervous system, cardiovascular system, digestive system, circulatory system, and the respiratory system. Sounds good, right? Following is a brief description of some basic poses you can try at home as described by Yoga expert Susan Winter Ward.
First of all, before beginning any specific pose, a main component of gaining the relaxation response is achieved through breathing. Sit up straight and take a long deep breath. Tune into how deeply you can bring your breath down into your lungs and take breaths. Now, visualize a ribbon. Inhale the entire ribbon as deeply into your lungs as you can. Breathe your ribbon rhythmically, focusing on your breath. Allow the rhythm of the breathing to relax your entire body. Do this for several minutes before doing the poses. Your body is now entering the mode of relaxation, the hallmark of Yoga.
Come to your hands and knees. As you inhale, bend your elbows slightly and press your hands into the floor bringing your chest forward and upward between your arms. Lift the crown of your head and your tailbone towards the ceiling and drop your belly towards the floor. As you exhale, arch your spine up, bringing your belly button toward your spine. Draw your forehead and your pubic bone toward each other. Repeat the movement several times developing a smooth, flowing rhythm, combining your movement with your breath. BENEFITS: increases spinal flexibility, strengthens thighs, arms, shoulders, tones the abdomen and massages abdominal organs.
Child’s Pose (for all ages)
Come to your hands and knees and gently lean back as you bring your buttocks into contact with your heels. Stretch your arms out in front of you on the floor and breathe deeply. If you need support for your upper body you can: 1) place a blanket between your heels and your buttocks, 2) between your chest and your thighs, 3) roll up a blanket and place it between your legs, supporting your chest, or, 4) all three. BENEFITS: relaxation, stretching the lower back, relaxes the spine, arms, shoulders, and legs. Pressure on the abdomen brings more circulation to the organs, cleansing, stimulating, and massaging them.
Lying Bow Pose
Lie on your tummy and bend your knees, bringing your feet towards your buttocks. As you exhale, reach back and grasp your ankles or feet. Take a deep breath and as you exhale begin raising your feet toward the ceiling, lifting your legs and chest off of the floor. Breathe deeply. Release gently and return to the Child’s Pose. BENEFITS: opens the chest, strengthens arms and stretches thighs, stimulates the endocrine system and spinal nerves, increases spinal flexibility, stimulating, relaxing and rejuvenating.
Check with your doctor before trying Yoga and if these poses are too strenuous start off slow, doing what is comfortable for you.