Yoga addresses many of the physical and psychological health issues that affect older adults and their caregivers. It improves flexibility, balance, mobility and muscle strength and is prized for its ability to enhance feelings of well-being. It can even promote a better connection between mental and dental health, both of which have been shown to affect one another. If, for example, depression occurs, so can gum disease, tooth decay, pain, and jaw tension.
While yoga is an ideal form of exercise for seniors and caregivers to do together, it’s important to know how to begin and to stay within your physical capabilities, especially if you’re a beginner.
Finding an Instructor
There are different levels of yoga intensity, ranging from “gentle” to “hot,” and you need to find a class with a low level of intensity that will help you ease slowly into the discipline. It’s also important to find an instructor who has experience working with seniors and can adapt the yoga routines they teach to the needs of older students. This can take some time and research because many yoga teachers aren’t trained to work with older adults. A teacher should be attentive during class and pay attention to their students on an individual basis. Keep in mind that the cost of yoga classes can vary greatly; while some instructors charge between $12 and $16 per class, those prices can quickly jump to between $90 and $130 for package deals. For seniors who have enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, your policy may cover the cost of your session; check out online resources to see if your coverage qualifies.
Before you begin, talk to instructors about their approach and to get an idea of how comfortable they are working with senior students. It’s essential that your instructor thoroughly understands any special physical restrictions you’re under so you get the most out of the experience and, of course, avoid discomfort (yoga should never hurt) or injury.
Space to Practice
Yoga is a relaxing, healing mental/physical discipline, but like anything else, it requires practice and time to learn the poses. Set aside some space at home so you can stretch out and practice in comfort. Having your own space increases the likelihood that you’ll stick with the program and derive the many benefits yoga has to offer. Depending on your living space, it may be necessary to create space by relocating large items such as furniture and large boxes to a storage space. Not only will it open space for you to devote to yoga, but it’ll also help declutter your home.
The Right Start
There’s very little to be gained from joining a class that’s too advanced or too strenuous for a beginner. You may feel that you’re able to skip ahead and get a good head start, but remember that yoga is a deliberate, gradual discipline that’s about patience, not competition. Do yourself a favor and start out with a beginner’s class alongside students, preferably of your own age group, with whom you can learn and progress at the same speed.
Older adults, especially those who lack flexibility and have been inactive for a long time, should seek out a gentle yoga class, or perhaps a chair yoga class, which allows you to remain seated while learning the positions that will gradually improve your flexibility and muscle strength. There’s also great value in seniors and their caregivers learning together at the same pace for mutual support and encouragement.
A Workout and More
Anyone who’s ever witnessed someone executing an advanced yoga posture knows that there is a very physical aspect to this holistic system. This is why it’s important to talk to a doctor who’s familiar with your health history and current condition. Trying to perform certain movements can cause injury — especially in the beginning — before you’ve built the muscle strength that will support your bones and joints. Talk to your doctor about starting yoga and what you hope to get out of it. She’ll be able to provide insights and advice that can help get you off to a good start.
With patience and optimism, you and your caregiver can attain more robust physical health and achieve the state of relaxation that rewards yoga students. Caregivers will benefit from less stress and may find that the benefits of yoga make caring for their loved one easier and more fulfilling.
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