HEALTH Yoga class keeps seniors active Chair Yoga provides the opportunity to be fit, healthy and spend time with friends.

Keeta Thompson, front, and Ruth Jones work out during a Chair Yoga class at the Residency in Scottsbluff.

SCOTTSBLUFF - Residents at the The Residency at Northfield Retirement Communities bend, stretch and practice yoga twice a week.

Instructor Lisa Betz-Marquez had been speaking to her friend and fellow Soroptimist, Connie McDonough, when McDonough asked if she had any interest in teaching chair yoga. Betz-Marquez had written a research paper on elderly populations as part of her yoga teacher certification. She knew the benefits of not only moving during your life, but when you age.

“I feel strongly that yoga is for everyone no matter how old, heavy or out of shape you are,” Betz-Marquez said. “Everyone who does yoga realizes the benefits that when a person takes the time to be still and quiet, stretch and breathe, and move the body a side effect is being calm, relaxed and more connected with yourself.”

Resident Vonnie Schmunk said she enjoys coming to chair yoga because she likes to try and keep fit. A year ago, she broke her hip. She was stiff and hurt, but other residents suggested doing yoga.

“I said, ‘I can’t get on the floor and do that,’” Schmunk said. “They said it was chair yoga so I gave it a try.”

The residents also have received a sense of community by participating in the class. They have a circle of friends who care about each other, laugh and tease their instructor on occasion. In the year she has been teaching the class, Betz-Marquez has seen improvement in nearly everyone who participates.

“It’s nice to see how they have grown,” Betz-Marquez said. “I see people who couldn’t stand on one leg confidently without holding onto a chair now able to do that as well as put their hands in front of their heart.”

Balance can be a challenge as we age and Betz-Marquez incorporates that into her sessions.

“When you are thinking about fall, it has to do with hips not being strong, stiff or locked,” Betz-Marquez said. “When people stand up, it doesn’t feel like a challenge anymore.”

She breaks down physical movements and helps participants feel like what they are doing are a normal part of life.

“A lot of what I do is building strength,” Betz-Marquez said.

Resident Keeta Thompson said Betz-Marquez brings a lot of enjoyment along with the workout and is thankful for the Chair Yoga class.

“Lisa is so gracious in her direction of us,” Thompson said. “She puts her heart into it and smiles. I love that and it really helps you.”

Thompson will be 90 years old later this year and she looks forward to every class.

“I find it so rewarding to bring to life muscles that have been lazy,” Thompson said. “

The residents who attend chair yoga recognize the value in the class and the ability to keep moving. From start to finish, they work on strength and breathing exercises. Many attendees have told Betz-Marquez about their improvements because of the class.

“We tend to breathe shallowly and if we don’t do movement that requires a lot of oxygen, your lungs can get weak,” Betz-Marquez said.

Betz-Marquez said each person comes to chair yoga as they are.

“You agree to meet yourself wherever you are that day,” Betz-Marquez said. “As you go through a class, you are going to know you will not feel the same as when you entered.”

Betz-Marquez considers it an honor to work with the residents each day.

“They are all beautiful and sweet, and it’s heartwarming to see them care so much about making the most of their lives,” Betz-Marquez said. “They could be home watching TV, but they’re not giving up and I respect and admire them.”

Betz-Marquez said she knows the residents sometimes think she’s “nuts” but she expects them to at least try everything she is teaching them. Much of the work in her class is give residents a sense of pride and joy that they can keep doing the things they have always done, including gardening, getting dressed and bodily care.

It is yoga, but it is also a lot of mobility exercises, Betz-Marquez said.

“The whole concept is to meet yourself where you are, breathe it and accept it,” Betz-Marquez said. “Tomorrow will be different and tomorrow will be perfectly fine.”