June 9, 2023

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Yoga is a mind-body activity that can benefit people of all ages—including older adults who want to maintain mobility levels and vitality. Four main types of exercise (endurance, strength, balance and flexibility) can positively impact health as you age, according to the National Institute on Aging, and yoga encompasses all of them.
Continue reading to learn about what yoga is and how it can potentially benefit older adults, including detailed explanations of the three top poses, according to experts in the field (with modifications for people new to practicing yoga).
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Yoga is a mind-body practice that includes physical and spiritual exercises and meditations with roots reaching back thousands of years to ancient India. Yoga postures, known as asanas, require a balance of effort, ease, stability and comfort, according to The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali, an ancient Sanskrit text that lays the foundation of yoga. Of its 196 verses, only three mention specific physical yoga postures, suggesting the practice goes beyond physical activity to include breathwork, meditation and more.
“The techniques of yoga are simple and natural,” says Sri Dharma Mittra, an 83-year-old master yoga teacher and founder of the Dharma Yoga Center in New York City. “The postures are what people most often think of when they think of yoga in the West, but they’re really only one-eighth of the practice of cultivating radiant physical health.”
The coordination of movement and breath is a unique aspect of yoga, and focusing on deep breathing, which is common in the practice of yoga, may improve focus, mood and stress levels, according to a study in Frontiers In Psychology.
“The word ‘yoga’ means union, to join or [to] yoke,” says Brahmani Liebman, a yoga teacher and founder of Rivertown Center for Yoga and Health in Dobbs Ferry, New York, who has been teaching for more than 40 years “The beauty of yoga and its many practices is that there’s something for everybody. These practices allow us to continue to enjoy our lives, to keep moving with our grandchildren [and] to appreciate the beauty of nature and all that life has given us.”
Making sure muscles stay strong, balance remains intact and flexibility is accessible can help prevent injuries and improve activities of daily life for older adults. A 2013 study in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine evaluated specific, minimally modified yoga poses geared toward older adults to determine the physical demands these poses placed on certain anatomical areas, such as the ankle, knee and hip, and whether developing strength in these areas by practicing the poses could increase balance and decrease the risk of falling.
”The practices of yoga are important for older adults because as the body ages and life changes, we find ourselves managing our minds and hearts as well,” says Liebman. “Yoga gives us tools to help the body stay both strong and flexible, keep the mind open and aware, and keep our hearts compassionate for ourselves and others.”
“One’s yoga practice will inevitably change over the years because as we age and grow, time changes everything,” says Judith Lasater, a physical therapist, yoga teacher and co-founder of Yoga Journal Magazine. “People will encounter huge changes, such as pregnancy, surgeries, celebrations and loss. Having a solid yoga practice can allow for an intimate relationship between yoga practice and life.”
Sri Dharma believes that yoga is important for older adults because it can be easy to practice and the results are often efficient, and while some degree of flexibility is required, many poses can be adapted to meet mobility concerns or physical or mental health limitations.
Some potential benefits of yoga include:
It’s important to be aware of potential risks associated with starting a new type of exercise, and it’s always best to speak with a health care provider before incorporating yoga into your physical fitness routine. Body awareness, including understanding one’s one physical limitations and preexisting conditions, should be considered. Conditions like osteoporosis, arthritis, balance issues and uncontrolled high blood pressure may require modifying or avoiding certain yoga poses.
Older adults living with osteoporosis, which is a common bone-loss disease affecting more than 54 million people in the U.S.[1], should be extremely cautious and seek guidance from a medical provider regarding how to safely practice yoga. While some yoga poses may be beneficial for patients with osteoporosis, poses that include any movements with forward bending or flexion, spinal twists and deep hip stretches should be avoided due to an increased risk of fractures, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF).
Lasater emphasizes the importance of being cautious of yoga classes in which all students are expected to do the same thing, adding that a good teacher should be able to “teach people first and asana second.” Providing individualized movement recommendations and adaptations can lead to a safe and fun yoga class environment.
“The present physical and mental condition of a person is the result of their recent and past lifestyle,” says Sri Dharma. “Some poses and breathing exercises may not be fit [for certain] condition(s).” Being mindful at all times is important, and when any discomfort is noticed, discontinue the practice immediately and relax, he adds.

Most yoga postures can be modified to meet individual needs and account for physical limitations. Make sure to modify or discontinue poses if you experience discomfort, pain, dizziness or shortness of breath, according to Leibman. Adapting poses and using props, such as blankets or bolsters, for these modifications can significantly reduce the risks older adults may face when practicing yoga.
Recommended props include items that can make practicing yoga safer and easier, such as comfortable clothing, blankets, props, pillows, straps, a chair or yoga blocks.
This pose helps improve strength and balance, according to Liebman. It focuses on the lower extremities, including muscles like the gluteus maximus, quadriceps muscles and supporting muscles of the low back and core, which are muscle groups that help with overall balance and body strength.

How to do it:
This pose is considered a restorative posture. “The practice of passively holding postures targets the connective tissues and bones, allowing the body to find its natural alignment,” explains Liebman. “As we age, the body can benefit tremendously from [restorative poses like] this [one], as it keeps the joints more fluid, [allowing] our movements to be with greater ease. This [pose] can be very beneficial before bed to help the nervous system calm down.”
Note: This pose is contraindicated for older adults with osteoporosis (or a history of spinal compression fractures), according to the NOF.

How to do it:
At the end of a yoga practice, a few minutes are often dedicated to “savasana,” or deep relaxation, which is meant to calm the mind and relax the body. “After this pose, remain still and receptive for restoration and healing,” says Sri Dharma. “It’s also a meditative pose, especially for older people.”

How to do it:
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Yoga classes are widely offered in many gyms and dedicated yoga studios. You can also check with your local library, community center or senior center to find out whether classes are held in these spaces. Additionally, there are many online resources for yoga instruction, including certified yoga instructors offering live or recorded classes on their websites.
”Make sure to find a teacher who teaches you to trust yourself and listen to your body,” says Lasater.
Lastly, always consult with a health care provider before beginning a yoga practice at home, at a gym or at a studio to be sure it’s right for you.
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Lenore Cangeloso is a board-certified acupuncturist and herbal medicine practitioner based in Oregon. She graduated with honors from Oregon College of Oriental Medicine in 2016 and obtained her bachelors of science from Oregon State University. She is also a registered yoga Instructor with a 200-hour certification from the Kripalu Institute in Massachusetts. Cangeloso has spent many months traveling to deepen her knowledge of the human body, studying massage in Thailand and traditional crafts in Mexico and Indonesia. She is a dedicated and skilled practitioner who strives to help her patients achieve optimal states of well-being.
Rachel Tavel is a doctor of physical therapy, certified strength and conditioning specialist and writer. She works as a physical therapist in an outpatient orthopedic physical therapy setting and as a freelance writer. Tavel is a regular contributor to Men’s Health, for which she has a recurring series called “Your Personal PT.” Her writing has also appeared in Runner’s World, SELF, Bustle, HuffPost and Bicycling magazine. She recently co-wrote a book, Stretch Yourself Healthy. Tavel is passionate about sharing her expertise with others so that people can gain a better understanding of their bodies while learning how to treat and prevent pain.


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