Yoga for Life

  • By:  Jamie McAllister

In a gray fleece pullover, brightly patterned yoga pants, and a comfy pair of sneakers, Margaret Grubbs is dressed more like a carefree college student than a retired grandmother of two. As we start talking, she plucks typed pages from her pocket and unfolds them, perhaps remembering the many years she worked in human resources and the importance of being prepared for an interview.

“I wanted to make sure I didn’t forget anything important,” Margaret says, her blue eyes sparkling as she delves into a discussion of one of her favorite subjects: yoga.

Originating in India around 5,000 years ago and traveling to the Western world in the 19th century, yoga has a rich and colorful history. What we recognize as yoga today—distinct poses, controlled breathing, and meditation—is referred to as hatha yoga, one of many different styles of yoga. And while some may be quick to dismiss yoga as too easy to be effective exercise, millions of people are experiencing the benefits of a regular yoga practice.

Yoga is a way to reconnect with and strengthen the body, nourish the spirit, and take a break from the frantic pace of modern life. For women, regular yoga practice offers freedom from overflowing schedules and never-ending demands, even if it’s only for an hour or two a week. For older women, a dedicated yoga practice helps keep them balanced, flexible, and healthy for a lifetime.

FOR EVERY BODY
Margaret took up yoga six years ago. She had always enjoyed exercise and found that practicing yoga helped her continue her active lifestyle.

“Because of yoga, my flexibility has improved one hundred and fifty percent,” Margaret said. “I used to always worry about my posture, especially when I sat at a desk every day at work. Doing yoga keeps me mindful of how I carry myself.”

Yoga has also improved her sense of balance and even her immune and digestive systems. Most importantly, yoga has given her the time and space she needs to still her racing mind.

“I am always thinking about what I want to do next and what I need to get done,” Margaret explained. “Focusing on my breathing during yoga helps calm me.” With a laugh, she added, “I’m still working on staying still long enough to meditate, but I’m getting there.”

Margaret dismisses the idea that seniors can’t do yoga. “You’re never too old to give it a try,” she said. “I am always telling others about yoga and how good they will feel afterwards. Yoga works for every body.”

Emily Wells-Perritt, yoga instructor and owner of Wells Therapeutics in Virginia Beach, agrees with Margaret. She is quick to mention that she didn’t begin practicing yoga until she was in her late 40s.

“Yoga, at its very core, is modifying the moves to what works for you,” she said. “You can do yoga on a chair and even in a bed. The poses can be modified for anybody at any age.”

Margaret’s yoga practice is a big part of her active lifestyle. In addition to taking two yoga classes a week, she also pops in for Zumba sessions on Wednesday and Saturday evenings. She plays bridge twice a week, tends to the flowerbeds in her yard, and walks her terrier, Ringo Starr, three times a day in her Kempsville neighborhood in Virginia Beach.

“I think I’m in pretty good shape for 71,” Margaret said. “I am really happy with my life and I never want to use age as a reason not to do something.”  

RESTFUL & RESTORATIVE
Jan Smith, 67, began practicing yoga eight years ago at the urging of her son, who is a certified yoga instructor. She felt she wasn’t as flexible as she used to be and wanted a way to regain her agility. A former competitive swimmer, Jan wasn’t spending as much time in the water, so she turned to yoga as an outlet for her physical and mental well being.

Speaking with a precise, assured manner cultivated from years spent in a classroom, Jan talks of the love she has for her work at Old Dominion University, where she teaches introductory literature classes, supervises interns, and offers guidance to all incoming English majors. At the end of the day, though, she looks forward to treating herself to a yoga class.

“Doing yoga requires me to stop and be quiet,” Jan explained. “Life gets hectic sometimes, and taking to my mat is so restful and restorative.”

Diane Malaspina, yoga instructor and owner of The Yoga Room in Norfolk, echoes Jan’s sentiments. “Yoga is all about being comfortable in your own body,” she said. “It gives you the time you need to focus on yourself and what is going on inside your own mind. Even if you doubt yourself at first, don’t give up because the rewards will come.”

Jan has experienced the rewards of yoga firsthand, including increased flexibility and balance. She has arthritis in her feet and hip and, through modified poses, feels less discomfort in those areas of her body. “I am patient with myself and comfortable with what I can and can’t do,” she said. “I have found yoga is not something you do once and you are done. It is truly a practice.”

