Getting Older, But It’s Yoga, Not Bingo

DSC_0169Meredith HoffmanA new series of programs offered by the Educational Alliance for those 55 and older include lessons in ballroom dancing, tai chi and yoga. Here, Marcy Simon, who directs the program, leads a class.

There were lessons in zumba, ballroom dancing, karaoke, ceramics, and tap dance. Some people were learning tai chi and yoga. Others were taking part in poetry readings or Chinese dance sessions.

Many might assume that a place offering those programs was some ultramodern studio targeting this year’s crop of college students. In fact, these are just some of the new programs being offered by the Educational Alliance’s specifically for older adults. And no, they do not offer bingo.

The East Village Center for Balanced Living is located in the Sirovich Center on 12th Street between First and Second Avenues (similar programs are also available at the Whittaker Center on East Broadway). The center believes that just because people qualify for the breakfast special, this doesn’t mean that their health and wellness shouldn’t remain a vital aspect of their day. “It is about finding ways to challenge people as they get older, not feeding into it,” said Marcy Simon, the director and founder of the center.

For a yearly fee of $75, members have unlimited access to the center’s services. Programs attract mostly those from the leading edge of the “Baby Boomer Generation” and even some from the “Greatest Generation,” with one woman, who at age 90, attends chair yoga. Ms. Simon has developed a series of classes related to health and fitness, starting as early as 9:30 a.m. and ending around 7:30 p.m. to accommodate all schedules. Remaining active by teaching some of the classes, Ms. Simon herself demonstrates a spunk and energy that is living proof that this can work.

DSC_0162Meredith Hoffman The center also offers lessons in ballroom dancing and tai chi

One student at the center, Patricia, can attest to the results of participation in the center. She had tried going to a gym, she said, but found it to be too crowded. She did not enjoy using exercise machines and was not receiving any individual attention. For half a year now she has been attending classes at the center and says she finally feels like she’s getting exercise, sweating and having fun. She said that she has participated in Zumba, a Latin and world music work-out. As a result, she says, she feels healthy and fit and has lost weight. Most of all, she added, she feels happy to be active.

The center’s approach to health and wellness aims to be holistic. Erin McInrue, the health coordinator, ensures that programs such as one-on-one nutrition and health consultations, skin and aging workshops, and talks on intimacy are juxtaposed with the more highly active opportunities throughout the week. There’s a strong sense of community and support here, according to students, developed through weekly dance lessons and even through attending a blood pressure or weight management education courses together.

The center hopes to serve as a model for other programs catering to older people. Part of the mission, Ms. Simon said, is to challenge traditional assumptions that those of retirement age of above are by nature sedentary and cannot handle anything more vigorous than bingo or shuffleboard. And, she added, if the level of participation from local residents is any indication, the new approach appears to be popular. “They are coming in and looking for something,” she said, “and we are giving it to them.”