Archive for the ‘Senior Yoga’ Category

Following through on the previous post, music (not just kirtan) can have a profound role in some diseases like Alzheimer’s  with the accompanying memory loss and dementia. Here is the lead to a scientific documentary:

Slowly, inevitably, Alzheimer’s disease robs a person of profound memories, like the names and faces of loved ones. Right now, there’s no cure. But one researcher thinks he may have found a way to help mitigate the effects of the disease—using music. Listen in to learn how.

Check out this moving and inspiring PBS documentary http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/body/alzheimers-music-au.html.



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This is the first time I have come across the term “medical meditation”. A specific meditation called Kirtan Kriya (KK) looks very promising if the numerous research studies cited in “A White Paper: Yoga and Medical Meditation™ as Alzheimer’s Prevention Medicine” , by The Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation‘s Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D., are well-designed and statistically valid. The foundation offers a structured prevention program, online resources and information, and offers this background:

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) affects 5.4 million Americans and many more millions world-wide. As baby-boomers age, these numbers are predicted to sky-rocket to 16 million in the USA alone by 2050. Women especially bear the brunt of this raging epidemic, both as caregivers and patients. They are twice as likely as men to develop AD in their 60’s. A  woman’s lifetime risk for AD is higher than for breast cancer: 1 in 6 vs. 1 in 11. AD costs society as much as heart disease and cancer. Every 67 seconds someone is diagnosed with AD. It is our 6th leading cause of death. Two-thirds of all AD patients are women.

The paper goes on to make a long series of claims, with brain images or charts, supported by studies cited at the end of each claim.

  • reverses memory loss
  • enhances mood and well-being
  • provides anti-aging effect on the brain, body, and genes
  • leads to less tress, increased telomerase, and reduced depression
  • dramatically increases telomerase activity
  • down regulates inflammatory genes
  • up regulates 19 health-promoting genes
  • replenishes vital neurotransmitter and brain chemicals
  • improves sleep
  • promotes clarity of purpose
  • enhances psychological and spiritual well-being
  • activates the whole brain

Kirtan Kriya uses the four stages of mantra japa (repetition of a mantra) with the Sikh mantra Saa Taa Naa Maa (Sat Naam) coordinated with finger movements and visualization. Readers interested in all the details should go to the paper via the link above. The practice from the paper is reproduced below but we cannot reproduce the figures that illustrate the movements.

How To Do Kirtan Kriya

KK is a 12-minute singing exercise that people have been practicing for thousands of years. It brings together several actions: breath work, singing or chanting, finger movements (mudras), and visualization. Hence, it is a multifaceted, multisensory exercise that engages the whole brain and increases cerebral blood flow.

Posture: Sit comfortably in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Alternatively, you can sit on the floor with your legs crossed, although older adults are not likely to choose this option. The essence of the posture is to be comfortable and sit with the spine straight with only the natural curvature.

Breath: Breathe naturally as the meditation unfolds.

Eyes: The eyes are closed.

The Chant, or Mantra: The chant uses the sounds, Saa, Taa, Naa, Maa. These ancient sounds taken together mean “my true identity” or “my highest self.” The tune to which these sounds are sung is the first four notes of the familiar children’s song, “Mary had a Little Lamb.” That is, the notes are “Mar-y had a.” See Figure 1.

The Mudras, or Finger Movements: The thumb is touched to each of the other four fingers in sequence. Both hands perform the same mudra set simultaneously. 

 On Saa, touch the index fingers of each hand to the thumbs.

On Taa, touch your middle fingers to your thumbs.

On Naa, touch your ring fingers to your thumbs. 

On Maa, touch your little fingers to your thumbs.

Always go forward in sequence: thumb to index finger, middle finger, ring finger, and pinky; never go backwards. 

The Visualization: Visualize energy coming down from above into the middle of the top of the head, proceeding straight down into your brain, and then changing to a lateral direction so that it comes out of your head at a point in the middle of your forehead in the center, lined up with the nose (the spot referred to as “the third eye” in some Eastern traditions). Hence, the energy is visualized as following the path of a capital letter “L.” One may think of this action as sweeping through like a broom. 

The Sequence: Sing the sounds Saa Taa Naa Maa while also performing the mudras with the fingers of both hands. At the same time, visualize the sound flowing in through the top of your head and out the middle of your forehead in an L shape.

1. For two minutes, sing out loud.

2. For the next two minutes, use a stage whisper.

3. For the next four minutes, say the sound silently to yourself.

4. Then whisper the sounds for two minutes and then out loud for two minutes, for a total of twelve minutes.

To come out of the exercise, inhale very deeply, stretch your hands above your head, and then bring them down slowly in a sweeping motion as you exhale.






