Yoga for Seniors--Introductory Instruction

N K Srinivasan (Iyengar) Ph.D.

INTRODUCTION Seniors, those above sixty years as I define the seniors,, can benefit a lot by yoga practice... As I enter the seventh decade of my life, I felt that I should write a few articles on practical yoga that could benefit seniors. Please note that all of us get into many health-related problems---serious or chronic or mild---which are difficult or expensive to treat ,if at all possible to treat them. Yoga practice can 'prevent' many illnesses

and can cure , at least to some level, many such problems. Yoga can confer longevity too....many yogis have lived long lives in a healthy way.To give two instances, B K S Iyengar is going strong at the age of 94 years and Pattabhi Jois lived upto 95 years; their teacher Tirumalai Krishnamacharya lived upto 102 years. [Indra Devi, another yoga master and also a student of Krishnamacharya lived upto 102 years.]Paramahansa madhavdasji lived upto 123 years. There are many such instances of yogis living for 90 years or more.

In this article , my aim is give general suggestions to practise yoga and

also to describe a few simple asanas, pranayam and a simple meditation that many seniors can perform easily and derive great benefits.May be , this article will inspire you to try and practise asanas in simple ways. One must practise regularly, however; the results will be slow for seniors; slow and steady wins the race...Do not expect miracles, but you will see benefits from almost day one ; your flexibility and strength will gradually improve; A young person in the twenties can see the benefits in about a week or so. Seniors may take weeks or months to get similar benefits.....Yoga practice is for life. A senior should not worry about the initial

condition of lack of mobility or flexibility or lack of strength to begin yoga....things will improve with practice. Note that many come to yoga for specific problems like joint pains [knee pain, back pain, neck and shoulder pain], arthritis, indigestion/constipation, lack of energy or strength, lack of balance...all these can be cured to a great extent by simple yoga practice, even if you are over sixty or seventy is never too late to start the yoga practice.For specific illnesses,however, consult a yoga therapist.

Disclaimer: The present article is for general information only.It is not meant for

. .The reader must follow his or her own discretion in following the practices suggested not strain yourself beyond 10 minutes unless you have been practicing yoga for a year or two and have excellent fitness. injury.medical counseling or for directions for curing any disease.The present author is not responsible for any illness. 2 It is better to practise in the mornings. General Instructions 1 I suggest that you practice only for 5 to 10 minutes every day in the first two weeks. pain or discomfort that may be caused by following the suggestions/instructions given in this article.

5 Practise yoga with partially empty stomach. bed-side pyjamas are the can also do yoga in the evenings at about sunset time. discuss with a yoga teacher your specific health problems and yoga practice. 3 Do yoga at the same time every day. Use of supports and props . 6 Clear the bladder and the bowels before starting a yoga session. 5 Have a medical check up before starting yoga practice . two hours must elapse after a heavy meal or one hour after light meals or breakfast. 4 Wear loose clothing. Follow the advice of a certified medical practitioner.

on certain poses. wall too.] The use of wall and wooden furniture are easy to get used to and require no additional equipment or expense at all. I will indicate a few of their uses.The use of supports and props to perform asanas were introduced by Yogacharya B K S Iyengar in the early 1950's. They are very useful for seniors to perform the yoga asanas [poses or postures] easily . make use of yoga bricks. [ Visit : www. safely and properly. chairs and . . " Chair Yoga" has become a popular method of yoga for seniors.sunlightchairyoga. There are several books that explain the use of supports. See the references at the end of this article.

Then swing the other leg.Simple warm -up movements You can do simple movements for warm-ups. 4 This may be difficult---but try.above the head. 1 Sit comfortably in a chair with feet planted on the floor.Repeat 5 to 10 times. 3 Stand with two feet closely by the side of a chair.Hold the back of the chair with one hand for support. Lift your arms to the sides. Keep one . 2 Raise the arms vertically . with forearms touching the ears. keeping horizontal.Remain for 30 seconds and lower slowly. Keep the other hand on the hip. Swing one of the legs freely like a pendululm.Remain for 30 seconds and then lower the arms.

