Yoga and Eldercare
I’ve worked with Senior adults for the past 7 years of my life, studying the aging body and how yoga can help us increase bone strength, muscle strength, flexibility and balance, as well as relieve stress which can exacerbate conditions like heart disease, and weaken our immune response. But I’ve recently had to come to terms with my own parents aging as my father spent a week in the hospital and 2 weeks in rehab care. Sooner or later, all of us will experience the process of aging – whether through helping our parents, grandparents, an auntie or neighbor.
Eventually we will witness the process of our own aging – both the physical and psychological aspects of aging in a society that tends to isolate older people. Modern Western medicine offers many ways to help support the body in crisis, but is still lacking when it comes to supporting the health and well-being of the body/mind/spirit – seeing each individual as a whole being, and helping alleviate and manage chronic pain without relying solely on pharmaceuticals.
Eastern medicine in the form of yoga, meditation, herbal treatments and energy work including Ayurveda, Reiki and Acupuncture can be incredibly helpful in managing pain and healing the body/mind/spirit. What does this healing look like? It doesn’t always mean “curing”. But yoga can certainly help us to manage pain and have a better quality of life while we are still here on this earth. As our bodies age, we may become frustrated by what we see as new “limitations”. Arthritis may make it harder for us to move. Our joints seem to lack the strength to get up and down, grasp things, or even open a jar of jam. Our senses are not as keen. Most of us will suffer at least some hearing loss, because of our culture’s lack of concern for hearing, and our over-exposure to loud sound. Our eyesight may diminish. Food may not taste the same. Some people lose their sense of smell. Many of us experience a lack of sensation due to neuropathy or other nerve conditions. Or we may feel tingling in our hands and feet or experience sciatica pain.
Not to mention, the myriad diseases we may experience due to not LIVING WELL – not taking care of ourselves, abusing our bodies, stressing our minds. At this time in our lives, yoga can help us release stress and tension through gentle movement, yoga nidra can help us to sleep better, and pranayama can help us breathe better.
On top of the physical discomfort of aging, exists the fear of death and dying.
According to the yoga tradition, “fear of death”, or Abhiniveśā one of the 5 causes of affliction (called the 5 Kleshas). As we age, and we begin to realize our time in this body is coming to an end, there may be psycho-emotional reactions caused by our inability to let go. We may suffer depression and/or anxiety. According to Purna yoga founder, Aadil Palkhivala, “…our fear of death is never so great as our fear of not having fully lived.” (Article can be found here:
The 8th limb of Ashtanga Yoga, the practice of meditation - allows us to witness and understand our fears and to practice vairagya (detachment) – letting go.
There is a beautiful meditation I learned from Gary Kraftsow that helps us through this transition, called “Antya Krama”.
Anta or Antya Krama refers to our 3rd stage of life. The first stage is our youth, the 2nd stage our working adult life, and the 3rd stage, our elder years. Our priorities can and should shift. We become more focused with our spiritual life and meditation rather than asana and pranayama.
The Antya Krama meditation helps us let go of our attachments so our body and mind can peacefully transition. End of Life meditations help us to let go of our attachments through the 5 senses and chakras. So, through gentle movement to relieve stress and tension, breathing practices, yoga nidra and relaxation and meditation, the tools of yoga can assist us through the process of aging and transition to the next world. Namaste.