Yoga Everywhere: Building Community in a Circle of Chairs

by Terri Young

One morning each month, from October through May, about 10 students arrive at Poland Spring Yoga, the small yoga studio in Poland Spring, Maine, that I own with my husband, Steve. Their ages range from 65 to 85 years old. During the next hour, we sit in chairs in a circle and explore cultivating awareness through stillness, poetry reading, breathing techniques, and a range of gentle movements and stretches. After class, we move to the living room for chatting, laughter, and fellowship.

This is my favorite class to teach. The openness, joy, and deep sense of community that we all receive from this experience are nothing short of miraculous.

"I never realized yoga was for me—I always thought it was for the younger generation," one student told me after the first class. Another student confided, with complete amazement, "I never knew I could feel this way!"

A small town about 35 miles north of Portland, with a population of around 5,000, Poland Springs has limited resources, and there are few organized offerings for senior citizens. This can contribute to a sense of isolation at a time in one's life when social connections are most important. Also, many people are on limited budgets. A Teaching for Diversity grant from Kripalu allowed me to launch this class four years ago; today, I suggest a donation of $3 per class (a significant deduction from my regular class prices), and the students feel good knowing they’re contributing something.

Over the years I’ve been teaching this class, we have lost three members through death, nursing home placement, and injury. The current members are dealing with various struggles of later life, such as recent retirement adjustments, the loss of a spouse, and Lou Gehrig's disease. The class not only offers support and community, it also helps them navigate these changes. "This class has opened my eyes to new thoughts," says Ruth, adding, "I never realized how much proper breathing can help to relax one's mind." Says Geraldine, "This experience with yoga has come to me at just the right time in my life."

Terri Young is a Kripalu Yoga teacher. She holds a bachelor's degree in physical education and health science and has worked in the cardiac-health field for 27 years.

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