Dr. Jinsup Song and researchers at the School of Podiatric Medicine and the College of Health Professions examined the gait and postural stability of 24 elderly females who were enrolled in an Iyengar yoga program, specifically designed for those over 65. At the end of the nine-week program, the researchers found that the participants had a faster stride, an increased flexibility in the lower extremities, an improved single-leg stance, and an increased confidence in walking and balance.
Song and his colleagues suggest that improving balance and stability through yoga may help reduce the risk of falling, as these are two areas that are often deficient when fall occurs.
"We were very impressed at the progress our participants made by the end of the program. Subjects demonstrated improved muscle strength in lower extremities, which helps with stability. There was also a pronounced difference in how pressure was distributed on the bottom of the foot, which helps to maintain balance," said Song, the principal investigator of the study.
Song and study co-author Marian Garfinkel, Ed.D., a certified senior Iyengar Yoga instructor, consulted renowned yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar to craft a specific yoga program of poses tailored to the elderly who have had little to no yoga experience. The use of props in the Iyengar program allows participants to gradually master the poses while building their confidence level.
"In the past, similar studies have been done that look at gait and balance improvement in elderly females using a more aggressive form of yoga. For this study, we worked to create a very basic regimen that taught participants proper ways to breathe, stand and pose," said Song.
The researchers also found that some participants, who had unrelated back and knee pain at baseline, were pain-free by the end of the study.
In addition to improving balance and stability, Song says that participation in a group setting, such as an Iyengar yoga class, may have positive psychological effects for the elderly, as well.
"Throughout the program, participants consistently noted that they had a better outlook on their day-to-day lives. The class gave them something to look forward to; they found it engaging, and said that if they couldn't attend a class, they definitely missed it," said Song.
The findings have been presented at the Gait and Clinical Movement Analysis Society's Annual Meeting.