5 Senior Yoga Stretches to Improve Balance
Yoga is an often-overlooked tool for helping seniors improve their balance. Performing some simple yoga exercises each day can not only improve balance and muscle mass, but can also build confidence, lower blood pressure, improve sleep and boost reflexes, helping seniors stay mobile and reduce falls. If you or a senior family member is a beginner to yoga, here are five simple exercises recommended by our assisted living community in Cape May County, NJ!
What is yoga?
Before we dive right in, let’s take a look at what yoga actually is, since there are some misconceptions about this practice.
Yoga is an ancient discipline that originated in India. The practice combines exercises with breathing techniques to work the body, as well as the mind. Thus promoting correct posture, flexibility, and coordination. Practices can be very rigorous and demanding or they can be gentle and relaxing, bringing your body into harmony with the surrounding environment. The wonderful thing about yoga is that it can be adapted to anyone’s needs, age or capability, making it ideal for everybody!
The last thing to remember is that yoga, like any exercise, takes a long time to master. With that said, it’s important not to overexert yourself or push yourself too hard, as that’s when injuries happen. Work with an instructor who can help you settle into the poses easily and make sure you are doing them correctly. As long as you are feeling the stretch in the right places and work consistently towards improving, you’re on your way to becoming a true yogi!
Yoga exercises for seniors or beginners
- Mountain pose
This is a very simple pose (known as asana) that helps with balance by grounding the body through the feet.
- Stand tall on a yoga mat with your feet together (heels and toes touching).
- Engage your abdominal muscles, pulling your stomach in.
- Relax your shoulders so they lie flat on your back and away from your ears.
- Flex your leg muscles, feeling the stretch in your calves and thighs.
- Hold your arms straight down at your sides, turning the inside of your elbows towards the front of your body and keeping your palms facing your thighs.
- Breathe slowly and hold the pose steady for five breaths.
- Tree pose
- Start by standing in Mountain pose. For this balancing and hip-strengthening pose, you should feel free to use a chair, wall or rail for support.
- Turn the foot of your right leg outward and raise the foot until you can place it flat against the left thigh. Push against the foot with your left (standing leg) thigh.
- Fire up the legs and glutes, pulling in the abdominal muscles and holding the shoulder blades flat against your back to keep yourself upright.
- You can bring your palms together in front of your sternum if you have sufficient balance.
- Hold for five breaths.
- Repeat with the other leg.
- Butterfly pose
- Sit on your mat, keeping your back straight, your spine long and your abdominal muscles flexed. If you are struggling to keep your posture, sit on a folded blanket or foam block for more height and to open the hips.
- Bring your feet together in front of you so that the bottoms of your feet touch, and let your knees sink out to the side, forming a diamond shape in front of you.
- Try to bring your heels in as far towards you as you can while keeping a straight posture.
- Wrap your hands over the tops of your feet.
- Hold for 30 seconds, then bring your face down toward your feet, letting your back round gently.
- Try to keep your knees as close as possible to the floor.
- Take five slow breaths.
You can also do this pose lying on your back.
- Bird dog pose
- Start by kneeling on the mat on all fours (feel free to add more padding/a blanket under the knees if uncomfortable). Make sure your wrists are directly under your shoulders, your knees are directly under your hips, and that your spine is straight.
- Stretch one arm straight out in front of you, and stretch the opposite leg straight out behind you. Keep looking down with your neck in line with your spine.
- Move slowly, controlling each motion. Breathe out as you lift up and outwards, and breathe in as you bring your arm and leg back down.
- Repeat with the opposite side.
- Repeat both sides five times.
- Seated spinal twist
- Sit upright on your mat with your legs straight out in front of you.
- Bring your right knee up to your chest, and cross it over your left leg, so that your foot is flat on the floor next to the left thigh.
- Bend your left leg so that your heel comes to rest by your right glute. This will look a bit like a knot. Try to keep your hips square and rest your glutes on the floor. If you can’t, put a folded blanket under the lifted hip for some extra support.
- Reach your right arm behind you (don’t over stretch, just bring it to the floor), raise your left arm up and wrap it around your right knee, so you are holding it closer to your chest.
- Breath in, then exhale, turning toward the right. Keep your chin up and try to keep your shoulders square by pushing the left arm’s shoulder blade flat and away from your ears.
- Hold for between 30 seconds and one minute and come out slowly.
- Repeat with the other side.
All of these poses can be modified in a sitting position. You can find videos online that will show how to do this. Before you start any exercise program it’s important to consult with your doctor.
The Shores is part of the United Methodist Communities network, providing exceptional care and socialization opportunities for seniors in South Jersey. Please contact us to learn more about our community or visit our website at https://umcommunities.org/theshores/