Julia Bower's voice was smooth and calming as the students listened to her story with their eyes closed.

She told a tale of kings and queens and a quest for a valuable jewel as everyone sat in a circle, hanging on her words.

The story time came at the end of class as a way to clear minds and focus on relaxing and breathing. And the message Bower left students with was about finding the jewel inside themselves.

There are no grades or tests in this class, just a group of senior citizens looking for better, healthier ways of life.

Most have been coming to the Baraboo Area Senior Center for more than a year, each with their own reasons to try something often thought of as a fitness option for young people who can strike complicated poses.

But the students in this class admit yoga is an avenue in their lives that has helped with everything from back pain to ailments from aging - and one student even has found help with physical ailments after being gored by a bull.

"I think it helps us keep going," said Ed Brecka, who, along with his wife Lorna, do chair yoga each week.

The couple, in their mid-80s, are regulars in a class that started with a grant in 2009, but now is kept going by donations from students.

Bower lives what she teaches, and also has classes for every age at her Water Street studio - teaching ways to relieve stress, become flexible and live healthier. And, she says, it's never too late to start.

"Most people don't even understand, until they start taking yoga, the ways to relax," she said. "Because they've never experienced anything but that sort of constant surrounding environment of tension."

Just breathe

In Bower's class, breathing is the start and the finish to a 45-minute session.

"In yoga you join together the body and the mind using the breath," she said.

"Most people breathe very rapidly. You would be very surprised at how many people are close to hyperventilating most of the time."

When taught to use your full lung capacity, Bower said, the body is in movement like a subtle wave.

"And that relieves a lot of tension, just breathing more completely," she said.

Through classes, Bower said she is trying to encourage people that the stigma of yoga - that you need to be young to do it - just isn't reality. Yoga is a way to return the body to its natural state of flexibility. "I have people in their 90s come to class," she said.

During a class, Bower strikes a pose with students following to the best of their ability. And being in a chair for the pose allows everyone to stay in a comfort zone without fear of falling.

"It's helped me when I've had pain I didn't know how to deal with. And I used yoga to calm my body down," said Mary Lee Ballweg, who was gored by a bull and has used yoga to help with physical ailments stemming from that.

Purses and shoes are used to prop up people's feet for certain stretches, all while focusing on their breathing and taking the time to relax.

"The best age for yoga is 50 years old," said Jane Govoni, who teaches it at Sky Blue Dreams in Oxford.

"People can become more flexible with their mind at that time, and get rid of all the ideas about aging," she said.

And it's also a time usually when the kids are out of the house, not pulling the mind to other thoughts.

Part of what Govoni teaches is how to look at life, and how to react to certain events - using techniques to relieve some of that everyday stress.

Something for everyoneIn the hallway of her business, Govoni has colorful timeout chairs.

 

But the chairs are not about putting a person in a timeout for bad behavior. They are there to put stress in a timeout.

"You sit down one minute every hour and just breathe," said Govoni, who owns Sky Blue Dreams, along with her sister and a friend.

It's something that can be done at anyone's place of work. And it's that one minute each hour that can lead to a healthier life.

"Yoga is really about breathing," she said. "When you get stressed you breathe really shallow."

And it's what stress does to the body that yoga tries to fight.

"What stress eats is your immune systems," Govoni said.

And to fight the everyday rat race, Govoni offers people ways to cope with stress. "You need to find a way ... just to jump off the wheel for a little while."

Through classes she promotes 100 different ways to relax. She also goes to companies to help employees find stress relief in an office setting.

For Govoni, yoga helped her recover from a major stroke 11 years ago at age 46.

And she now works with the Dean Clinic to help others with various problems, from chronic pain and stress management to weight loss.

She also gets patient referrals from doctors for yoga, for people who may benefit from learning poses to help a specific problem.

With stress, she said, a person often starts to think the worst scenarios in their life all the time, letting stress hormones, such as cortisol, flood your body.

"Adrenaline - when it never stops - causes too much damage to our body. That's why we need to get rid of stress and learn different techniques," she said.

Changing negative thinking also helps.

While she has students do regular yoga poses in class, Govoni said what she does is kind of a cross with pilates, which she calls yogalates.

"Because yoga is not a competitive sport, we want you to have no pain," she said.

"If people want to become better at what they do, healthier ... this is a way to do it."

Govoni says what stress means to her is becoming inflexible. And through breathing techniques and stretching with yoga, the body's flexibility comes back, pushing out the stress.

While Govoni teaches yoga as a way to flex the mind and body, she also teaches various other classes to relieve stress, including hypnosis, as a way to relax. But not the kind of hypnosis you may think of.

It's not mind control, or having power over anyone, she said. The type of hypnosis she is referring to is a kind of self-hypnosis, something most people might call zoning out. It's a way to relax and not think about your problems.

"We are all hypnotized a number of times a day," she said, giving examples of road hypnosis or kids playing video games as times when thoughts drift away.

"Take a break and count to 25," she said, "and feel completely relaxed."

If You Go

What: Yoga

Where: Baraboo: Barabooyoga is run by Julia Bower. Her studio is in the Baraboo Arts Building, 202 East St., suite 200. Senior citizen classes are at the Baraboo Area Senior Center each Thursday at 1:30 p.m. The class is free, but a donation is suggested. Call (608) 393 -0203, or go online to www.barabooyoga.com.

Oxford: You can also learn yoga at Sky Blue Dreams in Oxford. Classes are taught by Jane Govoni. Call (608) 586-5225 or go to www.skybluedreams.net.

 

 

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