03 Mar Yoga for Healthy Aging – Body, Mind and Mood
Are you interested in better balance, improved reaction time, sound memory, and emotional calmness? Through body-mind practices such as yoga, we strengthen all of these aspects of a healthy aging brain.
The physical practice of yoga, known as asana, helps strengthen muscles that are weak (remember, we lose muscle mass as we age so we have to use it or lose it!) and improves flexibility. Even more powerful is how we practice yoga postures. Combining the flow of the breath with movement strengthens the connection between the body and mind, trains attention and improves mental focus, all of these key to better balance.
Yoga “lights up” the brain. Studies done at UW-Madison on meditating monks provided some of the initial evidence that these ancient practices activate and change the brain. There is a lot of interest in the research community about how yoga may improve cognitive functions in seniors such as improving reaction time and short-term memory. In my experience with teaching seniors, some of the most helpful aspects of yoga include adaptations of the physical practice and breathing techniques to utilize the right and left hemispheres of the brain, use of sound to train memory, and breathing and meditative practices to promote mental focus.
Emotional intelligence and calmness tend to improve with age. We can stabilize mood and lift spirits with yoga. A variety of yoga techniques typically provide the best results for improving mood, including yoga postures combined with breath adaptation, seated breathing practices, sound, and meditation.
One of the most powerful practices for mood is what is called “right association or relationship”. This includes the people you associate with, the activities you engage in and how you live the values that are most important to you.
While many people often come to yoga initially for the exercise, they often leave with a stronger body-mind connection, better balance, a “sharper” brain and improved mood. Yoga is a powerful practice for healthy aging!
Mid-Day Yoga Break – Engage Your Brain
Urdhva Prasarita Padasana Adaptation in a Chair
Sit in a chair forward of the back of the chair. Rest hands on your thighs. Take a few deep breaths, cultivating a smooth flow to your inhalation and exhalation.
As you inhale, move your left arm/hand forward and up and spread your fingers on the left hand as you simultaneously straighten your right leg and press through the right heel and spread the toes on the right foot. On exhale, slowly lower the left hand/arm and right leg/foot.
On your next inhale, do the opposite side – right arm/hand and left leg/foot. Exhale and lower slowly back to the starting position.
Continue to do this for 5 more rounds (10 breaths total). Rest and take a few more minutes to breath smoothly and deeply, making your inhale and exhale equal in length.