Never Too Old to Stretch 14

Jim Horton takes a seat to teach yoga to the elderly

“Yoga is a way to freedom. By its constant practice, we can free ourselves from fear, anguish, and loneliness.” Indra Devi

Everyone is looking for the fountain of youth in body, mind, and spirit. Yoga teachers often hold classes that attract young and middle-aged students. Sadly, elderly men and women are often left out, especially those in assisted living establishments.

Jim Horton, a lifelong Northland resident realized there was a need for elderly men and women to reap the many benefits of yoga. How his students responded was beyond his wildest expectations.

“I decided to include a lot of breath work for the retirement community yoga classes,” Horton says. “Everyone in my first class of 18 people was astounded at how well they could breathe when class was over. I started by making them aware of their breath through inhalation and exhalation. I felt a bit skeptical that they could gain this much from one class, but people said the same thing after a different class. Opening up their lungs made positive changes in their bodies.”

Horton has done more than 50 classes since his first one with great results. Most of his students are in their 80’s and 90’s, so chair poses are taught. Yoga has been shown to help alleviate or reduce many health challenges, making it an increasingly popular exercise choice for our older adult population.

“You can do any pose in a chair that you can do on a mat,” Horton says. “We start off with a riddle to stimulate their minds. Breathing exercises to open up the lungs and heart are next before our actual physical stretches. This combines mind, breath and body in one session.”

Another side of Horton’s classes is laughter. His keen sense of humor gives each class something extra, further proving that laughter is the best medicine. He notes that yoga is serious business, but you have to have fun with it.

“You can tell if class was enjoyable or successful by student’s reactions,” Horton says. “There are many subtle clues to how many people you reached, but even more so when they return, excited to start the next class. I try to change class activities to keep things fresh. The same sequence time after time makes class less interesting. I always add in another pose or two.”

Horton started his leadership practice as Park Hill High School’s 1971 class president. Shortly after high school he tried meditative yoga and used it through his life. Then he discovered the physical side of yoga through Om Prana Yoga in Parkville, Mo. Wendy Landry’s studio quickly cured his persistent back and neck issues.

“Doing restorative yoga under Landry’s direction healed my neck and back,” Horton says. “I had never felt better physically. So I continued going and soon started taking teacher’s training until I graduated. Then the Gardens at North Gate Village contacted Landry about doing chair yoga. I was the oldest instructor so they asked if I would take the classes. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was really enjoyable. I’ve been teaching these classes at The Gardens and other places ever since.”

Horton has started doing donation classes when funds aren’t available from the sponsors. He realized that people needed his classes for their wellbeing.

“A lady named Dee in one of my donation classes could not stand up straight when we started,” Horton says. “Her spine was crooked or tilted to one side and this always puzzled me. So after eight sessions, Dee is now perfectly aligned and standing up straight. I just helped her through awareness of alignment. Dee was amazed at the results and very happy. A 94-year-old lady was hunched over almost in a ball. I worked with her until she could raise her elbow up beside her ear. She looked at me with a huge grin, one of my best yoga moments.”

Horton is enjoying teaching and plans to never quit. He plans to continue classes for residents of subsidized living through luxury living facilities. He, too, is working with private sessions and will soon open a studio in his basement.

“After January 1, 2017, I will start classes called ‘Yoga at Jim’s House,’ teaching old school yoga,” Horton says. “This will include meditation and finding one’s true self. The asana or physical aspects of yoga are meant to prepare the body for meditation. These will be donation classes where you can pay me with money, cherry pies, movie tickets or whatever you can afford. I plan to promote mentally and physically healthy lifestyles.”

For more information, contact Jim Horton at 816.517.1085.