Simple Asanas Begin each yoga session with Savasana ["corpse pose"] and end with savasana. take 3 to 5 minutes . Rotate 3 to 6 times .. Lie flat on the floor or on a mat spread on the floor. Relax your shoulder and neck first.You can rotate your arms slowly in a circle. Spread your legs in a V shape. Keep the arms at the sides with palms facing up.What is savasana? 1 Savasana --This is a relaxing pose.. Then repeat with the other arm.arm extended horizontally sideways.start relaxing various muscles starting with your feet.clockwise and then anti-clockwise.You can keep a soft pillow or towel under the head.

Follow your breath. For seniors.. it should be regular and soft.for this process. retention and exhalation.. Make sure that no one disturbs you [phone or door bell too] during this asana practice. the breath cycle has three phases: inhalation. The Breath Cycle In yoga..Focus on this practice. Initally you will stay for 3 to 5 minutes in Savasana. .. The simplest breath cycle is equal time for inhalation and exhalation. If you inhale for 3 seconds. Keep other thoughts out of your mind. I would not suggest retention of breath at can increase this duration to 15 minutes after a few weeks of practice. then exhale for 3 seconds.

[The breath cycle is written as follows: inhale : retain:exhale = 1: 2 : 4.that is . you should try to do this cycle: inhalation : exhalation is 1 : 2.[More CO2 emission from you!] Retention can be practised by students studying under a trained yoga teacher.] While doing the asanas described later. giving time to empty your lungs fully.for 6 seconds. This cycle is a healthy one. This means that if you inhale for 3 seconds. exhale slowly for twice the time . That is . you retain for 6 seconds and exhale for 12 seconds. inhale for 3 seconds.But in yoga practice. note that you exhale while your abdomen is pulled in and exhale while the abdomen is .

when you lift your back or bend forward. Inhale while straightening your body. Do not lift your heels . If you use a chair.distended.Or else. exhale. In many poses. make sure your legs are straight and your feet are firmly placed on the floor. You can be seated cross legged if you are comfortable. Seated poses You can first practise seated poses as they are less strenuous than standing poses. [You can also take the poses of Lotus {Padma asana] or easy pose [Sukhasana] instead of being cross legged while sitting on the . sit on a chair [preferably without arms ] comfortably.

.. Make sure that your elbows are straight and not bent.this is important. Your forearm should touch or press on your ears. 3 Dandasana and Eka-pada Uttana asana . as if your chest and torso are pulled upwards.floor. Breathe normally and slowly during this practice. Lift your hand upwards towards the ceiling. as explained above.[ You can clasp the hands with fingers twined... Repeat this four times.Keep the palms and fingers vertical ..] 2 Parvatta asana [hill pose] Sit cross legged or on a chair. Keep this position for 15 secs to 30 secs and then lower the hands.] Stretch the hand up.

Hold for 15 seconds or four breaths and lower the leg slowly.four left leg lift and four right leg lift. Repeat four times in each yoga session.This is also a seated pose. Slowly lift left leg to about 45 degrees from the floor or the chair opposite to you. keep another chair in front and place your legs and feet on the seat of chair opposite to you.. Sit comfortably on a chair or on the floor. You can bend your feet forwards and backwards four times. Repeat this with right leg. If you use a chair. thus working your ankles. without bending your knees... .Keep the two legs straight.

sit in the reverse position on the seat of the chair. repeat only twice in each session.that is .. In such cases.] 4 Ardha matseyandra asana or spinal twist Sit comfortably on a mat or chair.This is certaily a strenuous pose for many seniors.This uttana-asana can be strenuous and cause initially abdominal discomfort. your face .] This asana is mainly recommended for reducing the belly fat and trim the waist. [This asana may improve digestion and relieve constipation..Twist your shoulder and torso to the right side. [A variation is to lift both the legs at the same time and hold for a few seconds. If you use a chair.

