Do you find yourself struggling to stay grounded on one leg? Just a couple weekly yoga classes may help improve your balance and motor learning skills, according to a new study published in the September 2020 issue of Experimental Gerontology. The researchers found that subjects who had completed two weekly 90-minute yoga sessions had a faster reaction time than those who didn’t complete the sessions.
The 10-week study looked at the impact of yoga on cognition, motor learning, and balance in older adults, in their 60s and 70s. Researchers noted changes in the levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the yoga group, which they associated with improved balance and motor learning. BDNF serves as a crucial protein in the brain, stimulating the production of healthy neurons.
A Sequence for Better Balance
Want better balance? Here is the 24-pose sequence, plus the pranayama techniques, the researchers used. They were developed by yoga instructors at Jogos Akademija, a yoga studio based in Kaunas, Lithuania. The sequence starts with gentle stretches on the floor, then moves to standing postures
Recommendations for your practice
- Perform asana on an empty stomach. Drinking is not recommended during the exercise.
- Don’t force the poses to the point of pain or discomfort. Your practice should be enjoyable. Move as slowly as you want.
- Observe your breathing throughout the session. Breathe rhythmically, comfortably, and slowly. If breathing is disturbed or you become short of breath, stop performing the asana and relax.
- Initially, start with five cycles of breath in each asana, then work up to holding each pose for up to 3 minutes.
- After performing each asana, relax for up to one minute.
- If it’s difficult to maintain balance in standing positions, use a wall for support. Use other props (straps, blocks, blankets) as needed in other poses.
- If you have high blood pressure, practice only when your blood pressure is at normal levels. Pay close attention to breathing exercises. Avoid inverted body positions, except Legs-up-the-Wall (Viparita Karani).
- People with osteoporosis should be cautious to not put too much weight on their bones throughout their practice.
- Remain positive, improvement happens slowly.
Warm-up and Floor Poses
1. Joint warm-up: Start either seated or standing and roll our your wrists and ankles to wake up your joints.
2. Easy Pose (Sukhasana): Sit on a folded blanket so your knees are lower than your hips. Cross your legs and place your hands in prayer at your chest. If you have knee pain, sit at the edge of a chair. Straighten your back and lift up through the crown of your head.
3. Shoulder warm-up: Lie down on your back. Lay your hands at your side with your palms facing down. Make sure your arms are straight. On an inhalation, raise your arms up and lower them to the floor behind your head. On an exhalation, return your hands to their original position.
4. Core warm-up: Lay on your back, bend your legs and pull your knees to your chest. Straighten your legs up so that they form a 90-degree angle with the floor. Flex your feet. Raise your arms up and lower them to the floor behind your head. If there is pain in your lower back, bring your feet to the floor, knees bent.
5. Leg warm-up: From your back, with your legs extended out on the floor, bend your right leg and pull your knee to your chest, hugging your shin. Keep your left leg straight. Repeat this pose on the other side.
6. Apanasana (Knees-to-Chest Pose): From your back with your legs extended out on the floor, bend your legs and pull your knees into your chest, hugging your shins.
7. Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose (Supta Padangusthasana): From your back with your legs extended out on the floor, bend your right leg and place a strap on the middle of your foot. Then straighten your leg, raising it to a vertical position, if possible. Holding the strap with your right hand, lower your left hand to the floor at shoulder level. Lower the right leg down to the right and gently move it toward your head. Repeat this pose on the other side.
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8. Tadasana (Mountain Pose): Stand with your feet together or hip-width apart. Straighten your toes and distribute your weight equally between the inner and outer edges of your feet. Bring your shoulders back and down. Straighten your arms, lifting your sternum up. Straightening your neck and reach up through the crown of your head.
9. Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute): From Mountain Pose, raise your arms alongside your ears. If comfortable you can bring your palms together or interlace your fingers and press your palms toward the ceiling.
10. Vrksasana (Tree Pose): From Mountain Pose, transfer your bodyweight to your left leg. Lift and bend your right leg and place your foot on the inside of your left calf or thigh, avoiding the knee. Point the toes toward the ground and push your foot into your leg and your leg into your foot. Push the foot of the grounded leg into the floor. Use a wall if you feel too wobbly here. Or, if you feel balanced, on an inhalation, raise your arms alongside your ears. Repeat this pose on the other side.
11. Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose): Place your legs in a wide stance. Turn your right foot outward at a 90-degree angle and your left foot inward at a 45-degree angle. Extend your arms out to the sides, parallel to the floor. Exhale and bend over to the right. Lower your right hand on your thigh, shin, or a block. Straighten your left arm and extend it toward the ceiling. Use a wall for support if you feel unsteady. Push both feet into the floor. Extend your spine. Pull your hands in opposite directions. Repeat this pose on the other side.
