You may think of yoga as a way to relax, but yoga boasts physical benefits that promote fall prevention, too. The slow, measured movements and strengthening poses can help seniors achieve better balance to prevent falls as they age. Falls are the leading cause of injury among older adults; 1 in 3 adults over age 65 experience a fall every year, and many fall repeatedly. These five yoga poses practiced for five minutes a day, five days a week, can help a loved one improve balance and prevent falls.
Remind loved ones to breathe as they steady themselves, inhaling through the nose and into the ribs without letting tension into the neck and shoulders. On exhale, gently pull the belly button in toward the spine. Keep a chair nearby in case your loved one needs to hold on throughout the movements. Start from a Mountain Pose position by placing the arms at the side, palms out. Bring legs together, or hip-width apart, and ground feet into the floor. Gently tighten the muscles in the thighs. This is the foundational posture for the movements that follow.
Poses in this slideshow are demonstrated by Patricia Staszak, physical therapist and owner of Andersonville Physical Therapy in Chicago.
Movement 1: Downward Dog
Downward Dog involves a fold at the hips with hands and feet placed on the floor, forming an inverted V-shape with the body. If your loved ones don’t have the flexibility to put their hands on the floor, they may place their hands on a chair instead. Fold forward at the hips, elongating the spine. The head should follow the spine, and the back should remain flat. Bend at the knees and/or lift the heels if necessary. Slide shoulder blades down the back and rotate arms outward, so the creases of the elbows face forward. Have them hold the pose for 30 to 45 seconds, and then return to standing.
Movement 2: Crescent Lunge
The Crescent Lunge involves a lunge forward with one foot, bending at the knee and holding the arms in the air or at the sides. Crescent Lunge is an excellent pose for balance because the base of support is long and narrow.
Give the following directions: Stand with feet hip-width apart. Step backward and place one heel back against the wall and the ball of the foot on the ground to stretch the foot and keep it stable. Bend the front knee to move into a lunge position, making sure the knee doesn’t extend past the toes. Keep the back leg as straight as possible. If necessary, practitioners may drop the back knee to the floor or hold onto a chair. Place the hands on the hips. Pull the belly button in toward the spine to keep the core stable. After 30 to 45 seconds in the pose, without moving the upper body, suggest they carefully step forward with the back foot to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
Movement 3: Chair Pose
Chair Pose involves bending the knees and hips and lowering as though about to sit down in a chair. By using the thigh muscles to hold that position without the support of a chair underneath, seniors can gain strength and challenge stability.
Your loved ones will start by standing with their back against a wall, with feet hip-width apart and about a foot from the wall. Place a small ball or a rolled up towel between their knees to stabilize the legs, and then they will put their arms up into the air or down at their sides. Next, they will slide their back down the wall and sit into the pose as though sitting down into a chair, gently lifting the pelvic floor, pulling the belly button in toward the spine and gently squeezing the ball between the knees.
Movement 5: Tree Pose
Tree Pose involves standing on one leg and using stabilizing muscles to improve balance and alignment.
Guide them back to Mountain Pose (see the first slide for a reminder). From there, have them place one hand on a nearby chair for stability, if needed. Talk them through the following: Gently lift up the pelvic floor and pull the belly button in toward the spine. Then slowly lift one foot off the floor and try to bring it to your opposite inner shin. Ground the bottom foot on the floor and gently press the opposite foot to the shin. They can hold the pose for 30 to 45 seconds before returning to standing. For a challenge, they can try bringing the foot higher, up toward the thigh—making sure the foot is not resting against the knee. If they are wobbly, instruct them to lower the leg so the ball of the foot is touching the floor and the heel is pressing against the inner shin. They can continue holding the chair if needed.