Healthy Aging: Part 2 Relax and Keep an Open Mind

A university professor visited Nanin to inquire about Zen.
Nanin served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.
The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”
“Like this cup,” Nanin said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations.  How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

Empty your cup and try to keep an open mind as we explore the practice of relaxation to support healthy aging in part 2 of this series.

A recent study conducted at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) looked at how a combination of mind-body interventions can help older adults enjoy a better quality of life. Over a three-month time period, a group of individuals participated in sessions that taught how to achieve relaxation response (RR). The relaxation response is meant to combat our ‘fight or flight’ response and help reduce stress. Techniques included focusing on breathing, cognitive coping (e.g., optimism and acceptance), behaviors for a healthy lifestyle (e.g., nutrition) and methods of building social support.

During RR (not to be confused with R&R!), a person may experience a decrease in blood pressure, rate of breathing, and muscle tension. This may be helpful for managing stress-related and chronic diseases, neurological disorders, as well as symptoms from depression and anxiety.1

This may sound intriguing, but you may ask what can you really do to find your own RR?  While there are many options, yoga may be particularly helpful for people living with Essential Tremor (ET).  A study at the School of Movement and Rehabilitation Sciences at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky recently showed positive results for individuals with ET who practiced yoga.2

Classes were focused on two components: physical practices and meditation. Physical practices involved holding poses aimed to reduce tremors. The poses were designed for sitting or standing based on individual needs. The other component of classes was meditation with a concentration on breathing. A four-part breathing exercise involved pausing at the end of each inhale and exhale to develop a deep, audible breath with each movement. Participants showed improvements in a common tremor rating scale, a balance scale, and keeping anxiety levels low. 2

There are probably yoga studios where you live that are engaged in working with older adults to achieve RR. Leslie Luft, who is an owner of the Absolute Yoga studio in a suburb of New York City, shares her experience with yoga and older adults:

“I believe chair yoga is very helpful for aging students.  It makes yoga available to everybody—the chair is simply a prop, like a blanket, a mat, or a block. Awareness to breath is mindfulness. It can help with balance, coordination, as well as memory.  I have found that yoga helps calm the nervous system and release stress and tension, which can help with blood pressure issues. The effect of yoga on the nervous system, creates a relaxation response, which is helpful and can promote a deeper more restful sleep.”

If you are looking for a way to relax and be mindful, each person can find a level of participation in yoga that suits them. I saw a post recently on Facebook in which a person commented that while their hands shake during yoga, when they are done, they feel great.

In the next part of this series, we will be looking at the positive impact socialization can have in the lives of older adults—specifically in regard to support groups for people with movement disorders.

This blog post should not be considered as any kind of endorsement for yoga or other exercise to treat essential tremor.


1 Scult M, Haime V, Jacquart J, et al. A healthy aging program for older adults: effects on self-efficacy and morale. Adv Mind Body Med. 2015;29(1):26–33.

2 Vance, NE, Ulanowski, EA, Danzl, MM. Yoga led by a physical therapist for individuals with Essential Tremor: An explorative pilot study. Clinical Practice 2019;34:17-22.