Dahn Yoga Classes Taught by Volunteers Thrill Seniors

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Sue and Wallace Yashima, both retired, are causing a yoga boom for Honolulu-area seniors. The Yashimas are recognized volunteers of the Dahn Foundation (http://www.dahnfoundation.org), which shares Dahn Yoga body-brain fitness expertise with the community. Having benefited from Dahn Yoga themselves, now the couple jointly teaches 270 elderly at five senior centers a week. The seniors report improved physical conditions, higher morale, and social needs satisfaction from the workout which includes stretching, breathing, body tapping, vibrating, and even laughter.

Seniors face the life challenges of declining physical health, mental capacity and even social communication -- all prime factors in making life worth living. But an increasing number of seniors in the Honolulu area are happily discovering that these declines can be softened and life quality enhanced by regular and gentle yoga exercises.

Among Honolulu-area seniors, the retired Yashimas -- Sue, 59, and Wallace, 74 -- are contributing to a "yoga boom." The Yashimas are recognized volunteers of the Dahn Foundation (http://www.dahnfoundation.org, which shares Dahn Yoga body-brain fitness expertise (http://www.dahnyoga.com) with the community.

Each week, this couple jointly teaches 270 elderly, ages 55 to 92, at five senior centers throughout the Honolulu area. The classes consist of 95% women. (Men say that they are too shy to take a class with so many women.) With most facilities provided by the Honolulu City and County's Board of Parks and Recreation, the Yashimas teach two one-hour classes, four mornings a week.

Here is what the seniors get from Sue and Wallace's yoga classes:

1. Feeling good about themselves. The couple showers them with love and acceptance, from hugs for everyone, to advice on how to treat problems such as sore shoulders and insomnia. Sue explains, "I give them love and they feel it. With my hugs, I whisper, "I am giving you energy to last you all day!' I am smiling all the time. My heart is one of the main reasons they come back to class." They attend class for social reasons.

2. A comprehensive physical workout. The exercises are a means to the end of seniors feeling good about themselves. The classes combine the yoga and tai chi gong (a pain-relieving martial art). The exercise sequence is standing, sitting in a chair, lying on a floor mat, and standing again. The exercises include stretching, breathing and tapping (to stimulate circulation). Vibrating parts of the body and even laughing as an exercise are featured. Intestines, other internal organs, bones, muscles and joints all get attention.

The seniors who attend the classes feel the need for exercise to improve physical conditions, keep their morale up, and fulfill their social needs. Many have heart, blood pressure, respiration and cholesterol problems, and contend with replaced hips and knees. According to Wallace, "Many of our yoga students tell us that their physicians are surprised at how their older patients have improved, physically and mentally."

Ilchi Lee (http://www.ilchi.com), founder of Dahn Yoga and president of the University of Brain Education (South Korea), states, "Systematic yoga exercises -- by creating a positive mindset, opening the body's energy channels, and stimulating blood circulation -- can benefit the human brain, which in turn can affect how we age, how we stay healthy, and how long we live."

The Yashimas adjust the all-indoor classes depending on the weather (when bad, seniors feel sore) and the students' physical-mental conditions (tired, sad or anxious). Sue points out, "We plan the class based on where they are at, and then take them to a state that feels relaxed, energetic and joyous."

The couple shares a healing vision and service commitment. Sue admits, "When we meet people at places all over Honolulu, many of them say they know who we are and have heard of our yoga classes. This feels very satisfying to us."

The couple calls what they teach Sambo Dahn Yoga. "Sambo" in Korean means "three treasures" (body, mind and spirit), and "Dahn" refers to "bright energy." In 2001, they started taking yoga for their own health at a Dahn Yoga Center in Honolulu, one of 120 centers in the U.S. After a year of taking these classes, they realized how much Dahn Yoga would benefit older people.

The Yashimas' first step toward teach the elderly was to find a senior center at which they could adapt standard Dahn Yoga exercises to the specific needs of seniors. Sue states, "My parents are in South Korea and I'm in Hawaii. I deeply regret that I cannot take care of them. So by caring for my senior students, it feels like I'm honoring my parents."

In the Dahn Healing System program, Sedona, AZ, Sue acquired the skills to be a yoga instructor. Back in Honolulu, she overcame her fear of being in front of people as a teacher. So that the couple could volunteer together, she trained Wallace as an assistant instructor. After having five centers at which to teach, they trained their first instructor, a retired schoolteacher who had taken their class. Soon they will train eight new yoga teachers.

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Larry Rosenberg
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