Yoga provides the physical benefits of deep stretches, strengthening, and balance — all things which often become compromised as we age. That’s according to renowned Island yoga teacher Martha Abbott, who further explained to The Times: “Keeping the body flexible and strong allows one to move through life with more confidence. A continuous practice keeps the body and mind communication responsive. If we become sedentary in our lifestyles, our bodies truly ‘forget’ how to move; they forget they are able to do a variety of movements. The practice of yoga provides the experience of using every muscle and creating movement through every joint. This translates to a more active and engaged lifestyle.”
Sounds like something we should do. But can we? The answer is yes. Yes, because a wide range of yoga practices are offered locally for every age and level of ability, from kindergartner to elder. Elder-focused yoga on Island runs the gamut from chair yoga, newly offered at the Vineyard Haven library, to two Up-Island Council on Aging sponsored online classes: Gentle Yoga with Kanta Lipsky and Martha Abbott’s get-your-yoga-mat-the-floor classes.
Older adults who practice yoga should put safety first, cautions the Centers for Disease Control: “It’s a good idea to start with an appropriate yoga class — such as gentle yoga or yoga for seniors— to get individualized advice and learn correct form.”
Chair Yoga with Kat Leblanc, a good option for seniors with limited mobility and those recovering from surgery, takes place Mondays at 11:15 am downstairs at the Tisbury library. Kat explained to The Times how it goes: “We start off sitting in a chair, observing our breath and how we feel today. Using the breath and music from past and present we begin to move the body, getting a little motion into all parts of the body. Sometimes we accomplish this by using small soft balls to break up all the tight areas of the hands and arms. This might even mean doing a little hand jive to get the blood circulating.”
Once the body feels warmed up, students can stand up behind the chair or stay seated. They then dance and stretch and move into standing yoga postures. The option is always there to stay in your seat and modify all postures.
“Then we come back down to our seats to slow the body down and end the practice with a short meditation.This might mean sitting and observing your breath, sounds, how the body is feeling.”
Retired librarian Sandy Mott explained Kat’s class to The Times: “Kat provides an important opportunity for many of us who need a more gentle way of exercising. Chair yoga sounds like an individual slunks in a chair and might move the limbs upon occasion. Not true. Kat provides a varied exercise routine that speaks to all our body parts in a knowledgeable, fun, music-infused manner.” The group does yoga poses, but not on the floor. They talk and joke, but also meditate and control their breathing. Kat provides a personalized workout as she reminds the class that it is their practice and they should do only what they can do. “We are on the chair and dancing behind the chair according to our abilities. The message is clear that our common thread is that we all are breathing and we take it from there,” Kat said.
Martha Abbott’s more challenging yoga class, offered virtually, involves dropping to and rising from the floor — a challenge for some seniors but a joy to others.
Martha explained to The Times: “My yoga classes provide a well-rounded practice that includes attention to the breath; seated, standing, floor and balancing postures and relaxation. The practice serves to strengthen and stretch muscles and joints and awaken and stimulate all systems in our body.”
Intended or by accident, both yoga classes have created a lot of sociability among participants.
Retired teacher Jacquie Callahan is part of a tight group that formed when Kat’s classes were at the Oak Bluffs Senior Center. “I greatly missed Yoga with Kat when Covid canceled classes. Kat offered us a sense of community with exercise to grow stronger and laughter to lighten our days. It’s a blessing to have her back at the Vineyard Haven Library where we can convene once again,” Jacquie said.
Martha said that, over the years, her students have become good friends and become part of a
vital social support system for each other. The class is welcoming to everyone who would like to join. “We’ve always had a really friendly and welcoming group of students. I count myself truly blessed by the students who are in my life through my yoga classes. They are the best. We laugh together and also share our concerns and sorrows. Together we create a very caring community as we gather to maintain good emotional and physical health.”
Elder appropriate yoga opportunities also include:
Virtual Chair Yoga offered by Jason Mazar-Kelly (yogijay) through the West Tisbury Library. Free and open to the public, Wednesdays, at 7:30 am. Gentle Yoga with Kanta on Zoom, sponsored by the Up-Island Council on Aging — every Tuesday at 11:30 am. Meeting ID 824 4775 7861, Passcode: 709904. Join her via Zoom, and get back to your yoga practice. Yoga with Carol Vega, Tuesday mornings at 9 am. Call the Edgartown Council on Aging to register: 508-627-4368.