When she began taking yoga classes there was one move in particular that Jan struggled with—the forward fold. The standing pose involves bending at the hips and folding one’s upper body forward and down. With her six-foot frame, Jan found the move difficult, but she will always remember the day she mastered it. “I almost screamed with joy,” she recalled with a laugh.

Jan tries to fit in at least three yoga classes a week, sometimes more if her schedule allows. She walks back and forth to work every day and also relishes the time she spends walking her Goldendoodle, Belle, every morning and evening in her Norfolk neighborhood.

Jan thrives on the in-depth instruction yoga classes offer and looks forward to continuing her practice for years to come. “When I retire from teaching I want to do even more yoga,” she said. “I can’t ever envision cutting it out of my life.”

STAY HEALTHY & KEEP MOVING
Just shy of her 82nd birthday, Jackie Stone, a great-grandmother of three, has been practicing yoga for 40 years. She started with a class called “Good Bodies” that offered a blend of aerobic exercise and yoga. As the class progressed, she developed a deeper interest in the yoga poses and has been hooked ever since.

“Yoga became a way for me to balance all aspects of my life: physical, mental, and spiritual,” Jackie said.

Jackie is retired after spending 25 years as a learning disabilities resource teacher and a reading specialist at First Colonial High School. Most people would think someone in her 80s would need a home health aide, not be one, but as her second career, Jackie spends mornings taking care of a woman named Lillian, who is 99 years old.

“We joke about that a lot,” Jackie said. “It’s certainly not something you hear about every day.”

In addition to her work as a home health aide, Jackie volunteers with a homeless ministry through her church. She also enjoys gardening and tending to the large flowerbeds in her yard. She loves reading fiction and biographies on her Kindle, travels often, and is looking forward to an upcoming trip to Europe. She can’t wait to see Paris for the first time and spend Christmas in Rome.

Jackie’s travels also include destinations a little closer to home, such as Yogaville, a retreat in Buckingham County, Virginia, that caters to all things yoga. She and her granddaughter visit once or twice a year to practice yoga together and learn from fellow practitioners.

For those who want to give yoga a try, Jackie encourages them to take it slow and gradually improve their forms. She admits she still struggles with certain yoga poses, including crow, which requires balancing on both hands while resting knees on elbows and lifting both feet off the floor.

Jackie isn’t giving up on mastering the pose yet, but she is definitely giving her sense of humor a workout. “Maybe in my next life I will be able to do crow,” she said, laughing.

After four decades of yoga practice, Jackie feels comfortable doing the poses at home, but she prefers the community environment of classes. “I still rely on the instructor’s expertise,” Jackie said. “I also think that attending a class is a great way to meet new friends and stay social.”

Connie Weisberg, yoga instructor and owner of Oceanfront Yoga in Virginia Beach, has seen the social aspect play out over and over again in the classes she teaches. “The yoga studio is a great place to meet new people,” she said. “Many seniors are single again after losing a spouse and yoga is a way for them to overcome the loneliness they are feeling. Healing mind, body, and spirit can be a community effort.”

After a yoga session, Jackie feels relaxed and energized. She encourages others to give yoga a try and hopes they are able to experience many of the benefits she has enjoyed from her practice.

“Yoga can absolutely change your life,” she said. “It’s a great way to stay healthy and keep moving, which is especially important for older people. Sometimes the fear of not knowing what to expect holds people back, but I encourage everyone to give yoga a try to see what it can do for them.”

For more information, contact:

• Wells Therapeutics - 757-490-9488 or visit www.wellstherapeutics.com.

• The Yoga Room - 757-828-7746 or visit www.yogaroomnorfolk.com.

• Oceanfront Yoga - 757-233-8000 or visit www.oceanfrontyoga.com.

Also check out these fine yoga studios:

• Bikram Yoga - 5386 Kemps River Dr. #103, Va. Beach; 757-286-6070; www.bikramyogavabeach.com

• Harmony Health Yoga - 4590 Princess Anne Rd. #109, Va. Beach; 508-954-3266; www.harmonyhealthlifeandfitness.com

Jamie McAllister is a freelance writer in Virginia Beach. She writes for businesses, nonprofits, and publications. For more information, visit www.mcallisterwe.com.

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