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CONNECT Says Namaste to the Benefits of Yoga

Things get very Zen at CONNECT Langley on Wednesday mornings.

As part of the company's health and wellness initiative, CONNECT now offers weekly yoga sessions for residents and staff.

Yoga instructor Tobey Mackinnon travels from White Rock to lead the classes, which are held in the coach house. The classes are growing so much in popularity, the space may soon be too small to fit everyone.

"Listen to your body," Mackinnon told participants of her July 24 class. "If something doesn't feel good, don't do it. The most important part of yoga is not fancy bending and stretching, it's full, deep belly breathing. So get a gentle, good stretch and focus on lots of breathing."

Most participants were able to sit, stand and recline when asked by Mackinnon, but those in weren't able would recline their electric wheelchairs or receive assistance from staff to find a modification of a pose.

CONNECT resident Michael Coss introduced Mackinnon to CONNECT when they met her at the Cloverdale Rec Centre. She had been giving him private classes for a few months.

"Everyone here is so open and honest" she says. "That makes me evaluate how truthfully I am living. It helps my teaching when I can come from a place of openness and honesty in my words and actions."

Mackinnon has been instructing yoga, stand up paddle boarding and SUP yoga for about two years. Previously, she worked as a special education support staff.

"Towards the end of my work in special education I was feeling very stressed and decided to leave that job. I had been practicing yoga for about 10 years and made the decision to pursue what made me happiest."

She says it's funny how life comes full circle. She has been able to utilize some of the training  from her career in special education while instructing yoga at CONNECT. While she was initially afraid of the cross-over of skills, Coss encouraged her to face her fears and give CONNECT a chance.

"I have found it so amazing to adapt exercises in order to meet people where they are and with what they're capable of doing. I approach it with no expectations so everyone gets what they need from the practice, not what I may want them to get from it."

Mackinnon practices and instructs a type of yoga called Kripalu, a gentle practice focused on breath and alignment.

CONNECT resident Maryanne participated in the July 24 class and says she thoroughly enjoyed it.

"It makes me feel very relaxed and whole," she says. "I love doing yoga."

While participants become immersed in the class, an air of levity is still present, like the comment during the July 24 class, "Will this lengthen your neck and get rid of double chins?"

Since instructing at CONNECT, Mackinnon has been researching brain injury and stroke and exchanging ideas with some of her friends who are physiotherapists in order to provide the best instruction for the residents at CONNECT.

"You can create new neuropathways when you do yoga. Whether you're a five-year-old fully functioning child or an 80-year-old adult, injured or well, you can create new neuropathways, which ultimately benefit your brain health and function.

"I tell people, 'If one side of your body has more mobility that the other, visualize both sides moving together so you get your mind focusing on your whole body.' Amazingly, people will start to see improvements based on that focus and intention."

Mackinnon says the benefits of yoga are many, but it's the simple things that participants of her class will notice.

"A yoga class is a safe place to practice the skills of relaxing, letting go, breathing deep, heightening your awareness. That way, when you're in the real world and things get stressful, you can call on those skills that you've been practicing."