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In a recent study “A pilot study of yoga as self-care for arthritis in minority communities” published in Health and Quality of Life Outcomes, April 2, 2013, arthritis is cited as the most common cause of disability in US.  Fifty million people are diagnosed with arthritis.  The point of this government-funded study is to measure how acceptable and feasible yoga is in urban, minority populations with arthritis.

Even though the affliction is more widespread in the white population than the Hispanic and African-American minorities, the impact is worse on these minorities. The study states:  “Published analysis of racial/ethnic differences from the NHIS [National Health Interview Survey] shows the prevalence of activity limitation, work limitation and severe joint pain are significantly higher among blacks, Hispanics, and multi-racial or ‘other’ respondents than among whites.”

In this ongoing pilot study, 20 minority adults diagnosed with either osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis go through  an 8-week program of yoga classes. While the results are not yet out, here is what the study aims to do:

It is believed that by attending yoga classes designed for patients with arthritis, with racially concordant instructors; acceptability of yoga as an adjunct to standard arthritis treatment and self-care will be enhanced. Self-care is defined as adopting behaviors that improve physical and mental well-being. This concept is quantified through collecting patient-reported outcome measures related to spiritual growth, health responsibility, interpersonal relations, and stress management. Additional measures collected during this study include: physical function, anxiety/depression, fatigue, sleep disturbance, social roles, and pain; as well as baseline demographic and clinical data.

Moving the body, exercising, helps relieve stiffness and pain but because of the existing pain, there is a reluctance to move. Yoga helps mood, sleep, and quality of life.

Here is what the pilot study includes in its yoga classes  (headstands and handstands are associated with high risk of injury and are not included):

Table 1

Overview of yoga poses

Description Yoga poses
Laying foundation:

Classes 1-2


Upper body stretches, staff with leg lifts

Sun Salutations (one side):

Forward fold, mountain (two sides for class 2)

Standing poses:

Tree, warrior II

Sitting poses:

Head to knee, spinal twist, yogic seal


Sivasana, tense and release, progressive body scan


Side lying, cross-legged

Class 3

Discussion of balance poses

Tree, king dancer

Classes 4-5

Arm balancing and reclining poses

Inverted plank, (lying) extended leg pose, (lying) spinal twist

Classes 6-7

Arm/leg extensions and hip openers

Table and cat/cow-extend arm & opposite leg, downward facing dog-extending one leg, bridge with leg extension, butterfly

Classes 8-9

Intro to gentle back bends

Sphinx, locust, bow, camel

Classes 9-10

Stamina building

Four sun salutations

Class 11

Poses for sciatica

Class 12

Pose modifications using the wall

Class 13

Restorative poses

Classes 14-16 Review, practice, wrap up

According to the American College of Rheumatology, both range-of-motion (ROM) and stretching exercises help to maintain or improve the flexibility in affected joints and surrounding muscles. This contributes to better posture, reduced risk of injuries and improved function. They recommend activities such as yoga because it incorporates both ROM and stretching movements.

Source:  doi:  10.1186/1477-7525-11-55

PMCID: PMC3637098

In the senior classes I teach, the population is almost exclusively white and female. We have a seasonal routine and many of the simple and highly effective positions that are taught are also available to the readers of this blog at:




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  Irises by Vincent van Gogh

 Source: Google Images

It is that time of the year! Time to renew and refresh the body and mind and reset both. Clearing them both out creates space for the birth of positive, virtuous cycles as we discard negative ones.

There are many ways to do this and readers are referred to the detailed past posts.

Yoga Spring Cleaning: Digestive System

This post gives specific ways for gentle and moderate cleansing of the digestive system. Accompanied by a moderate reduction (15 to 20 percent) of calories for a week, if medically suitable, may help the body feel lighter, more energetic, and put a bounce in your step.

Yoga Spring Cleaning: Respiratory System

An efficient and healthy respiratory system helps create vitality in the body and mind. Lethargy is removed and the body also feels light and free. Gentle pranayamas described here will help flush out the respiratory system.

Yoga Spring Cleaning: The Mind

Having a clean digestive system and an efficiently flushed respiratory system helps clean out the mind. In this post readers are lead to specific, detailed practices to reset the mind.

Happy Spring!

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A pilot study conducted in New Jersey tested the safety and feasibility of modified chair-yoga on functional outcome among elderly at risk for falls. Eligible participants, over 65, were from an assisted living community. All had a fall in the past six months. The staff identified them as having an increased fear of falling and therefore an increased risk of falls.

The authors conclude that yoga is a “feasible and safe intervention for elderly seniors who may be at risk in their ninth and tenth decades of life.” However, more research with extended programs is needed.

