9 easy beginner’s yoga stretches for seniors
Yoga’s quality-of-life benefits are ageless.
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Yoga for seniors may not initially mesh with our mental images of hip youngsters stretching in tight pants, but just because a fitness activity is marketed toward a certain group, that doesn’t mean its importance should be ignored. Yoga is for everyone; you just have to take the time to find the style of yoga best suited for your fitness level and needs.
The wonderful thing about yoga is that its poses (or asanas) can be modified to suit any fitness level, body type, or age, making it accessible to anyone and everyone—even folks with limited mobility, chronic pain, injuries, or other health issues. For those new to the practice, it may be best to begin with some very basic yoga poses. Once you build up your strength, stamina, and balance, you can move on to more challenging poses.
To help you get started, we’ve pulled together a quick guide to nine easy yoga stretches for seniors. Beyond a brief explanation of how to perform each asana, we’ve also included some tips for modifications where applicable.
1. Mountain pose
The mountain pose is one of the most basic standing poses in yoga, and while it may look like you’re just standing tall, it’s actually harder to perform than it appears. Practiced regularly, this pose can help improve posture and balance.
To do the mountain pose:
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, parallel to each other, and arms at your side.
- Press your toes into the floor, and distribute the weight of your body evenly on both feet.
- While squeezing your thighs and engaging your leg muscles, stand tall, keeping your body perfectly aligned.
- Inhale deeply while lengthening your spine. Imagine the top of your head stretching toward the sky.
- On the exhale, relax your shoulders and think about stretching your fingertips towards the ground.
2. Tree pose
The tree pose is one of the most recognizable poses in yoga. While this pose helps improve balance and build lower body strength, it’s also a great way for older adults to begin and end daily yoga sessions.
To do the tree pose:
- Start by standing firmly in place with your weight equally distributed on each foot.
- Slowly shift your weight into your right foot, lifting your left foot off the floor (be sure to keep your right leg straight and do not lock your knee).
- Bend your left leg and bring the sole of your left foot to the inside of your right leg, taking care not to rest your sole directly on your right knee.
- Hold the tree pose for 20 to 30 seconds, if possible.
- Repeat the steps with your right leg.
Modification: Lift your left foot only a few inches from the ground and rest it on your right ankle; keep your left toes on the floor (like a little kickstand). You can also do the tree pose and use a yoga chair for balance.
3. Warrior I pose
While the warrior I pose can help improve balance and stability, it’s also a great option for stretching the hamstrings and hips, and improving leg strength and flexibility.
To do the warrior I pose:
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and arms at your sides.
- Step your right foot forward about 4-5 feet.
- Keeping your foot parallel and toes pointing to the top of the mat, bend your right knee into a lunge.
- Keep your left leg extended straight behind you and pivot your left heel at a 45-degree angle.
- Raise both arms straight above your head, keeping your shoulders pressed down.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together and downward, and lift your gaze to your hands overhead.
- Hold your pose for 5-10 seconds.
- Repeat the process on the opposite side.
Modification: If stretching up isn’t in your range of motion, you can modify how high you stretch your arms. If you feel unbalanced, keep your hands on your hips until you feel more stable in the pose.
4. Downward dog
One of the most instantly recognizable poses in yoga, downward dog, looks just as it sounds: like a dog taking in a nice, deep stretch. This pose opens the chest and gives your calves, hamstrings, and lower back a good stretch.
To do the downward dog pose:
- Begin the downward dog on all fours with knees hip-width apart.
- Be sure to spread your palms wide, keep your shoulders directly over your wrists, and curl your toes under.
- Slowly walk your palms out in front of your shoulders, and keep them flat.
- Raise your knees off the yoga mat and shift your stomach toward your thighs.
- Move into downward dog by lifting your hips up high and straightening your legs out behind you. (Be sure to maintain a slight bend and don’t lock your legs.)
- Hold the pose for 5-10 breaths, and release onto the knees to come out of it.
Modification: Keep a deeper bend in your knees until your flexibility improves and you can straighten your legs further. You can also modify this pose by keeping your forearms on the ground.
5. Triangle pose
The triangle pose is another pose that, while it helps with balance and stability, also provides a nice, deep stretch for your hamstrings, groin, and hips.
To do the triangle pose:
- Begin by standing in place and lightly jump your feet out (about three to four feet apart).
- Turn your left foot out and turn to face that direction.
- Bend your left leg slightly and raise your arms out on your sides, forming a “T” shape.
- Straighten your left leg, then stretch your torso over your left leg as you push your hips back. Rotate your left palm, so it faces the ceiling, and gaze out over your left arm.
- Doing your best to maintain a long, straight spine, bend and reach your left hand to the mat, placing it in front of your left foot, and gaze up toward your right arm. (If you feel like you’re teetering, shorten your stance by bringing your back leg in.)
- Hold the triangle pose for 5-10 seconds (if possible).
- Repeat the process on the opposite side.
Modification: If your hips feel too tight in the Triangle Pose, try placing a yoga block behind your front leg and rest your bottom hand on top of the block instead of the floor. You can also do the triangle pose from a seated position or brace your back against a wall for more stability.
6. Child’s pose
Often used as a resting position, the child's pose is also great for stretching the spine, hips, and lower back. Moreover, yoga instructors find that the child’s pose is also a good way to relax, relieve tension, and potentially lower blood pressure.
To do the child’s pose:
- Begin by kneeling on the floor with your knees hip-width apart, toes together, and palms resting on the top of your thigh.
- Exhale and lower your torso between your knees.
- Relax your shoulders toward the ground, and stretch your arms up over your head, with your palms facing down.
- Sit and rest in the child’s pose for as long as needed.
Modification: If you’re having trouble getting your buttocks to reach your heels, place a rolled-up yoga blanket between your thighs and calves.
7. Warrior II pose
The Warrior II pose also improves hip flexibility and strengthens the quadriceps.
To do the warrior II pose:
- Stand with your feet apart.
- Extend your arms straight out from your sides, relaxing your shoulders away from your ears.
- Turn your left foot out 90 degrees, and bend your knee into a lunge, making sure you keep your knee above your ankle.
- Turn your head to the left, extending your gaze over your fingers.
- Repeat the process on the opposite side.
8. Cobra pose
Often used for warming up, the cobra pose also strengthens the legs, arms, and upper back.
To do the cobra pose:
- Lie on your stomach and place your palms on the floor next to your chest, with elbows bent and pulled in at your sides.
- Pressing into your palms, inhale and lift your chest as far as you can. Your pubic bone should be resting on the ground.
- Slowly release while keeping your elbows tucked in.
- Hold the stretch for 5-10 seconds.
Modification: If you feel any pain in your wrist while doing the cobra pose, try the move with your elbows and forearms on the ground and palms facing down to avoid straining your wrists.
9. Plank pose
The plank is another ubiquitous yoga pose that improves upper body strength and strengthens your core.
To do a plank:
- Start off on all fours; your hands should be shoulder-width apart and your knees hip-width apart.
- Rising onto the balls of your feet, straighten your legs out behind you.
- Keep your shoulders aligned over your hands and your arms straight, but not locked.
- Ultimately, your body should form a straight diagonal line from shoulder to toe.
Modification: If a full plank is too difficult, you can keep your knees on the ground until you’ve built up some upper body strength. Those with weak wrists can start out in full plank position and lower down onto their forearms.
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