Just breathe: Yoga builds strength, flexibility, well being

September 2011 Posted in Your Health

By Omie Drawhorn

When Ruth Schwab first attended one of Tsipora Berman’s yoga classes at the Silverton Senior Center, she did most of the poses in a chair.

“She’s a Type A, fast-paced person (so yoga was a new thing for her),” Berman said. “She didn’t know where her body was, but the coordination, strength of mind, and breath from yoga has changed her life.”

Schwab said she decided to try yoga because her sciatic nerve was bothering her. It was quite a challenge at first.

“Balancing poses were so hard,” she said. “My right shoulder injury made it worse.”

Schwab is just one of many seniors who are turning to yoga to help with their flexibility, strength, health and overall well being.

In addition to classes at the senior center, Berman leads classes at Mount Angel Towers, Stayton Public Library, and at Silver Falls Yoga, her home studio several miles outside of Silverton.

Yoga is beneficial for all age groups, but it has been known to help with healthy aging, and age-related diseases like arthritis and high blood pressure,  Berman said.

There are many different kinds of yoga. Berman teaches a kripalu style, which accesses body, mind and energy. Berman says yoga is accessible at any age; everything can be modified. During her classes, she suggests modifications to the various poses and develops a reading on the ability of her class.

“I judge the people in the room and determine what’s right for the group,” she said. “If someone is really hurting, I guide class in a way that will guide that person, and when they are not here, I tell their classmates to embrace that person the next time they see them.”

Her students from Mount Angel Towers, who are often between the ages of 80 and 100, spend most of the hour-long class in a chair and about 15 minutes in standing, for balance poses.

“Some people get impatient during the standing part (because they are unable to do it) so they get up and leave. Patience is a part of yoga,” she said.

Yoga classes for seniors
Yoga 50+
9:45 to 11 a.m. Monday and Wednesday,
Silverton Senior Center, 115 Westfield St.
10:30 to 11:30 a.m.,
Thursday, Mount Angel Towers,
One Towers Lane. 503-845-7211

For other classes:
Silver Falls Yoga Studio,

Even the balancing postures can be modified and done from a chair.

At the Towers, Berman tries to give every student individual attention. She said her students show perseverance and dedication.

One woman had broken her foot and still came to class in a wheel chair.
Lillian Marshall, 89, said when she first attended Berman’s class two years ago it was eye opening.

“I had never done anything like that before,” she said.

Over time she has developed a sense of balance that has helped her and her flexibility has improved.
Marshall said she really appreciates the mind-body aspect of yoga.

“This is the first time in my life that I have ever thought about my body,” she said. “It’s spiritual. I’m more in touch with myself than I have ever been.”

Schwab said in the beginning she was sore, but as she attended class, that improved.
Yoga has helped her arthritis, as well as her overall health.

“At first, I was quite under weight, but that has improved; wasn’t feeling well enough to eat,” she said. “It’s helped how I feel. When I leave I feel tired in a good way, not like aerobics. Aerobics and I don’t get along too well.”

Berman said yoga helps with balance, bone density, memory, flexibility, building muscle mass, endurance, and stress, which are benefits to yogis of all ages.

Different postures produce different physical and mental benefits. For example, standing and balancing postures help develop concentration, build strength, increase coordination, focus attention in the body, and increase absorption of the mind.

Lois Riopelle, 75, of Silverton, also attends class at the senior center.

“I started doing yoga one year ago,” she said. “When I retired from real estate, I promised myself I would spend some of that time exercising.”

She settled on a combination of Zumba and yoga.

“I’m a physical person and this has helped me with balance,” she said. “One hip is bad but stretching makes it feel better.”

She used to have to have cortisone shots but she hasn’t had to lately.

Berman told her yoga class “you can do yoga in any kind of body by raising mindfulness; things change so fast, don’t even think things stay the same.”

Yoga is more than the series of poses that students do on their mats. It is present in the way they live their lives.

“It’s about creating a supportive lifestyle that supports the things you want,” Berman said. And she said it starts with the breath.

“Breath is your first tool to bring you outside your body and into your head,” Berman said. “Breath is with you no matter where you are, it gives you an understanding of a moment.”

She reminds her class that they are “part of the earth, not separate from it.”

“Thoughts are energy,” she said. “I’m in a room of wise women with a lot of collective wisdom.”

She said the spiritual aspect of the practice and the power of community is just as important as the physical aspect.

“They learn to be in a body they have,” she said.

She said she approaches tenderly and with understanding, in a way that doesn’t drive people away.

“People come for gentle exercise but it does a lot more than that,” she said.

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