Lately, my biggest grip about being a caregiver is how sedentary I have become. I spend most of my days watching my dad watch TV and it is literally killing me. I’m developing aches and pains from the lack of movement. I’m agitated and cranky almost all the time which can’t be good for my blood pressure. And perhaps the worst is knowing I should do more but don’t and so it’s all of the above with a dose of guilt to go with it. Cheers to meh…(Insert eye roll here.) Fortunately, I trust this is just a phase. I’ve always been a relatively active person. I’ve dabble in seasons of less movement but for the most part exercise is my health insurance. I know how important it is to one’s overall sense of wellness which is why I am so happy to introduce you to Harry Cline.
Harry is the creator of NewCaregiver.org and author of the upcoming book, The A-Z Home Care Handbook: Health Management How-Tos for Senior Caregivers. He is a retired nursing home administrator, father of three, and caregiver to his ninety-year-old uncle. He is more than familiar with the challenges and rewards of caregiving and understands the role is often overwhelming for those just starting out. Through creating his website and writing his new book, he offers caregivers everywhere help and support. We are lucky to have him with us today to help shed some light on the role of flexibility. That’s right folks! FLEXIBILITY! And balance and mindfulness… But as we move into December we should be remember that this is the “home stretch” of 2018 and there is still time to finish strong. Since both seniors and caregivers (or anyone for that matter) stand to benefit from developing a consistent yoga and meditation practice, Harry is here to share his tips and help us get started.
Yoga is for everybody. It might sound cliché, but it’s true. There are many benefits of doing yoga for people of all ages and any fitness level. Chances are, you already know this. Perhaps your friends do yoga at a Silver Sneakers class. Maybe your physician told you how yoga can help ease those morning aches and pains. Yoga can be good for you physically, but did you know that yoga has a mental advantage, as well?
Aging isn’t easy, but neither is being a caregiver. Doing yoga together can help alleviate stress and tension while also getting your bodies moving. Caregivers often have little time for self-care, so doing yoga together is a great way to encourage them to work on their own physical and mental health. The same yoga sequences that can benefit seniors can also benefit caregivers.
There are many yoga postures that help improve balance, which has a positive impact on memory and brain function. The brain is home to your body’s balance sensors, so poses that focus on balance can be positive for seniors who may be experiencing mild cognitive impairment. These kinds of poses can also help improve your agility, which can help prevent falls. Balance poses require our attention every second, which improves the equilibrium in both our minds and bodies.
Try This Balance Pose: Tree
Standing with one leg planted firmly on the floor, bring the foot of your opposite leg to your ankle, calf, or thigh. This is the start of tree pose. You can stretch your arms out to the side, press them together in front of your chest, or raise them up over your head. If you feel a little wobbly on your feet, hold on to the back of a chair, a door frame, or a wall.
As we age, our bodies become tighter and tenser. This is also true if we are more sedentary or stressed. Yoga improves flexibility by helping our muscles, tendons, and ligaments elongate and stretch so that our bodies let go and release. It’s important to take it slow -- if a pose is uncomfortable, but you can breathe through it, see if you can stick it out for five to 10 breathes. However, if it feels painful, back out until you find a place that is a comfortable challenge.
Try This Flexibility Pose: Sitting Pigeon
There are several ways to do a pigeon pose. If you’re new to working on flexibility, sit firmly on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Plant your hands behind your back and lean back a bit. Bring your right ankle on to your left thigh just below your knee. If you want to deepen the stretch, bring your right hand to your right knee and apply gentle pressure. If this pose is easy for you, try a more advanced version of pigeon posture.
Yoga helps us connect our minds and bodies, increasing awareness about how we feel and why we act. Yoga, which literally translates as “to yolk,” makes that connect by emphasizing meditation and a focus on breathing. One way to make yoga a habit with you and your caregiver is to set up a meditation space in your home. Choose an area free of distractions and with nice natural light. Roll out your yoga mat, set out a few cushions and light a candle, set out aromatherapy scents, or play calming music.
Try This Breathing Activity: Three-Part Breath
Sit comfortably on the floor or a chair. Roll your shoulders back and down and put space between your ears and your shoulders. Place your right hand on your chest and your left hand over your belly button. Inhale into your belly — your left hand should push forward. Then, move the inhale upward, drawing the air in between your ribs and finally in your chest. Exhale in reverse. Practice making this breath smooth and fluid, like a wave rolling up when you inhale and down when you exhale.
Yoga can help both you and your caregiver improve your physical and mental well-being. However, just as important -- or maybe even more -- it can bring you closer together, creating a happier, low-stress household.
This topic brings up several thoughts specifically in terms of relationships. I’ve long been searching for an alternative version of “mommy and me” activities that are more aptly appropriate to adult children and their aging parents. It is true that both seniors and caregiver stand to benefit from engaging together in activities. Additionally, activities that promote the physical well-being across generations stand to gain broad acceptance as both youth and elderly populations find their lives increasingly intertwined. But the question is HOW? I anxiously await programs that recognize that senior wellness initiatives must also apply to their caretakers. Programs like Silver Sneakers offer desirable benefits to the senior demographic but I wonder how many would-be participant don’t enroll because of limitations surrounding their caregiver’s access? This trend is also visible at senior centers where age restrictions often limit caregivers from attending and therefore keep many seniors from utilizing available community resources. I see a growing need to bridge this arena if we truly want to improve the culture of aging in America. The exclusivity surrounding age related access is a disservice to quality of life, and I look forward to more perspectives like Harry’s that highlight the intersection of seniors and those that care for them!
And if you are a caregiver, I would love to hear your experience finding activities that cater to both you and your care person. I’ve struggled finding activities that offers both my father and I and opportunity to grow. Aside from the local library (which could benefit their service by creating a senior section mush like a children’s section) I’ve experienced very little in the way of mutually supported service. Rather, what I observe, is the catering to one or the other which feels more like a wedge between the two world and thereby crippling either’s ability to thrive. I, like many caregivers, live without the luxury of separating our experiences. Our lives are conjoined and that I’ve come to accept, but as a caregiver I feel the marginalization of this role. I want to hear your thoughts about organizations, ideas, and/or experiences aimed at addressing this unique circumstance. How can we fill this gap?