Young-minded residents at a care home are proving you’re never too old to limber up by taking part in new weekly yoga sessions – in their 90s.
The “chair-based” yoga sessions are becoming so popular at St David’s Residential Home in Rhyl that staff are even joining in to fight old age and boost their flexibility.
The weekly classes, run by professional yoga teacher Alison Jones, have brought the home to a standstill on a Tuesday afternoon as the elderly residents – the eldest of which is 98 – eagerly “strike a pose” in the lounge.
Activities coordinator Joan Mitchell said the experience is so relaxing and calming that many of the residents enjoy a snooze post-workout while others are buzzing with energy.
“I don’t think we’ll be moving onto the floor any time soon but we’ve definitely seen a big improvement in our flexibility and movement,” she said.
“It really quietens down the spirit and the residents are calmer and more relaxed afterwards, especially those with dementia. Many have a sleep after the session.
“We love to keep the residents active here. We get them out gardening or singing in the community. The beauty of yoga is that it can be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of their mobility.
“The residents were a bit tentative at first but they’re trying really hard and practising getting their breathing right. We’re definitely going to keep it up – including me!”
Mario Kreft MBE, the Chair of Care Forum Wales, praised care workers at St David’s for their innovative approach to wellbeing.
“We can accomplish anything if we put our minds to it and St David’s positive approach is proof that, with a little encouragement, there’s always something new to learn and experience,” he said.
“Exercise is vital to mental health and wellbeing. Yoga is a fantastic way of relaxing the mind while keeping people active and most importantly it can be enjoyed by anybody regardless of physical limitations.
“I applaud the team at St David’s for their fresh thinking and commitment to positive living.”
Some of the residents have been surprised at just how quickly they’ve loosened up.
Grandmother-of-two Phyllis Roberts, 90, originally from Mold, said: “I had reserves initially but I’ve really got into it and know what the teacher’s talking about now!
“I’m already looking forward to the next session. I used to be a PE teacher and still feel quite fit really but it’s nice to do a bit more activity.
“My legs aren’t what they used to be so my movement is a little restricted but I can still join in this because it’s chair-based and now I’ve started I’m not going to stop!”
Fellow yoga pupil Valerie Williamson, 69, from Prestatyn, added: “It’s absolutely brilliant! Although you’re using your muscles it’s really relaxing and we all enjoy it.
“We take our shoes off and hold our legs up in various poses.
“I was 19 when I originally did yoga. At the time I was saving up to get married and wanted to lose weight. I’m a little bit less flexible than in those days but I so still enjoy it all the same and I was quite surprise how well we all managed.
“If you put your mind to it you can really do anything.
“There’s quite a few of us doing it now. We’re not very far advanced yet but we have a DVD which we can practise. It definitely calms the mind.”
Instructor Alison suggested a trial yoga class after volunteering for the day at one of the nursing home’s bingo activities.
The 45-year-old, from Meliden, near Prestatyn, has been enjoying yoga for more than 20 years but decided to teach professionally four years ago.
The mum of three, who has three sons, specialises in pre-natal yoga and yoga for children but was keen to lend her skills to the older generation and help improve their health.
“I always wanted to teach yoga to elderly people but stumbled into pre-natal yoga and then children’s yoga. There’s a lot of demand for this at the moment,” she said.
“I have a friend who works in the home and have been in a few times. When I suggested a trial session they were really enthusiastic.
“It’s still yoga but sitting down and the exercises are all quite easy. It’s about opening up the parts of the body which don’t usually get opened up.
“We have side stretches which are good for opening up the side of the body and getting extra oxygen into the lungs. All yoga poses are intended to do this.
“We do a lot of hand exercises to keep wrists and fingers mobile. There are feet exercises which are very important as the feet have all the nerve endings and moving them around on the floor gets the circulation going.
“They’ve really enjoyed it and the classes are going really well. It feels nice to be doing something positive for older people and it’s really rewarding.”
The sessions are gradually building up from 30 minutes to 45 minutes and residents are encouraged to put as much effort into the poses as they can manage.
It has not been unknown for members of the class to burst into song mid-pose which shows just how much they’re enjoying it.
Studies show yoga can improve sleep quality and depression as well as reduce stress and Alison believes the exercise can also help keep aches and pains at bay.
“The body is made to move, even if it’s only in small amounts. Any movement is beneficial,” she said.
“We do breathing exercises and aim to calm down the mind and I’m trying to incorporate concentration exercises into it to help the residents with dementia.
“Yoga benefits everybody. It calms the mind, promotes balance, keeps the joints supple and boosts the circulation in the body while reducing blood pressure.
“I want to bring it to every care home in the world.”