By Isadora Pennington and Jordana Klein

Above: Yoga instructor Erin Trapaga (left) instructs Aurelio Larsen (right) and her daughter, Dawn Caldwell (center). Photo by Isadora Pennington

Speculated to have origins dating back to pre-Vedic India, yoga is a practice of physical, mental and emotional discipline. It offers health benefits that have been reported to change lives.

In a 2006 study conducted by the Department of Neurology and Behavioral Neuroscience at Oregon Health and Science University, scientists determined a link between the practice of yoga and increased quality of life for seniors.

Photo by Isadora Pennington

The many different styles of yoga allow people to find what works best for them. Stretches and poses are low-impact, and routines can be adjusted to suit each person’s abilities.

Local yoga studios and instructors offer everything from relaxed one-on-one sessions of restorative yoga to invigorating hot yoga classes.

Aurelio Larsen, 83 years old, has been involved in family sessions with local yoga instructor Erin Trapaga for the past three years. “It’s fun,” Larsen said after completing her morning routine.

Her weekly sessions are usually held on the front porch of her Candler Park home. Sometimes she meets up with her daughter Dawn Caldwell for their classes.

Initially, it was Caldwell who was getting private lessons, but her mother also wanted to participate. “I think she’s a lot more limber than she would have been without yoga,” Caldwell said. “And Erin can teach anyone,” she said with a laugh.

Trapaga teaches yoga at places such as Fernbank Museum and Decatur Yoga & Pilates, and she has volunteered with the Central Presbyterian Men’s Shelter, as well as offering private lessons for families.

Photo by Isadora Pennington

“I like to go really slow,” Trapaga said. “We go very gradually into poses, and then we deepen them through practice.”

While yoga is a relatively safe form of exercise, it’s important to proceed with caution to prevent injuries caused by coming out of poses too quickly or overextending during a stretch. “Keeping students safe is the first priority,” said Trapaga.

During the lessons, Larsen gets individualized attention and socialization accompanied by a gentle hand and steady encouragement. Her daughter says she visibly glows after the sessions.

“It’s so inspiring to see older people discover things they never knew they could do,” Trapaga said. Turning to Larsen, Trapaga teased her gently, “Like you; you’re full of surprises!” Larsen chuckled and patted her hand.

People who feel a bit more adventurous might consider hot yoga. This style incorporates elevated heat and is thought to increase flexibility and aid in flushing toxins. Temperatures can reach 104 degrees F, so it’s not for everyone. For some seniors, however, it’s the perfect improvement to traditional yoga.

Hot Yoga of Johns Creek offers Bikram hot yoga classes. Phil and Carol Houston of Alpharetta have been loyal participants since their first hot yoga class there 10 years ago.

Courtesy of Phil and Carol Houston

“We can enjoy it together,” Phil said. “It’s a fun physical activity, and we have a yoga family now.” Phil, who recently turned 70, had been quite active previously, engaging in jogging and sports such as tennis. After several knee operations, those activities weren’t an option any longer.

Phil liked his first class so much that he told his wife, Carol, 67, that she had to experience it for herself.

“I was diagnosed with macular degeneration in one of my eyes, so I’ve lost some vision and depth perception,” Carol said. “I don’t want to have to worry about falling, and the class has helped my balance. Now if I trip, I can recover because I know where my center of balance is.”

Hot Yoga studio owner Jenny Matusevich leads students through the 90-minute classes, working on alignment, building core muscles and breathing. Each individual proceeds at their own pace.

“It’s the way people feel afterwards that convinces them to keep at it,” Matusevich said. “They stand taller, feel better and have a better day. The more good days you have, the better life you have.”

Do you want to improve your balance, gain flexibility and retain your mobility? Consider taking up yoga. For info on Hot Yoga of Johns Creek, visit hotyogajc.com or call 678-834-9844. For more information about yoga lessons with Erin Trapaga, go to erintrapaga.com or email Erin at erintrapagayoga@gmail.com.

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