“Yoga keeps you balanced and more tempered.” — Alexandria resident Paul Doherty
Yoga for 50-Plus
Partial list of yoga studios in Alexandria for 50-plus:
Mind the Mat Pilates & Yoga
2214 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria, VA 22301
Offers: Six-week Chair yoga series; 6-week therapeutic series for seniors
Pure Prana Yoga Studio
100 S. Patrick St., Alexandria, VA 22314
Offers: Chair yoga for 50+ on Fridays, 10 - 11:15 a.m.; 50+ Yoga Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays 10 - 11:15 a.m.
701 Prince St., Alexandria, VA 22314
Offers: Accessible yoga Wednesdays and Fridays, 11 a.m. - 12:15 p.m.
Yoga in Daily Life
2402 Mt. Vernon Ave., Alexandria, VA 22301
Offers: Yoga for Seniors on Wednesdays 12 - 1:30 p.m.; Free Yoga for Seniors 60+ on Saturdays, 12 - 1 p.m.
Yoga in Alexandria is plentiful and evolving. There’s something for everyone. For some, Alexandria is a yogi’s mecca with studios and centers conveniently located in the heart of Old Town, Del Ray and near Metro. There’s a variety of teaching styles and types of yoga, including for those upward in age.
According to Chris Howell, a yoga teacher at Pure Prana at 101 S. Patrick St., people over 50 are coming to yoga classes in increasing numbers to regain youth-like flexibility and improve strength and balance.
Howell’s weekly 50-plus Yoga classes are designed to be beneficial and empowering for all levels in a fun, often humorous and supportive community atmosphere. She leads students through poses and core breathing exercises so each person is fully participating in the practice.
That’s a challenge considering the 50-plus population is “where we see the greatest variety in ability and fitness levels compared to other groups,” she said. Common aging conditions include arthritis, osteoporosis, joint replacements, high blood pressure and shoulder injuries.
“Yoga keeps you balanced and more tempered,” said one of Howell’s students, Paul Doherty, 72. “It helps mood and sense of wellbeing and centeredness.” He started yoga about three years ago to be less stressed.
Another Howell student, Kathy Ansell, 65, practiced yoga sporadically at a young age but then became serious about it when diagnosed with a chronic lung disease. “I practice it religiously, four to five times a week,” she said. Ansell says she is now symptom-free.
Ansell and Doherty both attend Chair yoga offered at Pure Prana by Joanna Crane. With Chair yoga, Crane combines her interest in yoga and helping the elderly live independently longer at home. Her goal is safety first and avoiding poses that aggravate 50-plus issues.
Seniors are more sedentary than others and statistically more prone to falls, says Crane. “I work on balance to prevent falls ... I try to focus on energy, strengthening the back body and lengthening the front body” to counter age-related upper spinal curve known as the dowager’s hump.
Used as a prop, the chair supports balance positions such as the Tree pose or Stork pose, where students stand on one foot. The chair is also useful for a stable home practice when there is no teacher guidance.
Another feature in Crane’s class is her rhythmic use of a gong while students rest on their back to close out class. “It helps students relax,” said Crane. “The gong employs an energetic vibration on a cellular level…. It helps you attune the mind, body and spirit.”
Down the road from Pure Prana is Radiance Yoga, 701 Prince St., where Lyn Vencus teaches Accessible yoga, a new class with students of mixed ages but 50-plus appropriate.
Vencus builds in Yoga Sutras or Aphorisms of Patanjali, one of the foundations of classical yoga philosophy, before beginning the asanas (positions). She covers self-restraints (yama) and self-discipline (niyama) and is particularly concerned with an ethical question each month such as non-violence (ahisma), and what that might mean to the day’s practice and off the mat.
Like Howell and Crane, Vencus emphasizes poses that mimic and train good posture and functional movement patterns. This helps students be more agile as they age and responsive to a potential fall. She encourages “neutral spine” in all poses avoiding seated twists and forward bends.
Howell, Crane and Vencus, all trained at Duke University’s Therapeutic Yoga for Seniors, incorporate self massage to warm the whole body and joints, a hallmark of YogAlign. Self massage for the hands, feet, neck, face and head brings blood flow to the tissues, helps to maintains capillary function and relaxes the mind.
The oldest yoga center in Alexandria is Yoga in Daily Life, 2402 Mount Vernon Ave., which opened in 1994, according to Roman Danis, teacher and president of the YIDL’s local chapter board. Unlike the other yoga venues in the city, YIDL is a non-profit organization run by volunteers who commit to being vegetarian.
YIDL offers specialized classes including a free class for students 60-plus on Saturdays. Classes incorporate asanas, pranayama (breathing techniques), meditation, relaxation and purification techniques based on a comprehensive system developed by H.H. Vishwaguru Mahamandaleshwar Paramhans Swami Maheshwaranandaji. With older students, the system is adjusted a bit. “There are classic poses and sequencing,” said yoga teacher Monique Anneker. “But you have to adapt.”
When considering a studio, Anneker suggests factoring in class size for starters. “Small is good in the beginning so that teachers can see what you are doing,” she said. Also, ask friends for recommendations. Or ask studios what kind of class is a good fit for your goals and needs. Often, studios will have a special rate for first-time yoga students. And finally, check how long the teacher has practiced and what training they’ve had.
Even if you’ve never tried yoga before, it’s worth a try. Maturity offers a greater awareness to the practice, an appreciation for the now, says YIDL teacher David Kosar.
And as Radiance yoga teacher Emily Straight said, “Education begins on the mat.”