As we age, even if we’re active in a myriad of ways, getting up easily from a chair can get a little harder. We need the ability to stand with strength and ease in order to maintain an independent life.
Practice mindful standing in a series of successively more challenging (and fun!) ways.
Do you want to include more yoga in your day, but feel pressed for time? Here’s a simple—but not easy—routine that will add some yoga-inspired moves to an act you perform daily: donning your shoes.
Side note: I wrote a piece about this routine for Runner’s World, “Warm Up While You Lace Up.” When the print copy of the magazine arrived, I proudly set it on the kitchen counter, open to my article. My teenage daughter walked by and scoffed, “What? There’s an article here about how to put on your shoes?!?!?”
Our “Just One Pose” posts answer the question: “If I have time to do just one pose, what should it be?” If you sit a lot, deal with tight hip flexors, and want to make sure your glutes are activating when they should, bridge pose is the answer.
Bridge pose builds strength in the glutes, hamstrings, low back, and core. In bridge, your glutes support much of your weight, so deep glute activation occurs. Strong glutes are vitally important for healthy aging and correlate with fewer injuries. Strong glutes mean better balance and more stamina in running, hiking, and walking. We rely on our glutes to help us get back to standing from a seated or recumbent pose, which becomes more and more important for independent living as we age.
Lie on your back on the floor with your knees bent. Your knees should be directly over your ankles. Lift your hips skyward. Focus on squeezing your seat to keep your hips nice and high. At the same time, hug your belly inward, engaging the deepest layer of your core. Keep your knees hip-distance apart, but activate the inner thigh line by drawing your legs toward one another. To add the upper body component, roll your shoulders under your body, one shoulder at a time. Your hands might hold the sides of your mat, rest on the mat, or clasp under your body.
Make it spicier for your glutes by stabilizing your hips and then lifting one leg skyward. You can hold your leg still, draw circles in the air, or even add dynamic action by lifting and lowering your leg or your pelvis.
Encourage the engagement of the adductors (inner thigh line) by placing a block between your legs and squeezing. You can squeeze and hold or try gently pulsing.
In part 1 and part 2 of this series, we have looked at ways to stretch the chest and strengthen the upper back to avoid the hunch that can develop over time. But the chest and the thoracic spine aren’t the only areas affected by your slouching.
You’re prone to jut your chin forward when your upper back rounds, which shortens and tightens the back of your neck, while lengthening and tightening the front. Riding a bike, which means you need to look forward while your upper back rounds, will compound this problem.
Simple neck stretches can offer great relief. If you’ve got neck problems, talk to your health care provider before trying these, and keep comfortable throughout your movements.
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In this video, I demonstrate some really easy neck and throat stretches you can do virtually anytime, anywhere (as long as you don’t mind getting some funny looks). Combine these with your chest stretches and upper back exercises, and you’ll be standing taller with more ease.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about chair pose, a glutes-strengthening pose. When you practice chair, you should feel the pose working muscles of the quads, glutes, core, and back. If you try this pose and you can’t feel it in your gluteus maximus at all, you may be experiencing gluteal amnesia. This means that the glutes aren’t activating as well as they should.
Even though you’re active, you may also sit a lot. All that sitting means the hip flexors get shorter and the hip extensors (primarily glutes and hamstrings) get elongated, weaker, and atrophied. After a while, the muscles of the glutes stop working effectively and other muscles compensate—particularly the muscles that comprise the hip flexors, hamstrings, or low back. This creates imbalance, and it’s also incredibly inefficient: the gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the body. We want that muscle doing its job!
Donkey kicks are the perfect solution to the problem of gluteal amnesia. Start by coming to your hands and knees and moving in and out of cat-cow to warm up your spine. Next, find a neutral spine and deeply engage your core. (As you do this movement, you will to keep your core engaged to protect your lower back.) Extend your left leg about level with your hip and bend your knee, as if you were stepping your left foot on the ceiling. This is your starting position:
Keeping your belly engaged, lift your left thigh a little higher, “kicking” your foot up toward the ceiling:
Move in and out of these two positions, making sure to breathe. Continue this movement until you need a break—maybe 10-20 kicks. Rest afterward in child’s pose, and then set up on hands and knees and repeat with the right leg lifted. Try to do this movement a few times a week or add it into your daily yoga practice.
As we age, it’s especially important that our glutes are strong and that they’re activating when they should. We need them for yoga, balance, and athletics, but also to simply stand up from a seated position—something of utmost importance for independent living in our golden years.