Note that the shoulder should be horizontal or level with the floor and twist to either side. say 20 degrees.The right hand can be held horizontal. turn to the left side. Initially you will be able to twist only by a few degrees. Do the twist to the right side.This rod is twisted to the left or right side.But keep practising.towards the back rest of the holding the back of the chair with right hand and left hand lifted horizonatally. Twist four times on each side.You can hold the twisted position for about 5 seconds. Imagine your shoulder as a horizontal rod.Hold the back of the chair with left hand to help with this twist. parallel to the floor... . then .

Sit comfortably on a chair. Stretch the hands in front [horizontal to the floor].You must relax after this spinal twist for about 2 minutes. clasp the fingers tight. Sit close to the edge of the seat of the chair.into a V shape. Slowly bend forward in an .for the spinal vertebrae to be 'lubricated' properly by sinovial fluid. This is an excellent pose for releiving many back problems. keep the feet firmly on the floor . Keep the thighs widely separated . 5 Simplified [Laghu] padaghustana asana This is a forward bend pose done from a seated position---in a simplified manner.widely separated by 12 inches or more. Keep the back straight.

repeat four times. hold for 5 to 10 seconds. Initially your hands may be several inches above the floor.. Note that you should bend forward bending .effort to touch the floor with your hands/fingers.. After bending forward...but keep practising.after a week of practice.. Repeat twice only. then slowly lift the back up .

The back must be straight to the extent possible! [If you have a large belly or paunch. 1 Tadasana [mountain pose] This is perhaps the easiest pose to perform. You can place your palm on the wall for support in certain poses. your back should .. You may repeat this forward bend 8 times after about a month of practice. Standing poses Most of the standing poses are easily performed by standing close to a wall. Stand close to the wall.from the hip. this pose would gradually reduce this bulge..This helps to align your back and avoid any curvature in the back.Avoid curving the back.

. Keep the feet a few inches apart if you feel lack of balance. You can keep a marker or dot or picture opposite to your face. Relax.Repeat the pose on the wall. Focus on the firmness of your feet pressing on the Mother Earth.[DRISHTI is the sight position used in a yoga pose. Stay in this pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute. In this pose you look straight.Look straight in front . walk a few steps. but balancing on one foot. Keep the feet firm on the floor. not in V shape. Pay attention to this. The feet should be parallel . 2 Vrikshasana [Tree pose] This is also a standing pose . It can be done in two ways. 1 Stand close to a wall as in Tadasana.This helps in 'drishti' for this pose.

Lift your right hand above your head. The Dhristi is same as before--a dot or marker on the wall opposite to your face. Stand close to a chair and support yourself with holding the back of the chair with right hand.Lift left hand above your head and tuck the right leg behind.instead of tucking behind.Slowly lift left leg and tuck behind. Repeat with left leg tucked up. bending your knee.Relax. You are standing on the left leg only..Stay for 10 seconds or longer.repeat with your right leg tucked behind. by bending the knee. Relax.. You can also rest the leg on the thigh .. 2 The second method is simpler. You can also rest your leg on the opposite thigh..

Stand in this position for 20 to 30 seconds.. or penance.Such things are not recommended for modern persons!] .[Some advanced yogis used to stand in this tree pose for 20 to 30 minutes for intense 'tapas..instead of tucking up.

Here is a simplified or laghu .The Tree Pose [without support here!] 3 Simplified Trikonasana [Triangle pose] This is one of the important and essential poses.

Adjust the position of the chair .Slowly bend your body to the left side and try to place your palm on the seat of the chair.This is a sideways bending pose. Keep a chair at your left side at a distance of about a feet from your hips. It tones .if that is comfortable.variation that can be done with the support of chairs.keeping the chair to your right side.Stand with your feet apart by about 18 inches. During this pose. Stretch the hands at that sides so that your hands are held horizontal. Repeat the side bend twice. with palm downwards.Stay for 10 seconds and slowly come up. you can bend the knee. Do the same with right hand . This asana stretches your hamstring muscles and also reduces fat in the hips.closer to you .

