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Therapeutic Yoga for Seniors: What are the Benefits?

Although I am not quite the official “senior age” I have been attending therapeutic yoga for seniors for the last year and a half.

Sunnybrook Academic Family Health Team (SAFHT) partnered with Sprint Senior Services and the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada to offer therapeutic yoga to older persons and also for people with dementia. A Yoga Therapist and an Occupational Therapist from the SAFHT run the therapeutic programme for older persons which guided participants through a gentle yoga programme that focuses on strength, balance, flexibility, mindfulness and relaxation.

MY INITIAL IMPRESSION?

I can recall reluctantly enrolling in this “chair yoga” programme. Yoga in my mind has long ago been commercially corrupted as mindfulness is heading in the same direction. There was nothing about the programme I attended that had a corrupt feel to it.

However, I put my biases behind to at least register in the course. I felt some degree of relief being perhaps the most junior of the senior participants.

I almost bent over in mirth at the simplistic and silly yoga movements thinking this was absolutely ridiculous. However, our fantastic instructor rather suckered me in with a closing 15-minute meditation. It was like being involved in mindfulness!

Well those silly and facile stretches just about crippled me. I had to skip the next class. Again, I went back to it and was crippled again. So much for these exercises being facile and simplistic. On my last attempt just a bit of discomfort. But what a workout. Not sweating like a Millennial at the gym but really working muscles in the body one takes for granted.

Yes so my initial impression was very misguided and ignorant. Of course, being mindful and having some self compassion I forgive myself for my arrogance. And I thank those who had the insight to offer such a wonderful programme.

THE BENEFIT OF EXERCISE

I have always hated the gym. I prefer walking, baseball, golf and active sports but not all seniors can run around the baseball diamond whipping fastballs and knuckleballs around. Chair yoga is a rather seemingly sedate way of exercising using muscles rarely exercised. Etched in the course is balance practice aimed at reducing falls. But the workout is there in a collegial group setting and it is a workout. Next day you’ll feel better and often pleasantly tired. Exercise does slow degeneration of brain cells.

THE BENEFIT OF SOCIALIZATION

Speaking of brain cell degeneration getting out there in the community and being part of a social network not only is a defence against depression but a bulwark against brain cell death. Getting out in the community to a yoga class ensures isolation can be combatted for those seniors facing isolation.

THE BENEFIT OF MEDITATION

While I had been meditating for years before my chair yoga classes yoga meditation was entirely beneficial ad enhanced. At various times I experienced bizarre but wonderful OBE’s (out of body experiences) such as being in another world, being lost in the happiness of my past, pure joy, gratitude and several other events you might have difficulty believing. Why these strange experiences? I think it was because the body and mind are united after a yoga session. As mindfulness is an elixir for the brain yoga somehow makes the injection of this elixir easier. Is it because yoga is mindfulness for the body that makes mindfulness for the brain so much more effective?

THE BENEFIT TO THE HEATHCARE SYSTEM

I can’t honestly picture the Ontario Conservatives favouring yoga and mindfulness programmes as it all sounds too leftist but as mindfulness and yoga can reduce the necessity of physician visits as it can reduce stress related and fall related incidents perhaps the dollar and cents advantages can be a lure for the conservative fish to bite?

THE BENEFIT TO YOU AND YOUR FAMILY?

If you buy into yoga like I eventually did watch your arthritis pain slip away. Notice a more positive attitude. Notice a gratitude for being alive. Notice an increase in compassion. Notice a feeling of better health and vitality. Appreciate and understand your body and your mind. Appreciate good health given any limitations you have.

WHAT ROLE HAS THE FAMILY PHYSICIAN HAS TO PLAY?

My GP is solidly behind mindfulness and yoga. In fact my blood pressure has steadily declined since mindfulness and rapidly declined since yoga. How can this be communicated to family physicians so they can advocate for more yoga and mindfulness? Many family physicians snort and guffaw about yoga and mindfulness having health benefits. Is it time for their education? How can we educate them? I think they need to hear real life experiences. You can always lead a horse to water but can you make it drink.

WHAT ROLE CAN YOU PLAY?

If you are serious about your health you should mention it to your family physician, your MPP and MP about the need for funding mindfulness and yoga programmes.

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