Life is busy. We tend to take care of everyone and everything else before we take care of ourselves. As a result, healthy lifestyles and exercise programs often get left behind. What if there was a way to improve balance, coordination and strength while reducing stress, lowering blood pressure, and improving sleep quality? An estimated 11 million Americans believe yoga is the answer. Tension and stress can cause our bodies to tighten, but yoga can help bring awareness to the areas that need to be stretched.
Want to understand why so many people are incorporating yoga into their daily routine? Read about the physical and mental benefits of yoga and why it is perfect for older adults
Worth Giving It a Try
If you are interested in trying yoga to experience some of the health benefits listed above, below are five yoga poses to try. They can be practiced standing or modified to be practiced in a chair. Yoga is different for everyone – we do what feels good to us, respecting our bodies with their beauty and limitations, only going as far as our bodies allow without pain. Be sure to check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program, especially if you have health concerns.
As you work through the five poses below, remember that you should be moving slowly and easily. Breathe in through the nose and exhale through the mouth. Focus on deep, mindful breaths. Here we go:
1. Half-Moon Pose
This pose offers flexibility and helps improve the ability to breathe comfortably and efficiently by stretching the intercostal muscle groups that are located between the ribs. These muscles create and move the chest wall and assist the process of breathing. In addition, this pose can help improve core strength and balance.
How to MOVE through Half-Moon Pose:
- Stand tall with feet together and arms at your side, palms facing in.
- Float the right arm slowly upwards, stopping at shoulder height.
- Turn the hand over and bring your arm up as if you were bringing your bicep to your ear, keeping the arm straight.
- Gently bend to the left, pushing the left hip out to the side. Hold for five breaths.
- Straighten up slowly, grounded through the feet, turning the palm down at the shoulder. Then lower the arm to your side.
Repeat on the other side for a full body experience. If balance is a concern, step the feet apart for a wider base of support.
MODIFIED Half-Moon Pose:
This pose can also be practiced seated.
- Using a chair without arms, keep your hips firmly grounded on the chair, with your left hand on the chair seat.
- Slowly raise your right arm to shoulder height.
- Turn the palm up and bring your arm up over the ear.
- Hold for 5 full breaths.
As we age, the shoulders and hips can become stiff. Stress and tension in our shoulders and back can cause our posture to be compromised. Cat/Cow stretching can help reduce stress and improve posture and balance by stretching the muscles of the neck, spine and hips. This pose can also help to lessen lower back pain.
How to MOVE through Cat/Cow:
Start with your feet hip-width apart, knees bent, hands on top of your knees, with an upright torso, and neutral spine and feet grounded.
- Tip the pelvis forward.
- Gently arch your spine back, reaching your heart and chest towards the ceiling.
- Bring the chin slightly up.
- Remember to stay tall in the spine with the heart lifted and shoulders down, stretching the chest.
- Draw your navel to your spine.
- Tilt the pelvis back.
- Round the spine and bring the chin down to your chest, stretching the shoulders.
- Repeat 5 times.
This pose can be practiced seated.
- Sit forward, ankles under knees, hands on your lap.
- Inhale slowly.
- Lift and open your chest towards the sky.
- Draw the shoulders back and slide the hands back towards the hips.
- As you exhale, slowly slide your hands towards your knees, drawing the shoulders forward, rounding the back and reaching the spine towards the ceiling.
- Repeat 5 times.
3. Downward Facing Dog
Benefits of this pose include stretching of hamstrings, lengthening and re-alignment of the spine, strengthening and opening of the chest and shoulders, and increased upper body strength.
How to MOVE through Downward Facing Dog:
- Using a mat, begin on your hands and knees.
- The wrists should be under the shoulders and the hips over the knees.
- Spread the fingers wide and lift the hips up towards the ceiling, keeping the spine straight.
- Firm the arms and keep the head in line with the arms.
- Draw your chest toward your thighs as you press the mat away from you, lengthening your spine.
- Hold for 5 breaths.
MODIFIED Downward Facing Dog:
- To practice this pose with a chair, you will stand facing the chair with your hands on the back of the chair.
- The feet will be hip-width apart and under the hips.
- Hinge forward at the hips, keeping the spine parallel with the floor.
- The back is straight, and the arms are extended with the head in line with the spine while reaching the hips back.
- Hold for 5 breaths.
4. Warrior II
Weight-bearing exercises help to improve bone density, which can help reduce the possibility of bone fractures. Balance and stability are challenged in this pose. The hips and shoulders are stretched, while tension is released in the shoulders and neck.
Muscle balance is crucial as we age. Read about the importance of maintaining muscle balance.
How to MOVE through Warrior II:
- Stand with the feet about 3/12 to 4 feet wide.
- Turn the right foot slightly to the right.
- Turn the left foot to the left 90 degrees.
- Lengthen through the spine and raise the arms to shoulder height with the palms down.
- Firm the thighs and bend the right knee over the ankle, so the knee is in line with the ankle.
- Rotate the torso to the left while turning the head to the right, with the gaze at the middle finger of the front hand.
- Staying strong through the legs, hold for several deep breaths.
MODIFIED Warrior II:
- To practice Warrior II from a seated position, straddle the chair with the right leg on the chair and the left leg extending back as far as is comfortable for you.
- The shoulders are back, and the back is straight.
- Raise the arms, one in front and one behind.
- Without forcing the movement, turn the upper body towards the left.
- Turn your head to the right and take your gaze to the middle finger of the front hand.
- Hold for a few breaths with the chest lifted and slowly release the pose.
- Repeat on the other side.
5. Seated Spinal Twist
This posture assists with activities of daily living. It helps to open the rib cage for fuller breathing. By performing twists safely, we can strengthen the thoracic spine and maintain our skill to rotate.
How to MOVE through Seated Spinal Twist:
- Using a chair, sit straight with the body in alignment.
- Ears over shoulders, shoulders over hips.
- Bring your right hand to the outer edge of the left knee, and the left hand back behind you if that feels good to you.
- Inhale, lifting the chest and elongate the spine.
- Exhale, rotating to the left while keeping the neck and shoulders relaxed.
- Hold for a few breaths.
- Repeat on the other side.
Only take the stretch as far as is comfortable for you.
Final tip – stay hydrated. Yoga may not be as strenuous as running, walking or even dancing, but you should still be aware of your fluid intake and always have a water bottle nearby. Read more about the importance of staying hydrated and how it benefits ongoing wellness.
Yoga is a Practice, Not a Science
As your body is like a telephone pole, we want to practice these poses on both sides to keep our bodies in alignment and balanced. Our intention in yoga is to gain balance and realign the body using our breath as our guide. The practice can look different to everyone, as we each respond differently to achieve balance in our yoga and in our lives.
Want more fitness tips? Read 14 fitness tips from a fitness direct at Acts Retirement Community.