Yoga Therapeutics for Seniors

Biting the Dust: Yoga and Upper Body Strength in Seniors

My sweetheart surprised me with a brand new treadmill for Christmas, a gift that was right on time!  I love to cook,  especially comfort foods–casseroles, hearty soups and stews, seafood bisques, homemade breads and desserts–in the fall and winter.  Add to that football season, which in my house means eating salty and cheesy snacks, creamy dips and drinking lots of wine and beer and well, need I say more?  I just gained another pound reading what I just wrote! No doubt the treadmill was his gentle way of hinting that it was time to move from expansion to contraction. No need to deny what the mirror reflected, I needed to lose weight and a treadmill would be a great way to workout. I made a commitment  to use the treadmill regularly and without delay.  Isn’t that what we all do when a piece of new exercise equipment comes into our lives?

On this particular January morning, I got the bright idea to multi-task on the treadmill. I was reading a good book, “How to Find the Work You Love,”  so I decided I would try reading during my workout.  I’ve seen many people do it.  I selected a pre-set workout, clipped on the pedometer (another gift from the sweetheart), laid my reading material on the console and hit “Start.”  Unfortunately, I missed one important workout prep step.  My treadmill uses a  key/clip.  The magnetized key starts the treadmill and a long cord with a clip on the opposite end should be attached to the body. When the key is disconnected, the treadmill automatically stops.  I usually clip it to the waistband of my sweatpants, but this time I didn’t.

I discovered walking and reading at the same time is not easy.  My glasses kept slipping down as my face got sweaty and I kept losing my place in the book with all the moving.  As the speed of the treadmill increased from three to four miles per hour, the vibration caused my reading material to fall onto the lower platform near the moving belt. Thus begins the “what was I thinking?” moment.  Instead of stepping off the treadmill or at best stepping onto the side rails in order to bend and pick up the book, I thought I was flexible and dextrous enough to walk and bend down at the same time. Crouching and stretching,  I reached for the book, the belt of the treadmill moving under my feet.  In a flash, my workout turned into a Keystone cops movie.  Flailing my arms and legs, I reached for the bar, but grabbed only air. Unable to regain my balance, I took a tumble and  landed face down with my upper body on the treadmill and my legs underneath the shelving in my basement.  My face was just inches from the moving belt and it took all the strength I could muster to keep my head up.  My body stung in places where the moving belt had scraped the skin from my shoulder, arms and hands.  Careful not to let my head or face touch the moving belt — lest I end up with a mohawk — I placed my hands on the side rails of the treadmill and with a deep breath and a thrust I  pushed up and lifted my torso. Once my upper body was off the treadmill, I maneuvered my legs so that I could come to my knees and from there stand up.  Once up, I picked up the book, turned off the treadmill and abandoned the workout to go tend to my wounds.

I was lucky that I had the upper body strength to push up, but many seniors have lost this capability. Upper body strength can dissipate with age, especially when we allow the muscles of the arms, chest, back and shoulder girdle to atrophy. This weakness, in practical terms, can make it difficult to get up from a seated position and is one of the major reasons many seniors practice yoga on chairs rather than the yoga mat.  Maintaining upper body strength as we age is important, should we  find that we have fallen and can’t get up.

So teaching from my life’s experience, I decided to begin the new year with a series of yoga classes focused on developing and regaining upper body strength in seniors.

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2 thoughts on “Biting the Dust: Yoga and Upper Body Strength in Seniors

  1. A wonderful learning and thanks for sharing. In my chair yoga for seniors class we work with hand weights for the last 10-15 minutes before relaxation. I always thought of it as osteoporosis prevention-bone maintenance but of course, maintaining muscle strength is key too! Hope your recovery goes well and you can get back on that horse soon!

    • Thanks for the comment. I’m back on the treadmill. The focus on upper body strength in my yoga classes went well. I created a push up to replicate plank pose using a chair assist!

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