by Jill Woodley
Staying active at any age can be a challenge, and often we are our own worst enemy. How many of us have had those negative thoughts that creep into our brain that sidetrack our successes? From the most athletic, to those just starting out, we all have self-doubt sometimes. For some seniors, getting back into any level of activity can be daunting. The key is to be kind to yourself, start with one step, and move at your own pace.
The most recent addition to encouraging movement and an active lifestyle is Yoga in the Park, the brainchild of local yoga instructor, Sandy Guest-Poulin. Twice a week, under the softly swaying trees, Sandy welcomes people to the mat for an hour of Hatha yoga specific to seniors. We caught up with her to find out more about the benefits of yoga, and how it can fit into our daily lives.
What are the benefits of yoga, especially as we age?
Yoga is an anti-aging practice. It promotes the feeling of well-being by toning both the body and mind. It helps to maintain coordination, flexibility and balance, and improves our agility. Most yoga poses are designed to create space in our bodies. Lengthening the spine in downward dog and child creates space between each vertebra, which then improves nerve conduction to all organs, so everything is working and flows better. Also, as we age, our bones lose density and our joints become stiff. A gentle yoga practice slows the loss of bone density and relieves bone and joint pain.
Practicing Pranayama (breath exercises) increases our lung capacity, and sends more oxygen to our cells, creating more energy and life force in our bodies. This helps to lower blood pressure and improve digestion. Pranayama also helps with insomnia. Performing simple yoga stretches, or doing breathing exercises before bedtime, helps seniors focus on the moment, instead of worrying about things that happened during the day or what might happen in the future.
Yoga practice allows seniors to slow down their breath and meditate, creating time for calm reflection which in turn helps to sharpen the mind and improve cognitive function. Taking a break from the frantic pace of living can relieve stress and tension that builds up in the body. Many people who practice yoga regularly report improvement in their mood and memory.
Yoga is both an individual and social practice. After a year of lockdowns and virtual gatherings, nothing is better than being with like-minded people doing a yoga practice outdoors where you feel a breeze and the rays of the sun on your face. No one has left Yoga in the Park without feeling a lightness of being.
Why did you decide to support Seniors’ Community Services?
I loved teaching exercise classes to seniors when I was a Recreationist at the Royal Ottawa Hospital Geriatric Unit. Now that I find myself on the doorstep to “seniordom”, I want to offer my services to my peers. I believe that the services offered by SCS are integral to helping seniors stay well and living in their community. I believe that yoga is an excellent anti-aging practice to promote healthy living.
Tell me a little about what a new client might expect at a yoga class under the sky?
This is a drop-in, “be kind to your body” class. Participants need a mat, a blanket, and a bottle of water. If they are a little stiff, or concerned about their loss of flexibility and strength, they can bring an armless chair. All yoga poses can be modified to suit their individual needs.
It is a slow, gentle, non-competitive introduction Hatha yoga class offered Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30 to 10:30 (we sometimes go overtime). Because the class takes place at Curry Park, participants can spread out at a distance that is COVID safe for them. It is noteworthy that all participants who have attended in the last month have had their two vaccines.
What can they expect from a “yoga class under the sky”?
– the opportunity to be with like-minded individuals, outdoors in nature with the smell of dew on the grass, the gentle touch of a breeze on their skin, the soft warmth of the sunrays beaming down upon them, and the sound of birds chirping in symphony with my gentle piano music in the background. Our favourite class has been under the canopy of a big maple tree while the rain fell. That was truly awesome!
Please contact [email protected] for more information and to register.
Photo 1: Yoga in Park session
Photo 2: yoga instructor, Sandy Guest-Poulin