At St. Francis, seniors work bodies, brains

St. Francis Church hosts senior yoga classes

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St. Francis Episcopal Church, in North Bellmore, is offering a free program for area seniors. In conjunction with Body and Brain Yoga, which has locations across the country, seniors can now participate in chair yoga classes run by instructor Laura Proppe, an “ambassador” in the New York region for the studio chain.

Proppe, of North Massapequa, became a certified yoga instructor, at age 70, after she began taking classes to improve her health. “After I retired, I was catching colds and the flu more often,” said Proppe. “It seemed like I couldn’t get off the couch. My balance was getting worse, I had osteoporosis, I had fractured my hip and shoulder — all of this [led] to a heart attack. My health was not where it used to be.”

Looking for a way to improve her health, Proppe turned to yoga. “After three or four classes with Body and Brain, I noticed a difference,” she said. “My body and spirit just woke up. I just had a terrible decline, and after yoga, everything turned around.”

Proppe explained that her work with Long Island seniors blossomed into the relationship with St. Francis Church through its garden, which has been part of the community and growing produce for 11 seasons. 

“The East Meadow [Body and Brain] manager reached out to the garden manager, Kristin Talbot, and thought maybe we can help,” Proppe said. “They do a lot of good work at the garden, and we try to help out. We did a seed-planting activity with the seniors.”

Body and Brain has locations in Franklin Square, Rockville Center and Mineola as well.

“Laura volunteers with us through Body and Brain,” said Talbot, the full time garden and office manager at the church. “She has a very similar vibe and mission [to the garden]. Her yoga classes merge the mental aspect — what’s going on in your head — to the physical aspects of yoga.”

The class at St. Francis takes place on Tuesdays from 2:30 to 3:15 p.m. in the church hall. Although it focuses on seniors, others can join as well. Masks and socially distancing are required.

Proppe’s classes begin with an immune system stimulation exercise, and can include joint-opening activities, brain games to stimulate the mind and tai chi. All can be done in a chair, though participants are encouraged to stand at certain points in the class if they are comfortable doing so.

Proppe makes the classes encouraging and motivational. During one recent class she said, “We always do our best here, no matter what it is. Be gentle with yourself, always.

“Seniors are strong and have so much to offer the world,” she added. “At Body and Brain, it allows them to see that they are worthy of class time — and putting in the time for self-care.”

After the classes, participants take time to express what they felt. “In simple terms, they reconnect with what’s inside,” Proppe said, “and now know that it’s important to sit down, relax and breathe.”

Normally, the class at St. Francis attracts 10 to 12 people, she said. In other settings, such as senior centers, her classes can have as many as 25 people.

“A class is a class — I’ll teach it no matter what,” she said. “In other settings, I can get about 25 to 60 people. My classes sustain themselves — I know I can do good in the community and help more people. The biggest obstacle is attracting people.”

Even though St. Francis is in North Bellmore, the class is open to anyone in the area, or even farther afield. Sisters Kattie Washington and Coettha Broadnax come every week from Queens. “I love it,” Broadnax said. “This class is tremendously wonderful.”

Proppe said that seniors suffering from dementia or memory loss can also benefit greatly from her classes. “We have one man who comes in with Alzheimer’s who loves this class,” she said. “I’ve also taught a couple of classes in assisted-living [facilities] to people with dementia. It’s really good — they really seem to embrace it. … You can’t imagine how much it has helped them.”

Talbot added, that through her relationship with Proppe, they are working together to provide opportunities to those with memory loss or traumatic brain injuries to volunteer in the garden. Talbot, who recently took on a full time role at the church, explained that the opportunity to volunteer is endless, and can take place every day of the week.

“It’s something we’re trying to do in the garden,” she said of creating opportunities for those with memory loss. “We are just trying to figure out how to do it.” 

No prior signup is necessary for the class, Proppe said. Anyone who wants to join is welcome to simply show up.

“There is no better feeling than accomplishing a task that seemed impossible,” she said. “Old age can be a time of triumph. I see it every day with my seniors.”

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