Improving Senior and Caregiver Wellness Through Yoga and Meditation

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According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, 34.2 million Americans provide unpaid care to a senior in their family. Those caregivers spend their days helping loved ones manage the activities of daily life, often at the expense of their own health and wellness. Caregivers experience higher rates of chronic stress, depression, and anxiety. They also have a 63 percent higher mortality risk than non-caregivers as they prioritize another person’s health above their own.

Seniors receiving care face their own challenges. It’s not easy to cope with changes to your body, cognition, and role in the world. And while it’s possible to improve your health well into seniorhood, changing your lifestyle late in life isn’t easy.

Yoga and meditation can help both seniors and their caregivers cope with life’s emotional challenges while also improving their physical health. Practicing yoga and meditation doesn’t require a lot of money, time, or space. In fact, you don’t even need to leave your home to do it. Online instructional videos allow yoga and meditation to be taught and practiced in the comfort of the home, making it accessible to even homebound seniors.

And if you do choose to practice yoga and meditation at home, it’s important to establish a safe and comfortable space. Practicing in a cluttered space not only opens your mind up to distraction, it presents the risk of injury if someone were to trip over an object or stumble into a sharp corner. Creating a quiet, clutter-free space for yoga and meditation, whether it’s an entire room or a corner, allows seniors and caregivers to move safely and devote their full attention to the practice.

Yoga

Like other types of exercise, yoga can improve strength, flexibility, and aerobic fitness. It also alleviates aches and pains, and fights inflammation to reduce the risk of chronic illness. Yoga has another benefit that’s especially important for seniors and caregivers: increased body awareness. Researchers believe that when people have body awareness, they’re more likely to notice when something is wrong and take actions that support their health.

Unlike other forms of exercise, yoga is an activity people of all ages and ability levels can do. Even people who use a wheelchair or can’t stand for extended periods can see benefits through chair yoga, which can be practiced while seated, using the chair for support, or a combination of the two. Other practices for seniors and caregivers to try include restorative yoga, a gentle practice that emphasizes mindfulness and relaxation, or Iyengar yoga, a slow-paced type of yoga ideal for beginners and people recovering from injury.

Meditation

Meditation is less physical than yoga, but nonetheless offers many benefits to seniors and caregivers. Meditation helps people overcome stress, anxiety, and worry for a greater sense of emotional well-being. It reduces pain, inflammation, and encourages positive lifestyle choices like quitting smoking. Research has even found that meditation stimulates the brain to grow more gray matter for improved emotional regulation.

Meditation is a very simple practice. Nevertheless, many beginners find it challenging to meditate for more than a few minutes. Beginners should start with five-minute daily meditations and increase the duration as they see fit. There are a variety of meditation techniques; some involve sitting quietly and breathing, others chanting, and others still incorporate movement through walking meditations. Be Brain Fit explains some of the best practices for beginners and how to make meditation a daily habit.

When you’re relying on others to get through each day, or you’re a caregiver devoting your time to another person’s needs, it can feel like life is out of your control. Taking the time to slow down, be mindful, and care for your body gives you back some of that control. If you’re feeling challenged by the stresses of life and need a healthy way to cope, give meditation and yoga a try.

Contributed by Harry Cline | info@newcaregiver.org 

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