10 Best Reasons Older Adults Need to Practice Yoga and the Soft Martial Arts
by: Karen B. Cohen
Today, millions of older Americans are experiencing a higher quality of life by taking an
active and positive approach to their personal wellness. They are enjoying improved health and successful
living by becoming self-educated, personally responsible and proactive. The most successful are those who
adopt a whole-person wellness model, addressing the needs of the body, mind, and spirit.
Most people know about the research that shows that regular exercise provides a wide range of
health benefits and, perhaps most importantly, can preserve function and independence. Fewer realize that their
choice of exercise activity can produce another host of unexpected benefits. By choosing mind/body exercises, such
as yoga or soft martial arts (like Chi Gung and T’ai Chi), older adults can unleash even greater health and
Yoga and Chi Gung (as well as all other soft arts) are ideal choices for older adults because
they positively affect the whole person: body, intellect, emotions, and spirit. They increase vital energy while
strengthening and soothing the body, focusing the mind, and nurturing the spirit.
The ten best reasons older adults need a mind/body practice are:
Body – Caring for the body improves health, preserves your ability to function and
preserves independence. Yoga and Chi Gung offer powerful protection from falls – a major threat to older
1. Strengthen Muscles and Bones: Yoga especially builds muscle strength and bone mass. The vital
weight-bearing postures of yoga stimulate the bones to retain calcium. In yoga, both the upper and lower body
receive the benefits of bearing weight, unlike walking or running.
2. Improved Heart and Respiratory Health: Chi Gung and the soft martial arts
have been shown in studies to improve circulation, heart health, and respiratory function. Yoga breathing exercises
are very powerful tools to increase respiratory function, breath capacity and physical energy. Both increase
vitality and sense of well-being.
3. Increased Flexibility: Yoga and Chi Gung both increase overall
flexibility, contributing to improved everyday functioning and mobility, and protection from falls. Despite
popular notions, you do not need to be flexible to practice yoga. The idea is to practice at your current level
with patience and compassion, gently becoming more pliable.
4. Better Posture: Good posture calls upon our new strength and flexibility to
keep our spine healthy and strong. Healthy body posture supports digestive and respiratory functions as well. Poor
posture in combination with osteoporosis leads to stress fractures.
5. Improved Balance: Balance gives older adults the confidence to move freely and to
engage in physical activities. One of the most important parts of a senior fitness program is balance training.
Seniors who exercise and practice balance activities, like those found in yoga and Chi Gung, can avert the
devastating effects of a fall – the second leading cause of accidental death for seniors. Balance is an intangible
force that many people take for granted.
6. Increased Energy: Yoga and Chi Gung are, in essence, ancient renewal and
balancing systems for our vital energy. More than the sum of their parts, these practices gently revitalize the
body. The term “Chi” itself means “energy”, and “Chi Gung” literally means “energy work”.
Mind - Challenging the mind is crucial to staving off diseases like Alzheimer’s. Be sure
to stimulate your intellectual dimension through learning new information and exploring topics that require
judgment and decision-making. The physical aspects of a mind-body practice lead directly to a mental sense of
rootedness, stability and balance.
7. Intellectual Stimulation: Learning a mind-body exercise is like learning a new
language with its own vocabulary and rules. It takes focused attention. It is a practice…a journey of exploration.
Yoga and the soft martial arts also invite us to explore a way of thinking that may be very unfamiliar to us.
8. Emotional Support: The philosophies infusing yoga and Chi Gung
encourage us to be mindful of the present moment, to be aware and grateful of all around us, and to let go of
our attachments of how we think things should be. This positive outlook leads to a sense of calm and
Spirit - A new study shows that once people retire, they adopt a new sense of time and
their place in the world as their values and beliefs begin to change. Adding a spiritual dimension to your
exercise activities offers additional wellness benefits. In addition to yoga and Chi Gung, consider nature walks
and ‘mindful’ strength training and meditation in all forms.
9. Connecting with the Big Picture: A mindfulness practice is a direct
way to practice connecting with a truth larger than ourselves. Practicing becoming quiet and receptive allows our
inner wisdom to be heard. Older adults have indicated a desire to search for “the meaning of life”. Practitioners
of yoga and the soft arts create a deep sense of richness and unity in their lives.
10. Inner Exploration: Central to the spiritual dimensions of the older
adult is the desire to explore the inner self. Beyond the physical exercises of yoga and Chi Gung, they challenge
us to look deeply at ourselves, to “be” with ourselves. We learn to celebrate our strengths and forgive our
weaknesses while practicing patience and focused concentration.
Copyright 2005 Karen B.Cohen All Rights Reserved Karen B. Cohen C.L.C. RYT500 is a wellness
coach and master yoga instructor, writer and speaker, residing in a college town in rural Virginia. Karen
leads people to their own limitless supply of creativity and vitality so that they can express their talent
and abilities fully in the world. She incorporates her expertise in mind-body techniques to work with a wide
spectrum of clients. Karen provides seminars, workshops as well as individual coaching and training
nationally and internationally. For more information go to KarenCohenYoga.blogspot.com and