Practicing yoga has many benefits
Scientists have found that practicing yoga — an ancient practice and meditation — can help improve lung function and breathing capacity, build strength, improve posture and fitness, help with weight loss, prevent falls, and relieve depression. But many senior adults think they have to be young or have the flexibility of a rubber band to do it.
It’s true that some forms of yoga can be an extreme physical challenge. One form, Hatha yoga, can be adapted to provide the same benefits as more-physically demanding types of yoga and can be done in your own home. Hatha yoga focuses on pranayamas (breath-controlled exercises). These are followed by a series of asanas (yoga postures), which end with a resting period called savasana.
Try this, sitting on a kitchen chair: Sit straight, as if someone is holding a thread at the base of your spine and up through your neck and head. Relax your shoulders and place your hands on your knees, palms facing upward and make a “circle” by touching the tip of your index finger to the tip of your thumb. Hold that position and inhale through the nose while counting silently to five. Pause for just a moment, then exhale for five counts. Take five or six deep, full breaths. Relax. Repeat three times.
See how easy that was? You’ve mastered yoga breathing!
Now it’s time to add asanas — here are three easy ones to try. If you have a yoga mat, use it, but otherwise, practice yoga on carpeting. Playing soft instrumental music or sounds of nature such as the ocean can help you to focus and relax.
- Lotus Pose
Start by sitting on the floor, cross-legged if you can, but if you can’t, sit with your legs straight out in front of you, or with legs bent at the knees, and bring your knees toward your chest. You can also kneel if that’s more comfortable for you, or sit in a chair if that’s best for you. Either rest your hands on your knees if sitting cross-legged or in a chair (position palms upward as above) or place them on the floor next to your hips or at your sides if sitting straight-legged, with knees bent or kneeling. Your back is straight and shoulders relaxed. Now breathe as you did while sitting in the chair: For about five minutes, take deep, full breaths.
- Seated Half-Twist
Sit on the floor, legs straight out in front of you. Bend your right leg and bring your right foot to the outside of your left knee. Grasp your right knee with your right arm and place your left hand, palm down, on the floor next to your left hip. Take a deep breath in, and as you exhale, twist your upper body and turn your head to look over your left shoulder. You can either close your eyes or focus your gaze on something. Continue your breathing and hold for two to three minutes. Then gently release the pose, return to your starting position, and repeat on the other side.
- Tree Pose
Stand with your legs together and your arms at your chest or “heart center,” palms together.
Raise your right leg slightly off the ground so that the toes are still on the ground and your heel is touching the inside part of your ankle. Balance for 20 to 30 seconds if possible. Repeat with the other leg. Hold onto something if necessary. Don’t forget your breathing!
When you are finished, lay flat on the floor or mat, legs slightly apart, arms resting on your side, palms facing upward. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing for about five minutes. This is savasana.
There are many websites that offer videos and step-by-step guides to learning yoga poses. One of my favorites is Yoga for Seniors (https://www.doyogawithme.com/content/yoga-seniors).
As a yogi would say at the end of class (to show peace, honor and respect), Namaste!