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Yoga Revives City Seniors

by ALLAN APPEL | Apr 28, 2016

Willa Bailey and Annette Johnson raised their arms high and then bent their knees slightly to strike the stance of a goddess.

Moments later they shook those arms and hips to pulsating rhythms of “Mustang Sally.”

The great R & B classic and the classic goddess pose both inspired an hour-long yoga class for seniors at the Berger Apartments in the West River neighborhood.

ALLAN APPEL PHOTO   Bailey and Johnson as yoga goddesses.


Bailey and Johnson as yoga goddesses.

The Monday afternoon class, taught by Lina Chase under the auspices of Yoga4Change, a group affiliated with Meriden’s Women and Families Center, is helping Johnson and Bailey and eight other seniors in their group to throw away their canes, increase flexibility, improve digestion, and learn to use conscious breathing and meditation to just not worry as much about what tomorrow will bring.

“I had two knee replacements—twice,” said Johnson, who, like all the participants, lives in the Berger Apartments, a senior development on Derby Avenue.

“I was almost going to give up [the thought of walking again]. The yoga has helped. Now I don’t take a cane. I told God to stand me up,” she added before the group started its gentle, hour-long workout.

Neverson and Davidson reach for the sky.

Neverson and Davidson reach for the sky.

Yoga4Change is one of the several groups doing the arts, cooking, and exercise that Elderly Services Director Migdalia Castro has brought into the senior complexes around town — at no cost, she said, to the city and to the evident benefit of older folks who participate.

Initially Yoga4Change was brought into the regular activities of the Berger Apartments two years ago as a class for people trying to work their way through trauma, said Chaucey Perreault, the group’s director.

Johnson shows what she can do, thanks to yoga.

Johnson shows what she can do, thanks to yoga.

Since then, through grants Castro has helped secure through the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven and the Agency on Aging of South Central Connecticut, Yoga4Change has launched ten-week classes at Casa Otonal, Bella Vista, and several buildings operated by the New Haven Housing Authority.


When a reporter asked the participants what they got most out of the sessions, Laurel Davidson, a lifelong New Havener, was the first to respond.

“It helps me externally and internally,” she said.


“It helps me when I go to the bathroom, and with flexibility.”

“It activates the ‘rest and digest’ parts of the nervous system,” Perreault elaborated.

For George Frazier, the lone man in the group, yoga has helped in a fundamental way: “I used to be able not to get out of the chair.” Moments later, during the various poses, he got out of the chair just fine.

Willa Bailey said the daily stretching, breathing, and mindfulness routine has helped her, like Johnson, with exercising after joint surgery. Plus, she said,  “I find it’s close to meditation, the breathing.”

Perreault said that the goal of the classes—whether they’re for 3-year-olds for 103-year-olds — is “to take yoga off the mat. You can do it any time.”

Chase led her charges, who did the work mainly from their chairs or standing before them but not on the floor, through a consciousness of breathing or body scan exercise.

She asked them to wiggle their fingers, explaining the movement activates the brain, which is why babies do it. Then came warm-up postures; then free- form dancing followed by relaxation and breathing slowly to exit the hour.

Teachers Perreault and Chase.

Teachers Perreault and Chase.

For many participants, the favorite part was the free-form dance. They cut a rug to “Mustang Sally.” At other sessions in the cycle Chase plays gospel or salsa to get the pulse racing a bit.


The oldest woman in the group, Lucinda Neverson, celebrated her 89th birthday with yoga friends last week, said Chase. Socializing is another benefit for seniors, who often have to cope with isolation even in a place like the Berger Apartments.

Neverson said the yoga gets her out of the apartment. When she moves at all, a challenge given the kind of full-body arthritis that she suffers from, there are additional benefits.

Perreault described her group’s approach as offering yoga as a tool to help navigate change in life — whether trauma or aging’s deficits —at any stage of the journey.

Clearly members of this group have taken that to heart, along with the lesson of bringing yoga off the mat into their lives.