Beth’s parents were both extremely active senior citizens, involved with their church, volunteering, traveling, and spending many hours of quality time with their grandchildren. Then when Beth’s dad suddenly passed away, her mom just stopped doing everything that had brought them joy. As she naturally processed her grief, she became more depressed and despondent. Anxiety also crept in as she began to wonder about her own health as well as how to face each day without her husband.
Meanwhile, Kevin’s parents don’t seem to have lifted a finger to do anything since they both retired 20 years ago. Stepping into their musty, stifling house was like going back to a time before WiFi and coffee shops on every corner. Neither one has health problems, yet they both had defined their lives through their work for so long that they had apparently forgotten how to be active and really live.
How could all of these still-valuable (and viable) senior citizens reactivate their bodies and reconfigure their minds without doing anything too strenuous, maybe even in the privacy of their own homes? Yoga and meditation might be their answer.
What Yoga and Meditation Can Do
While the benefits of exercise for senior citizens are clear (maintain or lose weight, reduce effects of chronic illnesses, improve flexibility and balance, among many others), the added benefits of yoga, according to Dr. Timothy McCall, include improving bone health, increasing blood flow, lowering blood sugar, improving balance, and so much more. In addition to yoga, meditation can control anxiety, improve sleep, lengthen attention span, and essentially form new neural pathways that can “rewire” the mind. And what’s best, both of these can be done in the comfort of the home.
But while the benefits are clear, working with senior citizens to actually start them on a program of yoga and meditation can be challenging, both physically and in their attitudes toward trying something new that will benefit them.
Physical Challenges of Senior Yoga
Just like beginning any exercise program, it’s always best to have the seniors you care for check with their doctor before starting yoga. There might be some yoga twists and poses to avoid or modify if the senior has injuries, arthritis, or is unable to move a certain way. A gentle form of yoga might be best to start with. It mostly focuses on stretching and keeping the mind focused, which is great for beginners. In addition, just adding some stretching exercises by themselves can help keep a senior’s body flexible.
But for those seniors who are up for a challenge, there are numerous styles of yoga that offer a faster pace and more advanced poses. Still, seniors and their caregivers should always be cautious when embarking on any type of yoga. Carol Krucoff states in The Washington Post that there has been an increase in injuries among older folks doing yoga. Her advice is as “yogic” as the practice itself: start where you are, not where you want to be.
Meditation as Medication?
Either combined with yoga or performed on its own, meditation (or “mindfulness”) helps the mind develop new neural pathways that can help calm anxiety, increase positive emotions, and so much more. Plus, no special clothes are needed. Seniors can do this anywhere and anytime. While the benefits of meditation can clearly be for anybody, for seniors, it specifically can improve memory, develop a focused mind, enhance mood and digestion, and even slow the progression of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Be sure that the senior knows to meditate while sitting in an upright position while taking long, deep breaths. Trying to meditate while lying down might lead to a nap.
Both Beth’s and Kevin’s parents can clearly benefit from a program of yoga and meditation. In both instances, it will get them to focus on improving their minds in their twilight years and get them to move their bodies without a lot of strain. Overall, yoga and meditation provide the same benefits for seniors that they do for everybody else. For our seniors, though, they can enhance lives that have already been lived long and well.