Yoga for Seniors is a thing
Monday morning at Asheville Community Yoga in Woodfin, “Yoga for Seniors” class begins at 11:45 am. A lot of the participants are regulars. They know the routine. Get there a few minutes early, choose your mat, your location on the hardwood floor and other props needed for this gentle moving class. Once settled, lie back or sit up with legs crossed, whatever position makes you comfortable, puts you in chill mode.
Teacher Wendy Mallett dims the lights and takes her place at the front of the room, beneath a horizontal window high on the wall. Sunlight streams down around her. She goes through a few announcements, welcomes regulars and newcomers.
She doesn’t go into the why’s of how yoga benefits older adults; she simply teaches a class aimed at “mindful movement and breathing.” Her voice is strong, confident and calming. It’s time to get down to yoga.
“I invite you to listen to your body, to make this practice your practice. To make any adjustments to any pose that feels right for you, at any time. You are here today to honor yourself,” Mallett tells the group. The room is filled with about 20 attendees this day. And while any age is welcome, today’s group fits the class target group.
“Seniors are living longer, more active, happy and productive lifestyles,” Mallett explains after class. Yoga is a wonderful way to meet health goals, exercising, balancing lifestyles, living with less stress, she continues. “There is more to older age than stereotypical seniors popping a pill every day to stay healthy.”
Mallett has taught yoga for the last 20 years and her official title at Asheville Community Yoga is Community Service Coordinator & Teacher Liaison. She laughs as she describes that some people assume “senior” yoga involves everyone using chairs to sit on while doing poses. “That isn’t true. I have had people in class who needed to use a chair, but that is definitely not the norm.”
There is no one here this day using a seat, but it is obvious everyone is working at a different level, each comfortable with where they may be at in their practice. Some are more experienced, admitting they have studied yoga for years.
One says this is her first time here, that a friend recommended she try it to help her with her flexibility. Mallett doesn’t get too technical with yoga terms, but she does explain the poses as class moves along and emphasizes what she considers to be particularly important for seniors – breathing techniques.
“This is a safe space. Relax. Release. Breathe,” Mallett instructs, leading the group through a breathing exercise. “Try and let go of everything else in your mind. Listening only to your breath. Inhale slowly, hold at the top of the breath. And exhale, very slowly, through your mouth, making a gentle noise upon release. A sound like the waves in the ocean. Hold at the bottom and continue to repeat. Try to make your exhalations longer than your inhalations.
“This breathing exercise is good to use not only here in class, but when you feel your mind getting too busy, filling up with unnecessary thoughts. If you can, think of this technique and use it in your daily life to help you stay centered, reduce stress,” Mallett says gently and just loud enough for those at the back of the room to hear.
The space indeed echoes an ocean. Various degrees of sighs join together, creating soft sounds of waves and personal images of warm sandy beaches.
Class progresses and Mallet focuses on the other area she feels is important for seniors – core strength, which basically means that everything done in yoga, engages your core, helping you with balance, strength, flexibility and more.
“Yoga is the ideal all around exercise for seniors,” Mallett says.
As in yoga studios everywhere, it all comes to a close with some major relaxation in what is called the “Savasana” pose. Everyone in the room is laid back on their mat, eyes closed, breathing is quiet. It’s a time to reflect and be thankful for the hour spent exercising your body and prepare a positive mindset for the rest of the day.
And just when you think you might get to stay there forever, the sound of someone else letting out a small snore reminds you that sleeping is for somewhere else. Some let out a small laugh and Mallett brings everyone’s awareness back to her voice.
“Begin to come back into your body. Wiggle your fingers, your toes. Stretch your arms, your feet. Gently make your way back to sitting up on your mat …. Stretch your arms overhead, bring your hands together, fingers point upwards. Lower your hands, palms together, to your chest. I want to thank you for spending part of your day with me.” Mallett tells her students and bows her head forward.
“Namaste.” **Asheville Community Yoga is a 501(c)3 nonprofit yoga center offering donation-based yoga classes, special community events, teacher trainings, student immersions, series classes and workshops in Asheville, NC. All classes, workshops and events at the center are free for people who truly cannot afford to pay. For people who are able to pay, the suggested “Love Offering” amount is $5 to $15 for regular classes and $15+ for special events and workshops. For more information, visit the website: ashevillecommunityyoga.com Tracy D. Hyorth has been writing about Asheville and Western North Carolina since the late ‘80s and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org