Slowly bend forward from the hips and try to keep your palms over your knees . Stay for 5 to 10 seconds and slowly come up. Repeat upto four times. [This pose is the familiar stand basket ball players hold while getting the ball after a free throw. 4 Simple (Laghu) Forward bend Stand with your feet separated by 2 feet or 1 meter.] Supine Poses These are poses done while lying flat on the . Bring your hands in front. Keep your hand horizontal with palms downward.your hip bones/joint and sacro-iliac joint. Try to lower the palms down your leg.

. If this pose is strenuous. you can lift both the legs at the same time. But the leg should be straight. .] This was described earlier. keep a chair near your feet and lift the leg and place it on the edge of the chair. If you are strong enough.pada means foot.floor. Eka-pada uttana asana is indeed a supine pose that can be performed while lying down. They can be restorative poses which rejuvenate your leg at a time. Many of these poses work on your abdomen and improve digestion and clean the bowels.But this would place some strain on your abdomen. [Eka means one . Lift your leg to about 45 degrees from the floor..

1 Makarasana [Crocodile pose] This pose is a relaxing pose and an alternative to Savasana. Stay in this pose for 5 minutes or longer. You can keep your arms at the side or raise your arms over the head and keep on the floor or tuck your arms under the head as an improvised pillow for your head. 2 Baddha kona asan This is one of the most important asanas . This restful pose can be practised after doing tough poses. This pose is often suggested for relieving the lower back or lumbar pain. Lie flat on the mat with your face and chest touching the floor.

with several benefits. Some yogis claim that this can cure one of diabetes. the lifting of knees from the floor is acceptable! . The knees should be flat on the floor and should not lift up.. Stretch your legs first.. Then bend both the legs at the knee and bring the two palms of the feet together.In initial practice. You can press the two palms together.] Sit firmly on a mat on the floor.[ This is also called "Cobbler's pose' since cobblers in India sit on the floor and hold the leather pieces between their feet for stitching them .

.Baddha Konasana Stay in this pose for 1 to 5 should stay for longer times--say 15 minutes or longer. For major benefits .

Lie close to a wall. This is difficult and can be attempted after several months of practice. You can keep some towel or carpet below the buttocks for comfort. Lift both the legs and rest them on the wall at an angle of about 60 degrees.Your legs will appear like a ladder resting on the wall.You will look and feel younger after practising this pose.] 3 Leg-on-the wall pose This is a simplified form of the pose---"viparita karani" which has many excellent benefits and rejuvenates the body. Keep your hands at the sides with . This pose is very simple to perform.[A variation of this pose is to bend the back forward and the face should touch your feet.

If there is any discomfort or if you have eye problems such as glaucoma or retinal detachment or eye surgery of any kind. You must stay in this pose for 5 minutes initially. You may check your blood pressure after this asana.... discontinue this pose and discuss with your .ease. stay for 10 minutes..relax or meditate.After two weeks .stay for 15 minutes. If there is any increase in BP [systolic] . Leg on the wall pose has another great benefit: it can reduce varicose veins. do not do this pose. usually the BP will decrease. Breathe normally. After one week.

An easy way to do this pose is to keep a few blankets at the cenrre of the mat so that your mid-back [thoracic] will rest on this pile of blankets.The height of the blankets .doctor. . I have written a separate article on Viparita karaani in 4 Sethu bandana asana This is called 'bridge pose' [sethu-bridge bandana -construction] because you arch your back like a bridge.

If you have neck injury or had neck surgery. You can stretch your leg well.may be 6 inches. Your head will be at a lower level when you lie on the mat. Some yogis claim that this pose can cure asthma. with palms . This pose can reduce back pain of various kinds and can strengthen your spine. 5 Modified Fish Pose or Matsyasana Lie flat on the floor or mat. It would also improve your breathing process. Keep a thin blanket below your chest region. This pose expands your chest and is good for strengthening the lungs. Remain in this supine position for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Your back takes the pose of an arch of a bridge. Keep the hands at the sides close to hips. avoid this pose.