12. Virabhadrasana II (Warrior Pose II): Come back to a wide stance. Turn your right foot outward at a 90-degree angle and your left foot inward at a 25-degree angle. Extend your arms out to the sides, parallel to the floor. Bend your right leg, but don’t let it extend past your ankle. Straighten your left leg, pushing both feet into the ground. Turn your head to the right and look at your fingers. Repeat on the other side.
13. Parsvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch): Extend your legs wide and reach your arms out to the sides. Rotate the right foot outward at a 90-degree angle and the left foot inward at an angle of 60-70 degrees. Rotate your waist to the right, aligning the hips to the front of your mat. Bring your hands to your hips, or raise your arms up and bend over your hips, lengthening your waist. Go only as far as feels ok, without too much strain in your back or hamstrings. Keep length in your spine. Inhale to come back to standing. Repeat this pose on the other side.
14. Ardha Uttanasana (Half Standing Forward Bend) at the Wall: Stand 3 feet away from a wall with your body facing the wall. Place your feet hip-distance apart. Bend over the hips until your waist is parallel to the floor, with your palms resting against the wall. Reach out, keeping your head in line with your hands. Look at the floor.
15. Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend): Stand in Mountain Pose. As you exhale, fold forward, bending your knees slightly and pressing your belly toward your thighs. Relax your back and neck. Straighten your legs if it doesn’t cause too much strain on your lower back or hamstrings.
16. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose): Kneel on your mat, pressing your hands into the floor. Your hands should be under your shoulders and your knees should be under your hips. Push your arms straight to lift your hips up. Straighten your spine. Lower your head between your arms.
17. Upavistha Konasana (Wide-Legged Seated Forward Bend): Sit on the floor. Spread your legs far apart. With your fingertips, press into the floor behind your hips and lengthen your waist. Lift your chest up. Press your heels and feet into the floor. Fold forward if it feels good.
18. Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose): Sit on the floor. Bend both knees and then press the soles of your feet together, letting your knees open to the sides. Place props under your knees if they are higher than your hips.
19. Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose): Lay on your back. Bend your knees and placing your feet hip-distance apart, under your knees. Place your hands to the side and press your palms into the ground. Lift your hips and waist up.
20. Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose): Lay on your stomach. Rest your forehead on the floor. Place your palms down on the floor under your shoulders. Tighten your glutes and push your pelvis to the ground. Stretching your spine, slowly raise your head and shoulders, pushing your sternum forward.
21. Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend): Sit on the floor and straighten your legs in front of you. Inhale and raise your arms up. As you exhale, bend forward, lowering your arms. If this is difficult to do, bend your legs slightly.
22. Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose): Sit on the floor. Straighten your legs in front of you. Bend the right leg and press the sole of your right foot into the floor to the outside of your left knee. Place your right hand behind your right hip. Turn your waist and head to the right. Bring your left elbow to the outside of your right knee. Repeat this pose on the other side.
23. Viparita Karani (Legs Up the Wall): Lay on your back next to a wall. Move your legs up the wall, so that they form a 90-degree angle with the floor. You can rest your pelvis on blankets if that feels better. Rest your arms to your sides or on your belly. Close your eyes if it is comfortable.
24. Savasana (Corpse Pose): Staying on your back, move away from the wall and extend your legs out in front of you. Let your legs and feet flop open. Place your arms at a 30-degree angle from your waist and turn your palms up. Close your eyes and relax.
After the asana sequence, try these breathing practices to help you feel grounded and energized.
1. Full Yogic Breath: This breathing technique is done on your back, or sitting or standing. To start, exhale all the air from your body. Then inhale into your belly region, or the base of your lungs. Next, fill the intercostal (chest) area with breath, all the way to your clavicle. Exhale in reverse, from the clavicle area, middle chest, and the belly area. This is 1 breath cycle. Repeat this cycle for up to 5 minutes.
2. Bhastrika (Bellows Breathing): During this breathing exercise, the lungs and abdominal muscles seem to pump air in rapid movements. Inhale and exhale through the nose briefly, quickly, and rhythmically. Sitting in Easy Pose or on a chair, exhale all of the air from your lungs. Inhale vigorously. This is 1 cycle. Perform 10 cycles to start. Gradually increase the number of cycles over time.
3. Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing): In this breathing exercise, one nostril is partially covered by the thumb or ring finger at the time of inhalation and exhalation. Sit in Easy Pose and exhale all of the air from your lungs. Inhale through both nostrils. Cover your right nostril with your thumb and exhale slowly through the left nostril. Gently inhale through the left nostril. Cover the left nostril with your ring finger, exhaling gently with the right nostril, then inhaling with the right. This is 1 breath cycle. Increase the number of cycles gradually over time.