Contributor: Harry Cline

Yoga is renowned for its ability to strengthen both mind and body. Yoga’s flowing movements and poses build strength and flexibility, while yogic breathing instills calm and clarity in the mind. It’s a valuable addition to anyone’s life, but when we’re in the midst of life’s major challenges is when we need yoga most.

If you’ve recently taken on caring for a senior loved one, make yoga and meditation part of your caregiving toolbox. Caregiving is hard work, and you need to put love and care back into yourself if you’re going to give so much to someone else.

A yoga practice can benefit your aging loved one too. Whether they join you in a full-body flow or practice adaptive yoga alongside you, your family member will enjoy the same mobility-boosting, mood-lifting benefits as you do. Yoga and meditation even help combat cognitive decline, according to research from UCLA.

Many family caregivers face barriers to practicing yoga, but a lack of time, money, or experience shouldn’t keep you from trying this beneficial activity. Even if you only have a few minutes per day to practice at home and learn as you go, you’ll reap powerful benefits. Keep in mind, too, that if you or your loved one is a senior with a Medicare Advantage plan, you probably have access to yoga classes through free gym memberships. Look over you or your loved one’s coverage carefully to see what additional perks are available. If you or your loved one only have Original Medicare, know that you can switch to an alternative Aetna Advantage plan with expanded coverage during open enrollment

Establishing a Yoga Practice

A consistent yoga practice is the key to making progress. Regular practice also offers the greatest mental health benefits. If stress is building daily but you’re only releasing it every week or two, the stress will eventually overwhelm you.

Establish a regular yoga practice by prioritizing it like you prioritize brushing your teeth or making breakfast — make it a regular part of the day that you do out of habit, even if it’s only for five minutes. Create a dedicated space for yoga so it’s not out of sight and out of mind, and keep your mat rolled out as a visual reminder to practice. If you’re living in your loved one’s home and clutter is in the way, free up space (physically and mentally) by moving stuff to storage. 

Adaptive Yoga for People with Physical Limitations

Physical limitations shouldn’t keep you or your senior loved one from reaping the benefits of a yoga practice. There are adaptive yoga practices designed for people of different abilities, and most yoga poses are readily modified through the use of props like blocks, blankets, and straps, all of which can be purchased for less than $25 as part of a kit if you shop around. 

Chair yoga is the most well-known adaptive yoga practice and the easiest to do at home. Yoga with Adriene’s chair yoga video is a good starting place to learn about chair yoga. You can also work directly with an instructor to learn how to adapt poses for chair yoga. If you can’t make it to a studio, look for an instructor who will come to your home.

Adding Meditation to Your Practice

Life doesn’t always leave room to change clothes and get on the mat. In the moments where you need stress relief and mindfulness but are short on time, turn to meditation.

Meditation is a wonderful way to relieve stress and replenish your empathy as a caregiver. Meditation also helps seniors cope with grief and depression (which takes a toll on your physical and even your dental health), as well as other mental challenges of aging. It also may improve digestion and circulation.

Many people find it difficult to get started with meditation. Taking time to stop, breathe, and clear the mind goes against our habitually busy nature, but again, consistency is key. You may struggle to stay clear-headed the first few times you meditate, but with practice, you’ll develop the skills and be able to rely on meditation for relief in difficult moments

Adopting a yoga practice is a way to recognize the need for self-care in the caregiving equation. It’s also a wonderful way to improve the life of your aging loved one. Whether you’re a brand new caregiver or a long-time carer in search of better self-care, make yoga and meditation part of your caregiving experience.

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