Balance is a very important issue for anybody, but especially for seniors. Modified yoga helps to improve balance in seniors. Some of the many ways that is done, is to teach them about strengthening their legs and ankles. One pose that works effectively is to stand up on the balls of the feet for ten to fifteen seconds. If you are concerned about falling, hold onto the back of a chair or use the wall for support. Pressing up to the balls of your feet, strengthens the ankles, calves and also stretches the arch of the foot. It stimulates blood flow to the feet, toes, and heels.
Many seniors struggle with balance because they have feet issues. In modified yoga we stretch the sole of the foot, the top of the foot, and we stretch the toes open. Flexibility of feet assist balance. To maintain balance, a person can grip the floor with their toes. Try spreading the toes out wide like fingers. Try wiggling the toes with no shoes on, to stretch them out. In our chair yoga classes, we include a little exercise to practice grabbing a strap on the floor with just the toes. Also to hold the foot up, and to flex the toes up and down, as if you are saying “Hello” with your toes.
I encourage sole of the feet massage in classes too, and to move the big toes up and down in the massage. Another way to strengthen the ankles and improve balance is to pump the foot up and down, and then put the soles of the feet together, and point your knees out, and open your feet outward, and bring the soles back together. In a way, your feet will look like penguin flippers.
In the modified mat yoga, the downward dog, or inverted “V” with a variation of pushing the heels up work on the balance. In chair yoga, we stand behind the chair, put one foot forward in a lunge, and push the back heel up, and then place it down and then push the front heel up. One after the other and switch legs. In a modified mat class we can do that in a standing stretch as well. Stand in a lunge position, as described above, except without the chair. First push up the back heel and then the front heel. Switch legs, and push up the back heel once again, and then the front. You make a slight swing forward and back.
In chair yoga, while sitting, open your legs really wide, and push your heels up, really close to the chair. Then put the heels down, and lift the toes up. We continue to strengthen the ankles and calves.
There are actually many balance poses in yoga that greatly improve balance. There is nothing like standing on one foot to practice balance. A few poses that do that is the tree pose. Stand on leg, with your knee bent, place the sole of your other foot against the inside of your leg. Focus on a long point in front of you, and bring your palms together at your chest, then draw your hands straight up, and then open your arms out and to the sides, and then once again bring them to rest in front of the chest, count five to fifteen seconds.
Another that works on balance is the Eagle. You stand on one bent leg, and with the other leg, you hook it around the front or your standing leg, and you wrap your leg around the standing leg. Your hands are up in front of you. Your arms are bent, and you take one elbow and place it on top of the other elbow, and then wrap your hands around and grab your hands together. You have to have a bent leg, and you have to grip with your toes. Then come out, when you switch your hands you have to put the other elbow on top, and wrap your hands. It’s a bit awkward and confusing at first but if you can master standing poses in a modified yoga class, you will also strengthen your ankles and calves, your balance is sure to improve drastically. Modified yoga class is great start because, it so much more gentle, and you practice in a controlled manner.