Then slowly lift the hands and bring thme back to original position by the side of your not strain yourself. Then rest the back of the hand on the floor. This pose will give a gentle stretch to your chest and rib cage and at the same time good bend to your middle back. . Slowly raise the hands. Gently take the hands back as far as possible. Remain for 20 to 30 seconds or 4 to 5 breaths.Look up straight at the ceiling and do not bend the neck backwards . bring them over head and above your head. This is a modified and simplified variation of 'Fish pose' which is difficult for many seniors.down on the floor.If you cannot touch the floor with your hands .

Then gently bend backwards. you can touch the wall at lower .at a distance of one foot from a wall.Repeat three to four times. with your back curving backward. A simple back bend is done as follows: Stand in tadasana [Mountain pose]. During the back bend. stretch your arms in front and slowly raise your arms above the head. You can try to touch the wall with your finger tips. you can bend your knees. Back bending poses These poses are considered to be strenuous and demanding poses. With practice. such that the arms are touching the ears. Yet they are so useful to energise the body. we should do at least simple ones.

This pose is like lying on a hospital bed. reclining with a few pillows. Increase the distance of your start position from the wall. Here is one more classic resotrative pose that is very easy to perform for seniors. Restorative Poses I have already described three restorative poses: 1 Savasana 2 Makarasana 3 Leg-on-the wall pose. 4 Supta Baddha Konasana 'Supta' means reclining. Keep a few blankets or soft .points. This will enable you to bend backwards to a greater degree and also touch the wall at a lower position.

. Remain in this position for 5 minutes to 15 .pillows below your back so that you can recline at 30 to 45 degrees slope from the floor.heart and abdomen... Bend your knees such that the palms of your feet are touching each other. But the legs are kept folded as in Baddha konasana described earlier. This pose is relaxing for your internal organs ---lungs.after a few weeks .. Close your eyes and you may use an eye pad or napkin to cover your eyes.Don't worry. Keep soft cushions or blocks below your knees to support. your legs will lie flat on the floor in this position. Initially your thighs and knees may not touch the floor or mat...

say after a day of hard work. Your pulse rate and BP will go down slowly during this practice. Neck and shoulder moves-"choo-choo" train . You can take this pose whenever you feel tired or tense.minutes. This is also good for relieving back pain.

This limbers up your elbow joints too. keep your hands bent at the elbow .Our neck and shoulder muscles are always in much stress. Make a rotation of the shoulder like children playing 'choo-choo train'. You need to relax them by gentle movements and massage.Turn your face gently to the left and right and also up and down a few times.rotating your hands in front. and stretched in front. It has three parts---inhalation. Pranayama This is breath-control or regulation. This gentle movement is a good exercise for your shoulders at any time. retention and exhalation. . For shoulder movement.

If you can take longer time to exhale. [Some can do retention under the guidance of an experienced yoga teacher. draw your abdomen in. Practice this breath cycle three times and then relax.For seniors. Practise this timing with your watch or clock. The mouth must be closed.that is good.. Repeat once again after a few .But do not force yourself to tuck in your abdomen.While exhaling . it is recommended that you do not practice retention or holding the breath.] The simplest and the best pranayam is to inhale slowly for about three seconds and exhale very very slowly for about 10 seconds. While inhaling you can distend your abdomen.

.You can do this two or three times in a day. With practice of asanas indicated earlier. Do not practise pranayam before asanas. Meditation This is a vast subject and I can give only some indications in this article. then I do not wish to suggest anything more.simple chant that you know. Avoid overdoing this breathing pattern. Start your meditation with a short ..minutes.any peace chant will do. .. If you are already following some form of meditational practice. pranayam will be an easy step is a simple one. First do asanas and then only pranayam. If you are new to meditation .