The study published in the International Journal of Yoga, Volume 5, Issue 2, 2012, pages 146-150, states:

“Falls are among the most common problems affecting older adults. At least 50% of those over 80 fall annually. The goal of this pilot study was to assess the safety and feasibility of structured yoga in an elderly population with fall risk…A chair-based yoga program was provided twice a week for 8 weeks.”

Table 1: Yoga class structure and componentsTable 1: Yoga class structure and components

Sedentary life style, a lack of physical activity, is a significant factor in loss of balance and increased risk of falls. Participating in safe physical activities that increase confidence in mobility will likely decrease fear of falling and improve balance, thereby reducing the risk of falling.


Galantino ML, Green L, DeCesari JA, MacKain NA, Rinaldi SM, Stevens ME, Wurst VR, Marsico R, Nell M, Mao JJ. Safety and feasibility of modified chair-yoga on functional outcome among elderly at risk for falls. Int J Yoga [serial online] 2012 [cited 2012 Oct 1];5:146-50. Available from: http://www.ijoy.org.in/text.asp?2012/5/2/146/98242

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The effect of an integrated yoga routine for osteoarthritis of the knee, conducted by Swami Vivekananda Yoga Research Foundation in India was published in the September 27, 2011 issue of the International Journal of Yoga.

The aim of the study was to evaluate the effect of adding integrated yoga to electric and sound therapy to randomly selected outpatients from Dr. John’s Orthopedic Centre in India.

There were 118 participants in the integrated yoga group and 117 in the control group who received physiotherapy exercises. The age range was 35 to 80 years. Both groups underwent their respective therapies after the electric and sound therapies they all underwent. The yoga group received yoga therapy for 40 minutes each day, six days a week, for two weeks. Follow-up was expected for three months after that.

Integrated yoga included the following: asana, pranayama, meditation, and counseling on yoga-based holistic living with life style changes, weight management, and management of psychosocial stress.

The participants did yoga-based loosening exercises for feet, ankles, knees, hips and waist, upper limbs, neck, and a 17-step relaxation. Then they did strengthening asanas for back, thighs, legs, knees, and ankles, followed  by a guided relaxation based on abdominal breathing. They ended with standing asanas, a guided deep relaxation, nadi shodhan (alternate nostril breath) pranayama, and om chants. All these steps with the number of repetitions and time allocations are listed in this highly detailed, well written study.

The results indicated greater improvement in the integrated yoga group than the control physiotherapy group in the following indicators: quality of life, physical function, problems with work and daily activities, emotional problems, energy and fatigue, social functioning, experience of pain, and general health.

The integrated yoga routine is very similar to the program I have for our seniors in Ridgewood, NJ. Some of it is on www.mahasriyoga.com/asana. Breathing and relaxation audio tracks (shorter than meditation tracks on the website) are on www.mahasriyoga.co/pranayama. Based on what the seniors say to me, our results are similar to those in this study.

Source: International Journal of Yoga

Year : 2011 | Volume:  4 | Issue Number:  2 | Page: 55-63

Effect of an integrated approach of yoga therapy on quality of life in osteoarthritis of the knee joint: A randomized control study
Ebnezar John, Nagarathna Raghuram, Bali Yogitha, Nagendra Hongasandra Ramarao
DOI: 10.4103/0973-6131.85486

PMID: 22022123

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In the chair yoga, pranayama, and meditation class that I do at our local senior community center, many seniors (70-87 years old) are  active, pro-active, in their health care. Many do multiple types of exercises. None of them get on the floor. There are several health issues in the group of 20-30, mostly women. There are hip replacements, knee replacements, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, arthritis, poor balance, back problems, Parkinson’s, and shoulder problems.

After our session,  a majority of them self-report significant improvements in stiffness, range-of-motion, and pain. Some report better bowel function. Some feel an ease in back pain. One says her breathing has improved considerably. The ones with Parkinson’s report that their anxiety disappears–for one, the effect lasts for “some time” and her tremors lessen or disappear during the session.  She tells me her anxiety just flows and melts away. Almost all of them feel tranquil and relaxed, some reporting it is the only time they feel peaceful/anxiety-free. Other forms of movement (jazzercize, zumba, strength training), which they do enjoy, do not seem to produce the same feeling of peace and tranquility in this group as yoga does. A few of them continue to use the free online pranayama breathing and meditation audio tracks on www.mahasriyoga.com, during the week.

A weekly group yoga class for seniors (60-75 minutes) has proved to be very beneficial and the seniors eagerly look forward to it–most of these seniors have been coming now for three years, for 24 to 36 weeks each year. The town offers the seniors very low-cost classes at $2.50 per class. The payback in their well being is significant. During town budget cuts all senior classes were spared and the town is supportive of the well being of its senior population.

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