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Seniors practice yoga to maintain flexible bodies

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Johnny Furlow started doing yoga when he was 2, because his grandmother was very strict when it came to exercise.

She believed doing yoga regularly would cause a person to remain in good health for a longer period of time. Furlow started teaching the relaxation exercises when he was 23. Forty years later, he still teaches yoga to anyone interested in learning how to do it.

"We tend to worry about strength, but we don't worry as much about flexibility and that's the first thing we lose as we get older," Furlow said. "One thing about yoga is you're never too old to learn how to do it."

Furlow teaches yoga classes at the Frank Bailey Senior Center in Riverdale every Monday and Thursday. Some of his current students have been learning yoga under his tutelage for as many as four years.

For these students, who are all over the age of 55, practicing yoga is a way to relax their muscles and fight off old age.

"Oh, I have no aches and pains," said Jeanette Woods, 71, of Fayetteville, after a yoga class at the center on Monday. "Physically, I feel like I'm 20 years younger."

Several of Furlow's students said yoga is a form of inexpensive physical therapy for not just their bodies, but their minds and spirits as well. New age music flows from a CD player as the elderly pupils practice positions, such as the foot-to-chest, quadriceps stretch, the spread eagle, the arrow, the chest opener and the seated cat stretch.

"If I don't come to class, I feel stiff," said Jackie Cleveland, 68, of Fayetteville. "This is better than going to a chiropractor. It works my whole body, my mind and my spirit."

Dorothea Lewis, 76, of Fayetteville, attended her first yoga class ever on Monday. She joined Furlow's class at the senior center on the recommendation of Cleveland. Lewis was looking to make new friends who are her own age, so she decided to give it a try. Furlow had to help her do the proper body movements for each exercise, but she plans to keep coming back.

"It's fun and it feels good," she said. "I can feel a difference in my body. I can feel my muscles stretching as I do the movements."

Furlow can sympathize with the way his students feel about yoga's effects on the body. He has developed arthritis in recent years, so he feels yoga is even more important to his health now than it was before.

He said it goes back to the issue of flexibility, and doing yoga has helped his body soften the effects of the arthritis.

He also said the body of a person who doesn't do a lot of stretching will age faster than the body of someone who keeps him or herself limber.

"If your spine is supple, it means you're young," Furlow said. "If it's tense, it means you're old. Chronological age has nothing to do with it."