Caregivers Rise and Shine – with Yoga!

Wake up. Get up. Many of us start our day with those simple tasks, not giving it much thought. But almost 28 percent of Americans over 65 reports having difficulty getting out of bed. While Americans are living longer and expecting a better quality of life than their predecessors, the ability to get out of bed ─ with safety and confidence ─ has a profound effect on whether you are able to live those expectations.

Fear of falling can make older adults so cautious that they often opt to stay in bed or on the couch. And no wonder they’re afraid: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that each year, 360,000–480,000 older adults sustain fall-related fractures.1 In 2007, 18,000 older adults died from injuries related to unintentional falls; in 2008, 2.1 million older adults were treated in emergency departments for nonfatal injuries from falls, and more than 559,000 of those patients were hospitalized.2

But staying in bed has its own side effects, including blood clots, muscle weakness, bed sores, decreased balance, dizziness with movement, feelings of nausea, and depression. And the more hours in bed, the worse these conditions become, until getting out of bed seems hopeless, if not downright scary!

What happens during the night that makes getting out of bed difficult for so many of us? Sabrina Castaneda, M.S., MOT, OTR, E-RYT-500, an occupational therapist in Dallas, Texas who promotes active aging, explains, “As we sleep, muscles often get tight and stiff and ligaments can lose some elasticity. And the synovial fluid that lubricates the joints can become a little thicker, especially in the older population or those who are inactive.” So how do we transition from stiffness to moving freely? “It’s so important to get the body moving and if possible, out of bed,” says Castaneda, who incorporates yoga into all occupational therapy sessions. A gentle yoga routine before and after rising each day is a perfect way to accomplish this.

Yoga Routine in Bed

Rising from a lying to sitting position requires strength in the core abdominal muscles and the hip flexors These yoga exercises, practiced while still lying down, will help to lengthen and strengthen those muscles. Remember to breathe deeply through the nostrils during each exercise.

  1. Simple stretches. Start with a deep inhale and slow exhale. Stretch your whole body, extending your legs down to the end of the bed and your arms up over your head if possible. Alternately point and flex each foot.
  2. Heel slides. Lying on your back with the legs down, slowly slide one heel towards the buttock, then slide back to straight. Switch legs. Repeat up to 10 slides on each leg, all the while keeping your belly button pulled toward your spine.
  3. Single knee to chest. Lying on your back, pull one knee at a time toward your chest. Hold for five seconds while breathing deeply. Repeat with the opposite leg. Work up to three times and hold each knee for up to 20 seconds.
  4. Trunk rotation. Lying on your back, bend your knees, keeping your feet on the bed at least hip-width apart. Gently roll the knees from side to side as far as possible without discomfort. Hold for 10 seconds, working up to 10 repetitions. Caution: Do not push through pain; you should feel only a gentle stretch in the spine.
  5. Ankle pumps. Lying on your back with legs down, flex your feet towards you, then point them away from you. Hold each position for up to 10 seconds, working up to 10 repetitions.

Coming to a Seated Position

This exercise helps you sit up while protecting your spine. While lying on your back, bend the knees, feet flat on the bed. Pull your belly button to your spine while continuing to breathe. Slowly roll to your side, keeping your shoulders in line with your hips. As you bring your legs off the bed, use your arms to push your torso into a seated position on the edge of the bed. Keep your belly button to your spine during the entire move. You mayuse this same technique to lie down.


After coming to a seated position, use yoga breathing techniques to bring sufficient oxygen to the blood and the brain before standing.

  1. Come to the edge of the bed with your feet on the floor and your hands pressing gently against the sides of the bed for support.
  2. Breathe naturally through the nostrils and merely observe your breath for a few moments, without trying to correct or challenge your breath. Observe how the abdomen expands on the inhale and contracts on the exhale.
  3. Begin to gently deepen the breath, observing its ability to lengthen on both the inhale and the exhale. Focus on bringing the breath to the abdomen rather than the chest.
  4. Repeat 15-20 rounds of inhaling and exhaling this way, focusing as much as possible on nothing but your breath.

Yoga Routine after Standing

Once you are standing, you can add movements to further strengthen key muscles.

  1. Mountain pose.Standing tall with the feet hip distance apart, press into the floor while you engage your abdominal muscles, bringing your belly button toward your spine. Gently roll your shoulders back, arms at your side. On each exhale, squeeze your belly button toward your spine. Repeat for 10 breaths, working up to 15. This helps strengthen abdominal muscles and balance.
  2. Simple torso twists.In the same standing position as above, twist the upper torso from side to side, letting the arms loosely swing around the body. Be sure to keep the abdominal muscles tight by keeping your belly button pulled toward your spine and hips as stable as possible. This movement increases balance and helps to loosen the spine as it bathes your spinal joints in synovial fluid.
  3. Chair pose. Lean against a wall, feet parallel and hip distance apart, hands on hips. Press the feet into the floor as you bend your knees, engaging the tops of the thighs. Bring your belly button toward your spine. This pose strengthens all leg muscles as well as the muscles of the buttocks.
  4. Tree. Using one hand on a wall or chair to support yourself, shift your weight to your left foot. Standing tall, with your belly button toward your spine and your shoulders back, lift the right heel off the floor, bringing it near the left ankle. Bring the arch of the right foot toward the left ankle, keeping the ball of the right foot on the floor. Hold for 10 seconds and alternate feet. Work to hold for 25 seconds. The tree pose helps to build coordination, balance, and leg and hip flexor strength.