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Serenity at the senior center

Chair yoga helps seniors get stress relief

Chair yoga helps seniors get stress relief

October 30, 2008|By MARIE GILBERT

There's a pocket of serenity on the second floor of the Washington County Senior Center at Girls Inc. -- no telephones, no computers, no chatter.

The lights are dim, soft music plays in the background and a circle of women close their eyes and find their inner harmony.

This is a yoga class.

But there are no pretzel poses or headstands.

This is a kinder, gentler version designed for the older adult, with most of the movements done while seated.

This is chair yoga -- one of the hottest exercise trends for people with limited mobility.

And every Friday morning, it attracts a dedicated group of seniors who are looking for good health, energy and relief from the stress and tensions of everyday life.

"This is a modified yoga," said Candice Valencia, a certified senior YogaFit instructor with specialty certification for the aging population.

But don't be fooled by the less strenuous poses.

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"It offers the same benefits as traditional yoga," Valencia said. "It can improve posture and breathing, helps improve mobility and provides excellent training in balance and coordination. It's just been adapted specifically for people who have trouble moving."

Valencia said she has taught chair yoga for several years in Brunswick and Frederick, Md., where the classes have been a hit.

"People seem to love it," she said. "Some participants have taken yoga over the years. For others, this is a first. But everyone enjoys the benefits, which are astounding, head to toe, especially if you do it on a regular basis."

Valencia begins her hour-long classes with a five-minute relaxation and mind-focusing warm-up. It consists of breathing exercises that prepare the mind and body. Participants are encouraged to calmly inhale and exhale, while focusing on their posture "because in yoga, we're always thinking of lengthening the spine," she said.

The class then moves into the working phase, which provides more intense strength-oriented poses. Emphasis is placed on correct form and maintaining calm breathing. The class includes both sitting postures, as well as standing postures using a chair for support.

The final phase is a cool-down period and final relaxation. This segment, Valencia said, is used for meditation and guided relaxation. It is intended to help restore energy, decrease stress and cool down the body.

Valencia said she encourages anyone taking the class to know their limits.

"If there is a pose that doesn't feel good, you stop. If you can't bend or stretch as far as others, that's OK. This is not a competition," she said. "That's not yoga. You have to honor your body."

Valencia said the mention of yoga to many senior citizens often is accompanied by a rolling of the eyes.

"They'll tell me, 'I can't get on the floor and do that,'" she said. "But once they find out they can do yoga on a chair, they're willing to give it a try."

Valencia, who also teaches a strength training class at the center, said chair yoga is a perfect exercise for the older individual "who needs to keep their body moving."

"Anyone can practice yoga," she said. "It's a low-impact fitness solution with a list of benefits that goes on and on."

It helps restore and maintain normal mobility by providing movement at each joint, which then promotes normal healthy range of motion. This alone makes life more comfortable and daily chores easier, she said.

It improves posture and breathing, and challenges core stabilizing muscles and deep musculature in the torso that supports the skeleton alignment.

It helps reduce stiffness in the joints, which makes it a good exercise program for those with arthritis.

And, psychologically, yoga improves concentration, calms the mind and body, expands awareness and teaches patience.

A chance to learn relaxation techniques was a selling point for Jeanne Johnson, 55, of Hagerstown, who recently attended her first class.

I have a lot of stress. I thought this class would be right up my alley.'

At the end of the hour, Johnson was pleased with the results.

"I found myself very relaxed," she said. "I'll definitely be attending more classes."

Ivy Sunderland, 65, of Boonsboro, had her own reason for giving chair yoga a try.

"I'm stiffer than a board and I want to loosen myself up a bit," she joked.

Sunderland said she and her husband had taken yoga classes previously and found it very beneficial.

"It's a great way of stretching those muscles that you don't always use," she said.

With knee problems, Sunderland said she liked the idea of using a chair and getting all of the same benefits of traditional yoga.

"I'm very impressed," she said.

Doris Guyer, 67, of Smithsburg, said she has Parkinson's disease and finds "yoga helps out a lot."

"It helps with balance and strengthening," she said. "I also have noticed that it relaxes me."

"This is great for older people," Guyer said. "It's not like aerobics, which can sometimes be hard on the body. This is perfect.'

Valencia said many people don't realize what a great workout they've had until the next morning.

"The movements are very smooth and calm," she said. "But we do a lot of core work. We work those muscles, and the next day, you can feel a little soreness if you haven't exercised recently."

Kathy Fisher, center manager, said the classes are held on Fridays from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Classes are free and open to men and women age 55 and older.

For information, call the senior center on West Washington Avenue at 301- 671-2368.

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