When walking into a yoga class, one might expect to see a twist of limbs contorted into some preztel-like formation. Not so at the Seniors Activity Centre’s weekly yoga for seniors class.
The brightly coloured yoga mats laid out on the floor of the basement on Friday were matched only in brilliance by the cardigans of the six women in attendance, some sitting on straight-backed chairs and others lounging on their mats.
Yoga instructor Paul Couturier began the class with a silent meditation by asking the women to close their eyes and intoning “this is your time, this is for you.”
Couturier understands well the benefits of yoga, saying that he’s been practicing the yoga way of life for many years.
“It started out with yoga meditation and then from there it started to go to yoga as a form of stretching because I’m a carpetnter and I always had a sore back,” he said. “I got into yoga to try and ease the pain of having a sore back all the time and then I decided I would dedicate myself to getting a yoga teacher certificate so I retired in 2013 and went to Mexico to get my yoga teacher training.”
He volunteers his time at the Seniors Activity Centre teaching hour-long sessions every Friday for groups that range in size from four to 32 participants. And by the sounds of it, he is held in very high regard by his students.
According to yogi Pat Cassidy, the reason she likes the class so much is that “we just do whatever we can.” The students bend and stretch but are encouraged to do so only to the limits of their abilities.
Joanne Laird, another student of yoga agrees, saying she likes the class “because it is very gentle, and good stretching and balance.” Friday’s session was only Laird’s second time but she was limbering up on the floor with the best of them.
The session began very gently. In fact, after the meditation, Couturier led the ladies of yoga in a nutrition lesson noting the top 10 superfoods that they can add to their diet for added strength and benefits. Couturier says the main thing that draws people to his classes is that “they are curious. Seniors love to learn and they love to know more things.”
That is why he adds these informative discussions at the beginning of each class. His goal is to have everyone in his class operating at a full range of motion, and that includes having the mind engaged and relaxed.
Operating at a full range of motion, Couturier notes, may seem like a very simple thing to some of us. But for seniors, the modified yoga poses he teaches can make a real difference in their lives.
He gives the example of what happens when an older person has a fall. In a recent column by Kelly Wilson, an Interior Health Quality Consultant on falls and injury prevention, “women over 65 are the highest risk group [for falls], with almost double the rates of deaths, hospital stays, visits to the emergency room and permanent partial disability than older men.” She goes on to note that “the good news is, there are many things that can be done to prevent falls.”
Couturier says, “because they are older, they aren’t on the ground very often so when they are on the ground in class they ask, how do I get back up?”
At Friday’s class he walked the students who were able to sit on their yoga mats on the floor through a series of stretches that would increase their ability to stand back up after a fall. In strenghtening the core and legs with bends and twists, Couturier says that yoga “helps you to be full of life so that your muscles are there when you need them.”
The students agree that the yoga classes have increased their flexibility, decreased their anxiety and even in Pauline MacBurney’s case, helped with her breathing. Some of the students have even started bringing their own equipment to class, even though the Seniors Activity Centre does provide everything you may need. They’re practicing at home and really getting into it.
The class ends off with a peaceful shavasana, or corpse pose. The women lie on their mats or sit on their seats in the dark and close their eyes while breathing deeply, rushing oxygen into their newly exercised muscles. When the lights come on, they get up and giggle over having their photos taken before heading off for the day, no doubt more limber than when they arrived that morning.
As they leave, Couturier says that the main focus of the class is, “if you can move freely in your yoga practice, you can also move freely in your daily life.”
The class runs from 10 to 11 a.m. on Fridays at the Seniors Activity Centre and is only a 50 cent drop-in fee for members.