‘The yoga crew’: Return of Senior Center yoga class keeps mind and body young

GILLETTE — A sea of purple, teal and pastel-colored mats spilled across and beyond the hardwood floor covering the ground while the soft, droning hum of music quietly filled the room.

One person stood atop each of those mats — man, woman, yoga-lifer and relative novice alike — focused on the single voice moving the crowd of about 25 individuals in sync.

Together, they listened to the same instructions but spent those moments in their own worlds, moving and breathing at their own paces. They heard the same voice but listened to their own bodies and found the happy medium.

“We’re not comparing ourselves to each other,” the voice said. “We’re comparing ourselves to ourselves.”

In spirit, each person was unique. Superficially, they all shared a common experience of aging.

After a two-year hiatus that began during the COVID-19 pandemic, yoga has returned to the Campbell County Senior Center. And so have the dozens of seniors who attended the class before, along with others who have found it for the first time recently.

Those 60 and older who bring themselves to the twice-weekly morning yoga sessions do so for various reasons. But for many of them, they also once again do so regularly, for the physical, mental and social benefits of the mindful exercise.

Which voice one hears leading the group of seniors depends on whether they attend the Monday or Wednesday yoga class.

On a Wednesday, that voice is likely to belong to Jerrica Huber, a physical therapist with Rehab Solutions, while the Monday class is instructed by Brianne Kartes, also a physical therapist.

Those classes averaged about 25 to 30 or more participants before the hiatus and has already returned close to those levels.

“It gets pretty crowded,” Huber said. “They have an exercise room here, but it’s too small for this many people.”

The original yoga sessions grew out of the exercise room and into the spacious Senior Center dining room and the new iteration is once again in that larger space.

There’s a new age connotation to yoga, which may cause a dissonance when thinking of the exercise that has enchanted a group of people entering their twilight years. It’s new age, but it’s also age old, having been practiced in other cultures for thousands of years.

Regardless of the associations, it’s healthy for everyone, especially those seeking a low-impact but challenging workout.

“It’s a gentler form of exercise,” Huber said. “It’s not like running or lifting weights. It’s much more gentle on the body.”

Charlie Anderson, 71, said he began practicing yoga in 1972, when he was starting law school. He said he’s done yoga consistently throughout the years, and seen the opposing trajectories that come from improving with more practice while declining with age.

“You’ve got two curves,” Charlie said. “You get better at it the more you do it, the more consistent you are. Then the older you get, it kind of takes it off on the other end.”

For Teri Anderson, 71, the social aspect quickly became the prevailing benefit to practicing yoga and attending the Senior Center classes.

“I started for exercise,” she said. “Then it became the yoga crew.”

She said several groups of people would linger around the dining room after the old yoga classes, sipping water and coffee, killing time until lunch rolled around. That post-class gathering in its own right hasn’t returned yet, but like its attendees, it may be getting closer to what it was.

“It’ll take a while,” Teri said. “And I may never get there, but it’s better than not doing anything.”

After just a few months back in practice, the classes and the participants are still coming into form, but so far, that return has happened more quickly than expected.

The steady pace of time prevents anyone from stopping the first variable from increasing, but with dedicated effort, regular yoga sessions can give the body an edge in its race against time.

So far, those practicing at the Senior Center have made strides in that regard.

“We’ve actually had to make this class more challenging because they’re so good,” Huber said. “At first, we weren’t even sure if they’d be getting up and down off the floor … I think over the past couple months they’ve gotten stronger.”

Tom Price, 67, gave proof to that concept.

“It keeps me from slapping my pumpkin when I slip,” Price said. “It’s good for my balance, that’s for sure.”

Price began practicing yoga at the Senior Center when he was 60. Even in the few months back at it, he has noticed improvements to his health. He said his posture has already gotten more upright and his flexibility has improved.

“I’ve got a bad shoulder and a bad knee and (yoga) keeps it flexible,” Price said. “They ache and stuff, but they don’t hurt like they used to. The flexibility has been wonderful. I can get up off the floor.”

“I don’t have to have a skyhook to get myself back up,” he added.

Mark Richardson, 65, has seen the positive effects on his health too.

“It just helps with my back, my chiropractics and keeping me lined up,” Richardson said. “I have bad nerves in my shoulders and neck. The stretching helps me out. I’m able to sleep better at night and stuff, because things aren’t going numb.”

It has helped him in other, less expected ways, too.

“I had a foot slide on the ice and I ended up in the warrior pose instead of the ground,” he said, describing the surfer-like yoga position.

The anecdotes and examples go on and on. Yoga is back at the senior center, and in a matter of months, so are the participants who made the classes so popular years ago.

“In general, they’re striving to do something better for their bodies,” Huber said. “They’re working to make themselves stronger. So we keep pushing them to keep doing it.”

That’s the theory. For many, that’s also the goal. Yoga, however, involves practice.

The seniors who frequent the Senior Center yoga classes know that. And they don’t mind that level of dedication to the craft.

They embrace it.

That’s what they proved before the classes went on pause two years ago. Now, they’re right back in the same building and almost back to the same form, proving it all over again.