Oct 4, 2022 – Paige E, a 76-year-old retired psychiatrist, has always enjoyed yoga, which she finds relaxing, energizing, and spiritually meaningful. As I got older and faced increasing physical challenges, I started taking yoga classes for seniors.
When the COVID-19 lockdown began, Paige was concerned that she might need to give up yoga classes. She knew she could train on her own but felt she needed the class structure and teacher support. So she decided to take online classes with Howard Katz, a yoga instructor in Teaneck, NJ, with whom she had taken in-person classes in the past.
At first, she was skeptical whether the online format would be helpful.
“I’m not a tech expert – in fact, I’m a tech dinosaur – and I’m afraid I won’t be able to manage technology or relate to a hypothetical,” she says.
She was also concerned that she had some brain challenges and wasn’t sure how it would affect her ability to participate in online learning.
“I don’t have classic dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, but I do have memory and regulatory issues that are associated with other health issues,” she says.
Fortunately, I was able to master the technology and benefit from the classroom.
possible and safe
Online yoga became part of the “new normal” during the COVID-19 pandemic, and its use has remained ever since. And while some people prefer personal settings, many continue to prefer the convenience, affordability, and other benefits of online yoga.
This also applies to classes aimed at older adults, including those with cognitive disabilities. recent study I found that remote home chair yoga was beneficial for seniors with dementia.
“The telehealth chair yoga intervention was found to be convenient for both participants and their caregivers in keeping them physically active, as it is easily accessible from home and does not require transportation or dressing, reducing caregiver burden and stress,” Kabir says. Researchers JuYoung Park, Ph.D., Professor in the Phyllis and Harvey Sandler School of Social Work in the College of Social Work and Criminal Justice at Florida Atlantic University.
She explains that older adults with dementia “can focus more effectively on chair yoga in a comfortable home environment rather than in a community center, with attendant distractions.”
Notably, there were no injuries or other adverse events during the intervention, “indicating that online chair yoga with caregiver support is safe.”
Park stresses that some people may have technological challenges accessing online sessions, so technical support should be provided if necessary. And, “Because the trainer cannot engage in direct action with the participant, it is recommended that the caregiver attend sessions with the person with dementia, monitor the participant for safety, and assist in correct postures.”
What is yoga for the elderly?
Katz educates seniors at senior centers and also offers group classes and private online and in-person classes for seniors through His own yoga studio.
“Elderly yoga is regular yoga available to seniors who may have age-related physical challenges,” Katz says.
“With seniors, I usually start with gentle warm-ups and then guide them through basic standing forward bends, gentle back bends, and warrior poses,” Katz says.
Props such as blocks, straps, and chairs are introduced, and poses are modified to accommodate the physical challenges of seniors.
“Some older people can’t sit on the floor because they find it difficult to get up, so I adjust the poses so they can sit on a chair. Some have difficulty balancing, so they hold on to a chair or a wall. In fact, half the poses in adult yoga classes, Katz notes. Sitting, while the other half is standing.
Katz yoga classes focus on breathing techniques. In particular, he likes to teach alternate nasal breathing (Shodhana Club), ocean sound (Ojai) and the breath of the bee (brahmari) It is calming for people with anxiety and stress and has other benefits too – like lowering blood pressure, for example.
All Katz classes include meditation, which, he says, can bring calm, peace and spiritual openness to people of all ages, and has also been shown to be beneficial in improving cognition and quality of life in older adults.
“I consider yoga postures and breathing as preparation for the most important component of yoga, which is meditation,” he explains.
Meeting the special needs of older adults with cognitive challenges
Katz offers in-person and online lessons for people with cognitive disabilities.
“The classes are very individualized, and all components are modified, depending on the student’s cognitive level and needs,” he says.
For example, he simplifies breathing techniques or positions and explains everything more slowly, repeating instructions and explanations as often as necessary.
Some individuals with mild cognitive impairment can take classes on their own. But those who have severe disabilities or suffer from dementia benefit from having a caregiver for safety and to enhance their yoga class, according to Katz.
“It also creates a bond and a joint activity for the caregiver and the student to practice yoga together,” he says.
Paige’s cognitive impairments are mild. She lives independently, does not require a caregiver, and successfully attends online classes with Katz, who is “patient and supportive when I don’t remember a few things,” she said. “He explains things very well, so I understand what each pose is designed to achieve, and he creates a safe atmosphere, so I never feel rushed or judged.”
Paige feels that yoga has helped her with her physical health, cognition, and mood.
“Yoga is a gift in my life, and I encourage other seniors to try it,” she says.