Focus on your breath and do not think on any other topic or issue. Close your eyes...Breath-watch Sit comfortably. the jaw bones and the neck and shoulders fully relaxed.keep the face . Say "Namaste" [Visualization: some prefer to mentally visualize a serene or pleasant scene---say sunset at the beach or a mountain scene during meditation.. Gently open your eyes.] . Continue with breath-watch for three minutes to five minutes.Do not count your breaths or control the breath. take three deep breaths and relax.Focus your mind on your nostrils. Gently watch your breath going in and out of your nostrils.

Weight readings should be carefully analysed. 1 Measure height and weight once a month and keep a record. 2 Measure BP and pulse rate 10 minutes after a yoga session and keep a record.Record keeping I would suggest that you keep a record of certain measurements you can do. Note that your height might show a slight increase due to stretching of vertebrae and removal of curvature in the back. 3 You can measure flexibility by measuring the angle of bend of your knees or hips and keep a record.. Initially there could be a drop in weight due to removal of fat. You can take the help of your friend to make the measurements.After the .

Note that the yoga poses would remove lot of belly fat. fat in the thighs and buttocks in about a month or two of practice. at least for 10 minutes. Closing Comments 1 Practise yoga daily. as many modern yoga teachers may suggest. there could be a slight increase in weight. These are very important asanas===shoulder stand is called the "Queen of Asanas" while . 3 Please do not perform shoulder stand [Sarvanga asana ] and head stand [ sirsasana] without a yoga teacher near you. [It is not sufficient to practise only for two or three times a week .muscles grow well.] 2 The vegetarian or vegan diet is highly recommended for all serious yoga students.

4 Dietary regulations for seniors: A. Two great enemies for your health and longevity are excess sugar and excess salt. our body is able to expend or excrete large amounts of sugar and salt. Have a light meal at night. When we are young. it should be half the quantity of that of lunch .head stand is called the "King of asanas". B. But these are considerably risky for senior persons and should not be done if one has high blood pressure or eye problems like glaucoma and retinal detachment . . Take the night meal at least two hours before the bed time.Instead perform the simple "leg on the wall" pose . It is better to avoid these poses. due to greater activity.

our movements are less and we hardly work outside to sweat. the skin serves as the means to get rid of lot of toxins. Ancient gurus in India advocated bath three or four times a day. But not so after we age. Take bath at least once . D. helps to give rest to your intestines. Take plenty of fruits and vegetables .Salt is eliminated largely through sweating . Fasting . C. E. preferably twice a day. and cut down on rice and white flour items like white bread. But opinions vary a lot on observing fasting. Sugar and salt climb to excess levels in the body. Keep your skin healthy. . at least once a week skipping meals.

3 Take a brief rest for 30 seconds or one minute after doing any asana. 4 Yoga can be done just for a few minutes every day-- that would be quite sufficient in the beginning. 2 Use props with seriousness---- props can be chairs. wall. Best Wishes!! -------------------------------------Contact: nksrinivasan@hotmail.This way even very weak persons can finish doing several asanas.Easy does it--the Yoga 1 Whatever may be your present condition of strength and flexibility. you can start yoga with simple poses and slowly work towards your goals. brick and . bolster.

2006 5 Silva Mehta et al-- Yoga. 199. NY. New York .1977 [ a small encyclopedia on yoga and a practical . NY. 1995 2 Suza Francina-- The New yoga for healthy aging--Health communications.References 1 Lasater. Judith-- Relax and renew--Rodmell Press. Peggy---Yoga for all of us--St Martin Press.NY . 6 James Hewitt --The complete Yoga book --Schoken Books . Florida.Deerfield beach. 2008 4 Loren Fishman --- Yoga for Osteoporosis Norton & co 4 Cappy. 2007 3 Loren Fishman --Yoga for Arthritis--W W Norton & co. the Iyengar way.Knopf. 2 Web sites of Lakshmi Voelker and Liz Franklin among others.reference book] 7 William Zorn -- Easy yoga exercises. 3 Web site of 'Yoga Journal". Sphere books . Web references: 1 www.London. ------------------------------------------- .

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