The Benefits of Yoga for Seniors

Senior people meditating in yoga class
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A study in Female Pelvic Medicine & Reconstructive Surgery discovered that a yoga training program helped incontinent women reduce their urine leakage by up to 70%. And Chair Chi has benefits that help seniors with balance, flexibility, range of motion, strength, energy, pain relief, tranquility, stress reduction, and peace of mind.

"Yoga is often directed at mindful awareness, increasing relaxation, and relieving anxiety and stress," says author Alison Huang, MD, assistant professor in the UCSF School of Medicine.

"For these reasons, yoga has been directed at a variety of other conditions—metabolic syndrome or pain syndromes—but there's also a reason to think that it could help for incontinence as well."

Huang and her colleagues recruited 20 women who were 40 years and older and who suffered from urinary incontinence on a daily basis. The women who took part in the yoga program experienced an overall 70 percent improvement—or reduction—in the frequency of their urine leakage.

Women suffering from incontinence may benefit from yoga's emphasis on mindful meditation and relaxation. But regular practice of yoga may also help women strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor that support the bladder and protect against incontinence.

Sample Pose

Jaki Nett, a certified Iyengar Yoga instructor in St. Helena, California, teaches public classes in the San Francisco Bay Area and leads workshops in the United States and Europe, including specialty workshops on female issues.

She offers this yoga exercise. Stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) with your feet together. Align the center of your legs and bring them together as though they were zipped to each other. Align the pelvis and the torso so the center of your head is in line with the center of your pelvic floor. On an inhalation, raise your arms into Upward Salute in line with your ears, palms facing each other.

Keeping the arms straight, interlace the fingers; on an exhalation, turn the palms to the ceiling and fully extend through the arms. Soften the lower back ribs and take several breaths. Keep lifting the arms and torso upward, and on an exhalation, slowly bend the legs deeply. The heels should be grounded and the feet, knees, and inner thighs together. As the legs are bending, soften the back ribs more and open the lower spine. Then slowly rotate the pelvis backward. Stop the movement of the pelvis when you feel a soft contraction in the pelvic floor.

Remain in this position and direct your attention to the lower abdominals, right above the pubic bone; softly pull them toward the back of the pelvic bowl. Now try to softly contract the urinary sphincter as if you're trying to stop a urine flow. Hold for several breaths, then release. Repeat several times, stopping at the onset of fatigue in the pelvic-floor muscles. Practice this regularly and you should gradually gain awareness and conscious control.

Alternative Medicine

While yoga is being used in this case for a specific medical condition, other eastern traditions can be incorporated into your program as well.

Chair Chi is a gentle exercise program to help people receive the benefits of the traditional Tai Chi Chuan in the comfort and safety of their chair, Pat Griffith said.

The program allows people who cannot stand or lack confidence with their balance, such as those who use a walker, wheelchair, or have a movement disorder to participate and benefit from exercise. Those benefits include balance, flexibility, range of motion, strength, energy, pain relief, tranquility, stress reduction, and peace of mind.

During the 30 minute session there is a constant flow of one exercise to another in a process which will also help bring on relaxation and tranquility, as well as an extension of range of motion and flexibility, he said.

“Approximately one-quarter of our residents participated in his program held each Friday.

It was usually held in the peaceful surroundings of the courtyard with tranquil background music,” says Glenna Walch, the former activity director at the Villa Del Rey in Escondido, CA. “The benefits of breathing, balance and mental focus were greatly appreciated by the residents, as his class was among the most popular programs scheduled. The slow flowing movements and entrancing nature names of the positions make this exercise program even more interesting.”