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Yoga to Help Gently Reclaim your Mobility and Fitness

Maintaining independence is an important goal for many older adults. Independence has multiple meanings for seniors — it means being able to take care of mental, emotional and spiritual health while also preserving physical abilities. As you age, it’s important to focus on movements and exercises designed to help build strength, increase flexibility and improve balance to maintain mobility. In recent years, yoga has become a popular choice for older adults (age 65+) and for good reason.

At any age, balance, agility, speed and coordination are vital for daily living. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, every second of every day, an older adult suffers a fall in the U.S. One out of four older adults will fall each year in the United States — making it a public health concern. There are many reasons listed below; however, falls don’t have to be inevitable as you age. You can reduce your chance of falling by ruling out underlying issues and participating in yoga class. Performing yoga poses that are proven to build better balance is a great way to take action.

Rule out the common causes of falls and take action to build better balance.

According to The National Institute on Aging, many things can cause a fall. It’s important to learn about and understand the most common causes of falls — and possibly remedy them or rule them out. These include:

  • Your eyesight, hearing and reflexes might not be as sharp as they were when you were younger.
  • Certain conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease or problems with your thyroid, nerves, feet, or blood vessels can affect your balance and lead to a fall.
  • Conditions that cause rushed movement to the bathroom, such as incontinence, may also increase the chance of falling.
  • Older adults with mild cognitive impairment or certain types of dementia are at a higher risk of falling.
  • Age-related loss of muscle mass (known as sarcopenia), problems with balance and gait, and blood pressure that drops too much when you get up from lying down or sitting (called postural hypotension) are all risk factors for falling.
  • Foot problems that cause pain, and unsafe footwear such as backless shoes or high heels, can also increase your risk of falling.
  • Some medications can increase your risk of falling because they cause side effects such as dizziness or confusion. The more medications you take, the more likely you are to fall.
  • Safety hazards in the home or community environment can also cause falls.

There are proven ways to build better balance and improve coordination with Yoga.

According to the latest healthcare literature and research, exercise reduces the overall rate of falls by 23%. Our focus in this article is on balance and strength training exercises like yoga and tai chi to improve coordination, balance and muscle strength. With increased muscle strength comes an improved mindset and more confidence to live an independent lifestyle.

No matter what your age and stage, regular yoga practice, two to three times per week, can help prevent injury while also improving overall quality of life. Staying active has been shown to improve brain health, help manage weight, reduce the risk of certain diseases, strengthen bones and muscles, and maintain your ability to perform everyday activities — and this is all part of maintaining independence. Some even say regular yoga practice has the ability to slow down the aging process.

Yoga-based exercises can improve coordination and mobility in older adults.

According to the latest estimates, an incredible 10% of the current US population practices yoga, making it more popular than golf! Yoga practice is very diverse, meaning that there are many ways to practice yoga and a wide selection of different styles or forms. This low-impact exercise can be modified to accommodate physical limitations — there are ways to adapt the poses or asanas to make yoga approachable and accessible to almost anyone.

Most people are familiar with Hatha Yoga, which is an umbrella term that includes various other forms like Vinyasa, Yin, Restorative, Iyengar, Kundalini, Bikram and Ashtanga. No matter what style you choose, one of the biggest benefits of yoga is that almost anyone can practice it in some form. There’s no need for expensive equipment or extreme athletic ability. Beginners can easily join a class with an experienced instructor or choose to start with a helpful YouTube channel, a video and/or a book from the library.

Yoga is open to any fitness or mobility level. If you have an acute or chronic injury, physical impairment or disability, or you’re just out of shape, the good news is that you can still practice yoga. It’s a great way to enjoy the benefits of yoga in a safe and manageable way. Chair yoga eliminates the need to stand up and balance or get up and down from the floor, but you can still strengthen muscles and connect with your body.

The core building blocks of Yoga are poses or asanas.

You may have heard of Child’s Pose, Downward-Facing Dog and Tree pose — these are good ones to learn as you build a regular yoga practice. The idea is to move slowly through each pose, remembering to breathe as you move. Slow down if you find a pose too challenging, especially if you are short of breath. Start the movement again when your breathing returns to normal. The idea is to hold each pose for a few, slow breaths before moving on to the next one. An experienced instructor will help you modify and build a yoga practice that’s right for you.

Breathing techniques can restore calm and provide restorative relaxation in older adults.

You’ve heard the phrase “take a deep breath” to calm yourself. By now you know that when you “stop and smell the roses” your breath can create a sense of calm. Breathing is an essential part of yoga as well. Breathing helps you stay focused, relaxes the nervous system and calms the mind during the yoga practice. There are different types of breathing that include abdominal breathing, interval breathing, and alternate nostril breathing. Yoga breathing techniques can offer an entryway into meditation practice.

Yoga has elements of meditation built right in — there’s a connection between mind, body and breath and an emphasis on being present. In addition to the physical benefits of yoga, many seniors are inspired by the meditation and mindfulness part of the practice. Yoga instructors usually lead a guided meditation as part of the yoga practice to connect the body to breath and sharpen awareness.

Mindfulness and meditation are built into yoga and are beneficial for older adults.

Meditation is a key component of a well-rounded yoga practice. The poses, breathing exercises and a meditative practice provide physical and emotional benefits and spiritual wellness. Yoga and meditation are associated with stress reduction, improved focus and greater empathy toward others. The meditation component of a yoga practice can help calm the mind, relax muscles and improve self-awareness. Many instructors provide guided meditations as part of the overall yoga practice session. These meditations can focus on things like inner peace, mental balance, mindfulness or a spiritual type of meditation.

As they say in Yoga, Namaste.

Don’t be intimidated by yoga terminology, fancy yoga studios, specialty clothing and complicated-sounding poses. Namaste is simply an acknowledgment from one soul to another — it’s a respectful way to honor and greet another person. Yoga is for everyone. This empowering practice offers something for everybody. Yoga has the power to strengthen the body and calm the mind. If you haven’t tried it yet, there are classes available for every fitness level. Now roll out your yoga mat and get ready to make your body strong.

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