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The path to inner peace at any age
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The path to inner peace at any age

Seniors practicing yoga.
Seniors practicing yoga.

MetroWest CARES, the Committee Addressing Resources for Eldercare Services, is coordinated by United Jewish Communities with support from the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey; CARES brings together professionals and lay leaders from MetroWest agencies that provide services to older adults. Each month, a MetroWest CARES agency presents an educational column on an eldercare issue. This month’s column on the benefits of yoga for older adults is presented by Jewish Service for the Developmentally Disabled. JSDD provides supports, services, resources, information, and referral to individuals with developmental disabilities and their families in the MetroWest NJ community and beyond.

A 5,000-year-old tradition, originating in India, yoga is a means of merging the body, mind, and spirit and expressing the true essence of who you are: light, goodness, compassion. Poses and postures, along with breathing techniques, can be useful tools in overcoming what ails us as our bodies change with age.

Creaky knees, lower back discomfort, bursitis, arthritis, decreased agility, and many other physical changes and declining health are associated with getting older. Too often, we find that our minds are in one place while our bodies are in another and we are not able to physically do all of the things that used to come easily.

Lamenting the changes in our bodies is not uncommon. Taking a positive step towards making a mind-body connection through yoga and meditation can go a long way towards improving the quality of life. Yoga, meditation, and spirituality promoting a sense of general well being can be vitally important in shifting one’s outlook as the feelings of increasing physical limitations emerge.

The gentle poses, the concentration, and stimulation of the senses during yoga have been powerful tools to seniors and people with disabilities — both acquired and developmental in nature. The WAE (Wellness, Arts & Enrichment) Center of Jewish Service for the Developmentally Disabled has been providing adaptive yoga/meditation classes to seniors and people with disabilities — adults and children — since 2004 in a variety of settings.

The WAE Center is in its second year of training individuals with physical disabilities to become yoga/meditation instructors with the goal of employment. Thanks to funding from both The Healthcare Foundation of NJ and The Kessler Foundation, men and women with mobility limitations are finding inner strength and improving their physical, emotional, and spiritual well being through this ancient practice of promoting wellness.

One student in the class expressed experiencing sensations in a part of her body where she had felt no sensations due to a stroke. A student affected by a traumatic brain injury noted having more control and awareness over a specific area of her body during physical activity. Another consistently talked about gaining more balance through the concentrated focus on her feet that yoga practice provides.

“The program had a small impact…it changed my entire life,” one of the participants shared with her instructor. “The way I think, the way I respond to people. It’s a daily thing. At first it was very subtle and then I began to see how I would react to things differently than I did before.”

These adaptive approaches allow for differences in mobility, physical limitations, age, and ability. Individualization is the key to maximizing the benefit to each participant. For example, shifting to a seated position or a chair in achieving a position originally meant to be done while standing can still result in strengthening and improving flexibility and balance, when provided with the direction of a qualified instructor.

The benefits of yoga and meditation to mind, body, and spirit are well documented. One can feel more vital and experience an improved overall sense of well-being through the techniques and support of an adaptive yoga instructor.

For more information or to inquire about developing a class near you, contact Marilynn Schneider, WAE Center director, at 973-272-7149 or mschneider@jsddmetrowest.org, or Elaine Schenkel, WAE Center assistant director, at 973-272-7150 or eschenkel@jsddmetrowest.org.

Families and caregivers needing answers to broader eldercare questions or help with community resources can contact Elderlink — a portal to all MetroWest services for older adults and their families. Elderlink can be reached at 973-765-9050 or elderlink@jfsmetrowest.org.

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