Living Gracefully Through the Years
Yoga can be done sitting in a chair or using a chair for support if standing is a challenge, as Katie demonstrates with this seated energizing stretch.
How would you like to live and age with grace and ease?
Let’s face it — we are all aging, whether we like it or not, whether we realize it or not. Our lives and our life’s journey is ever changing, evolving, and transitioning us forward day by day, month by month, year by year and decade by decade. As a matter of fact, we have already transitioned through several stages of our lives: from infancy to childhood, from childhood to adolescence, and now through the stages of adulthood that span many decades. We may not have control over time, but we do have control about how we move through that time, how we live, and how we age.
Over time we may get stiff and achy. One remedy is to keep moving and to keep our joints lubricated and flexible. Gentle yoga stretching is a great way to gain or maintain range of motion and sooth aching backs and joints.
Over time, we may worry or get overwhelmed with our future, our health, our families, etc. Meditation and calming breathing techniques can help with keeping us grounded and in the present moment.
Over time, we may sometimes lose coordination, balance or focus and concentration. Working the brain by using the body helps to keep both hemispheres of the brain working together and can help balance the mind and the body, improving focus and concentration at the same time as improving physical balance.
Taking action empowers you! It allows you to take an active role in how you age. What you do today can have a direct impact on your aging experience and practice 15-20 years from now. Try these very simple and easy tips that you can do now to help in your healthy aging experience.
A little bit of yoga plus a little bit of meditation equals a lot of stress reduction (yoga + meditation = stress reduction) and can lead you on a path of enjoyment and embracing your life’s journey. Some even call it the new “fountain of youth.”
Seniors Safely Practicing Yoga
Yoga often brings up images of a young slender body in a position that some people cannot imagine doing at their age, given their physical abilities or limitations. Many people say, “I am not flexible,” or “I cannot twist myself into a pretzel.” These thoughts, beliefs and images keep people away from yoga, however yoga can be done safely and with adaptations for all ages and all bodies! If you can breathe, you can do yoga!
Yoga helps to reduce stress and blood pressure, improves range of motion, strengthens muscle tone and lengthens and decompresses the spine. Are you concerned about your balance, posture, focus, or concentration? Do you have arthritis, osteoporosis, insomnia, depression, anxiety? Yoga helps with those too! Yoga can be done sitting in a chair or using a chair for support if getting down on the floor or standing is a challenge.
To begin practicing yoga, find a local beginner class in a yoga studio or a senior center or community program. You can even rent, borrow, or buy a DVD. There are many adaptive yoga styles using a chair or other props that can help someone achieve the benefits of a particular pose. Never force yourself or stretch or hold any longer than you are able. Always stop if you experience any pain. Your body has an innate wisdom and will instruct you on what your limitations are, as well as your abilities. Keep practicing and don’t get discouraged; over time, you will see and feel the rewards of your determination.
Seniors Practicing Meditation
Meditation is a practice to calm the mind, relieve worry and decrease stress. Ongoing, long term stress can have serious consequences for our minds and bodies. Our stress reaction raises blood pressure and stress hormones that can lead to illness and premature aging. Meditation is simple to learn and can have life changing effects on the brain and your entire life. Meditation can actually improve your overall mood and sense of well-being immediately and over time.
Try these two simple tips to relieve stress and create peace, calm and acceptance in your life.
1) THE CALMING BREATH
Exhale and blow out all of your tension, worries, troubles. Allow the inhale to be passive and exhale as though you are blowing out a birthday candle. Imagine that the breath is taking everything that you want to release with it. Now inhale. Imagine your next inhale bringing you fresh, clean, clear oxygen. Slow down your breath and imagine breathing in peace, breathing out stress. Breathing in calm, breathing out worries. See if you can increase the length of your inhales and the length of your exhales, slowing down your breathing.
2) CENTERING IMAGERY
Become mindful of your breathing and your body. Imagine anchoring your mind to your breath. Your breath becomes the anchor to the mind. Imagine a boat on the surface of the water being tossed around by the wind or current. If you drop anchor, the boat stays where you want it and doesn’t drift away. Imagine your mind is the boat and your breath in the anchor. Your breath can keep the mind centered and focused on the breath, mindfully breathing in and breathing out.
The Mind-Body Connection
Since the mind and the body are connected, it is beneficial to work both the mind and the body at the same time. The right side of the brain controls the left side of the body, and the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body. You can learn to improve balance and coordination by crossing the midline of the body or making figure 8’s with your arms and legs. Try this by touching the left knee with the right hand and lifting both a few inches. Then touch the right knee with the left hand and lift a few inches (like a marching action). This stimulates and helps balance both sides of the body and the brain. To improve balance: Stand near a chair, counter, table, wall or other support. Try lifting one foot off the floor for a minimum of 10 seconds (even if you have to hold on). This strengthens the standing leg and over time improves your balance. Slowly work your way up to 20, 30 or 40 seconds or more. Switch and try lifting the other foot off the floor.
To improve range of motion: Gently rotate and stretch the following joints: neck, shoulders, wrists, finger knuckles, hips, knees, ankles and toes. Move the spine forward and back, side to side and twist to each side. Keeping the spine strong and flexible along with improving range of motion will give you improved mobility.
Maintaining or re-gaining strength for independence: Sit to stand. Sitting on a firm chair (not a sofa or recliner), stand up without pushing off of the chair or your legs with your arms. (I like to touch my opposite elbows or shoulders with my hands while doing this, just to make sure). Repeat this as many times as you can in a 30-second period, counting how many times you were able to stand and then sit back down.
This exercise strengthens your core, abdominals and quadriceps and is an indicator of a person’s ability to successfully live independently. It has also been dubbed by some the longevity test. Don’t despair if this is difficult for you now; with time and practice, you will progress and enjoy the confidence that building strength and independence gives to you.
Happiness: The Attitude of Gratitude
How we perceive our present situation has a lot to do with our state of happiness and emotional well-being. Some people can be very easy going, grateful, positive and accepting. Other people tend to be negative, complain, and find faults with everything around them. It seems that the aging process often brings these more negative situations to the forefront, however, I am asking you to do a little experiment.
Keep a gratitude journal. Write down at least one thing you are grateful for every day. Re-frame negative thoughts or look for the silver lining. Every situation has two sides, just like a coin. Can you flip the coin and see the positive? If it’s a rainy gray day, instead of complaining, imagine the trees, flowers, and grass enjoying the water that they need to grow and thrive. Compliment someone or something every day. Smile as often as possible, even in the mirror at yourself. Smiling tells your brain that you are happy and healthy and can help your outlook and mood.
Life is a journey. We are all here to experience the ups and downs, the twists and turns, and the trials and tribulations of wisdom through experiences. Embracing the aging process as part of life can be empowering and rewarding. Breathe into each moment with intention and presence and celebrate your aging with grace and ease!
Katie Cohen, LCSW, RYT, is passionate about living and aging gracefully through the years with joy, well-being and peace of mind. She is the owner of Centered Seniors. Visit www.centeredseniors.com.