by Guest Blogger Harry Cline
Despite what you might believe, yoga’s growing popularity isn’t limited to the young. Older adults are increasingly turning to yoga and meditation to find relief from stress and pain and restore physical function. Yoga and meditation have proven especially valuable for family caregivers, who face physical and mental health challenges that far exceed the norm.
The Challenges of Caregiving
Health problems are often common among family caregivers. Informal caregivers frequently neglect their own health while caring for a loved one and face high levels of stress in their caregiving duties. Heightened stress is manageable in short spurts, but many caregivers stay in that role for several years. Self-neglect isn’t sustainable in the long-term, and mental and physical health problems frequently emerge. Statistics from the Family Caregiver Alliance show just how serious the caregiver health crisis is.
Caregiving is difficult for the person receiving care as well. Losing independence is painful, and many seniors struggle to cope with the change. This leads to depression, anxiety, and apathy in many chronically ill and disabled seniors. On top of the emotional strain, care recipients must cope with the physical symptoms of health conditions.
Why Yoga and Meditation?
Yoga and meditation are highly effective at relieving stress and require minimal resources to practice. This makes them ideal for seniors and caregivers facing high levels of mental strain but lacking a lot of money or time to spend. Individuals who practice yoga and meditation not only feel calmer while on the mat, but they also learn important coping mechanisms. Yoga also improves physical symptoms. Yoga builds strength, flexibility, and balance, and alleviates chronic pain. Yoga is especially beneficial for back pain and arthritis, Harvard Health reports.
Yoga and meditation have less obvious benefits too, especially for elderly practitioners. Yoga and meditation aid in the release of muscle tension, easing problems like teeth grinding and jaw clenching. This is important for older adults, who are more prone to pain and dysfunction in the temporomandibular joint. By relieving symptoms of stress and depression, yoga and meditation improve seniors’ executive function so they stay on top of self-care habits like dental hygiene.
Yoga and meditation benefit gut health as well. Researchers are still learning how gut health influences the body, but what they do know is this: Gut health affects more than digestion, influencing body systems as distant as the brain. On top of eating a healthy diet, regular exercise and stress management are some of the best ways to improve gut health — and a happy gut, in turn, promotes a sound mind.
Yoga and Meditation Tips for Beginners
Despite the many benefits, yoga and meditation are frequently absent from self-care routines. Caregivers and seniors may believe yoga and meditation are too difficult or simply be unfamiliar with the practice. However, these obstacles are easily overcome. These tips will help new practitioners get started in yoga and meditation.
- Find a quiet place to practice. Yoga and meditation don’t require a lot of space to practice, but they do call for a distraction-free environment. Designate a room or corner for yoga, clearing out clutter and decorating with dim lighting, media for music and instructional videos, and yoga equipment.
- Make it a daily practice. A few minutes of yoga or meditation set a positive tone for each day. Consistency is also the best way to form a habit.
- Use props and adaptations. Balance and alignment are more important than completing a pose exactly as its shown in videos and books. Props and adaptive styles like chair yoga allow beginners and people with physical limitations to gradually increase their range of motion and avoid injury.
- Remember to breathe. Breath control is central to both yoga and meditation and is key to reaping their stress-relieving benefits.
Many new practitioners choose to practice yoga and meditation at home, and that’s an excellent option, especially for seniors who are homebound. However, beginners to yoga and meditation benefit greatly from instruction.