Room for wellness classes

By Lorna Hart - Special to OVP

Joy Bentley, chair yoga instructor, is pictured.

Joy Bentley, chair yoga instructor, is pictured.


Diane Downard, Tai Chi instructor, is pictured.


SYRACUSE — The Syracuse Community Center has announced plans to offer two classes designed to improve movement, balance, and strength.

The Center is a successful example of re-purposing a former elementary school into a venue for cultural, recreational and educational activities. The nonprofit center has been quiet during the COVID-19 outbreak, with many activities canceled or delayed, but beginning in September, the facility will be hosting classes in Chair Yoga and Tai Chi.

The large gymnasium will offer plenty of space for participants to spread out and feel safe, and according to Community Center volunteer and Chair Yoga instructor Joy Bentley, the health and safety of participants is foremost. To that end, masks are required and classes will be limited to allow social distancing.

Chair Yoga will be taught by longtime Yoga instructor Bentley during an eight-week course designed to strengthen and stretch muscles.

“This type of Yoga is a less stressful, adaptable type of yoga,” Bentley said. “Maybe you haven’t been quite as active for a while, and this class gives you an opportunity to begin slowly.”

She said the class is designed for all ages, but may be especially beneficial to older students who are looking to improve their balance and stamina.

“Some participants may be able to move into more advanced endurance Yoga, but for now, this class will help them get back into a fitness program,” Bentley said. “This class allows students to begin slowly and work up to the level that is best for them.”

Bentley said she has been a Yoga instructor since her college days when she took her first Yoga class at Ohio University, and along with improving her balance and endurance, it helps with mental clutter.

“The simple definition of Yoga is that it is a type of exercise in which you move your body into various positions in order to become more fit or flexible, to improve your breathing, and to relax your mind,” she said. “It does reduce mental clutter, something we could all probably benefit from.”

The Tai Chi class with be taught by Diane Downard, a former University of Rio Grande Professor of Education, who said she became interested in the discipline after she retired from teaching in 2017.

Downard began taking classes in orientation and mobility while working with kids who were visually impaired or blind.

“I had worked with special needs children a long time ago while working as a teacher, and while I had planned on really being retired, I began volunteering, and this led to my becoming involved with the Corporation for Ohio Appalachian Development (CODA),” Downard said.

Downard said she is part of Ohio Valley RSVP, an affiliate of COAD, and is working with the Meigs Coalition with a grant that is providing funding for the Tai Chi classes.

“While working with the children, we began seeing more health issues in Southern Ohio, more low incidence needs from cognitive to physical impairment as well as hearing difficulties due to drug use,” Downard said, adding programs have been popping up to address the needs and to offer ways to improve their orientation and mobility, and it was then she began to think about her own health.

“My thinking is circular; I was seeing children with mobility issues and older adults with the same concerns,” she said. “As one ages, falls can be life altering. I was surprised that something like simple movement could prevent many falls that are due to lack of balance, and that practices like Tai Chi can prevent falls by seventy percent.”

Now teaching those principles of an ancient discipline, Downard said you don’t have to be athletic or in shape or have prior experience to learn these very slow and deliberate moves.

“Tai Chi is a discipline of meditative movements practiced as a system of exercise,” she said. “I keep the classes small so we can all work together. It is slow and deliberate, and can improve movement and strength. It is good for all ages, but seniors can especially benefit-with good balance and confidence in movement, it is easier to age in place.”

The deadline for registration for the Chair Yoga class is Sept. 19 and registration for the Tai Chi class is Sept. 28.

Tai Chi will be offered Wednesday, Sept. 29 from 11 a.m. to noon and will last for 16 weeks, class size limited to 10.

Chair Yoga is an eight-week course that will begin Monday, Sept. 20, from 11 a.m. to noon.

To register and for questions about the classes, including what you will need to bring and what is provided at the facility, contact Bentley at 740-992-2365.

© 2021 Ohio Valley Publishing, all rights reserved.

Joy Bentley, chair yoga instructor, is pictured. Bentley, chair yoga instructor, is pictured. Courtesy

Diane Downard, Tai Chi instructor, is pictured. Downard, Tai Chi instructor, is pictured. Courtesy

By Lorna Hart

Special to OVP

Lorna Hart is a freelance writer for Ohio Valley Publishing.

Lorna Hart is a freelance writer for Ohio Valley Publishing.