Mindful Movements: Yoga for Elders

Tulalip elder, Marvin Jones is learning the many health benefits of yoga.

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News 

Originally introduced to the world centuries ago, the practice of yoga continues to uplift the spirit, sharpen minds and improve the overall health of millions to this day. Whether you’re a beginner practicing stretches such as the downward dog or a master yogi who can easily flow into a firefly pose, you are more than likely experiencing the endless benefits of yoga. Those who practice yoga often see a number of physical and spiritual improvements such as flexibility, anxiety relief, injury recovery, and muscle and bone strength as well as a strong sense of balance of the mind, body and soul.

One of the many great things about yoga is the fact that anybody can take it up, no matter where you’re at in terms of your own personal journey and fitness level.  Over recent decades, the ancient art of exercise, discipline and mediation has become a popular go-to workout as many yoga classes are held throughout various local gyms and available to stream online on platforms such as YouTube and Glo.com. The majority of avid yogis range in age between their early-twenties to mid-forties, however, new studies are encouraging individuals of the older generations to join in on the fun and incorporate a little yoga and meditation routine into their daily lives. 

“Yoga’s such a good experience. Most people are scared to try something new, but I can guarantee if you try this, you will probably like it – a lot,” expressed Tulalip elder, Marvin Jones. “I did yoga once and now I think everybody should try it out. When we get up there in age, we need to do something, some form of exercise. This could prolong your life because it gets you moving and it’s better than just sitting around watching TV. You can do it at home, you can do it anywhere.”

Marvin is the first student of a new program called Mindful Movements brought to Tulalip by the SNAP-Ed and the Diabetes Care and Prevention programs. On the morning of February 19, Marvin sat in a circle and carefully followed the instruction of Autumn Walker, Diabetes Care and Prevention volunteer, who guided the class through an hour long yoga session. Autumn encouraged Marvin to try new poses but also to know his own personal limits as they focused their attention on breathing techniques and gentle stretches. 

“The intention teaching this class is to provide a space where people can take care of themselves and have some thoughtful reflections on what works for them, both with their mind and with their body,” Autumn explained. “There’s a lot of benefits to yoga and meditation. A lot of our lives are filled and busy, so setting aside some time where we can be quiet and focus on our wellness is beneficial. We can really find some movement and warmth with the stretching of the muscles, which can ease any pain people have with their joints and really facilitate flexibility of joints over time. If these motions and activities are practiced regularly, they can promote good circulation as well as the healing and wellness of the joints and muscles of the body.”

The first of many gatherings, Mindful Movements is held every Tuesday and is catered to the local elders of the community. Throughout the majority of the class, the students are in a seated position as they delicately flow through each pose for a relaxing exercise. A visible smile that seemed to indicate relaxation and ease grew wider and spread across Marvin’s face the further the class progressed. 

“I liked sitting in the chair, I found it a lot easier,” he said. “It’s great for people that can’t stand too long. My left leg is weaker and sometimes I can stand long periods and other times I can’t. If I can sit down and do it, it makes it a whole lot easier because I know I won’t fall. Today I was able to work on my neck, back and shoulders – that’s my main concern because I have weak shoulders. I noticed I got a little sore but that’s a good thing. It goes away after a little bit and you’ll get used to it because exercise helps make you stronger.”

According to many experienced yogis, yoga is absolutely safe for the older generations. Not only does yoga help elders with balance, mobility, heart health and strengthen the respiratory system and blood circulation, it can also relieve stress, inflammation and pain as well as lower blood sugar levels for those living with diabetes. 

After experiencing the benefits of yoga at a few of the Diabetes Care and Prevention Garden Day events, the elders began requesting a class of their own at the Senior Center. SNAP-Ed and the Diabetes program recruited Autumn, who also led the Garden Day sessions, to teach the initial classes of Mindful Movements. After a few months, Autumn will pass the baton to SNAP-Ed Nutritionist AnneCherise Jensen who will take over instructing duties. Originally scheduled to start at the beginning of February, Mindful Movements grew a lot of anticipation from local elders but unfortunately due to the recent snow storms, the first two classes were canceled. AnneCherise extends a friendly reminder that the classes are still occurring and invites the community to participate. 

“The elders inspired us as well as the whole aspect of wellness,” AnneCherise stated. “So bring your aunties, grandparents, anybody who is looking for a spark of motivation to stay active and feel good. We welcome everybody. It’s suitable for all fitness levels and ages. If you have any injuries or disabilities, we’re able to work around it, we work with everybody’s needs.”

Autumn adds, “We really want the class to be accessible for everybody to come and participate in the parts that work for them and to leave feeling refreshed and rejuvenated as well as with a new curiosity about how their bodies operate and what they’re able to do with them. They can take some of these stretching exercises home and incorporate them into their everyday lives. We want people to leave feeling empowered, like yes, I can participate in this program that’s good for my wellness and yes, I found some physical activities that work for me.”

Mindful Movements is held every Tuesday at the Dining Hall between 9:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. For further details, please contact SNAP-Ed at (360) 716-5632 or the Diabetes program at (360) 716-5642.

Stretching with Seilavena

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News 

The world today is busy. As a society, many people nationwide tend to prioritize exercise and health last on their daily to-do list. The demands of the workweek leave many feeling stressed, depressed and exhausted. More times than not, good intentions often get pushed aside for convenience. Diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure are rampant in tribal communities across the nation. Because of the everyday hustle and bustle, people unintentionally neglect to set aside time for themselves, therefore living the majority of their life in a rush causing a disconnect between their mind, body and soul.

Countless studies have shown that individuals are more happy, healthy and heedful when incorporating yoga into their everyday lives. Tulalip community member and Lummi tribal member Seilavena Williams recently began instructing yoga classes at Marysville Spark Hot Yoga. Through her practice, Seilavena experienced the many benefits yoga has to offer and immediately wanted to share her newfound passion with her community. She became a certified Yoga Instructor and started teaching at Spark, guiding yogis through sixty to ninety-minute stretching sessions. Due to the exciting news of her new classes, Seilavena recently sat down with Tulalip News to discuss her personal yoga journey, the many benefits of yoga as well as her Spark Hot Yoga Classes.

Can you begin by talking about your personal journey with yoga – when and how did you become interested in the practice?

2015 is when I started my journey. At first, I tried yoga thinking it was a good work out and just a way to get toned, which it is, but over the years on my journey I learned it is so much more than that. I kind of fell out of the practice in 2016, it was a year that I came across some hard struggles in my life and faced many challenges. I reached a point in my life that I needed to find healthy tools and a new path. Yoga became one of them. I remembered how good I would feel after taking yoga and decided to get back into it with the intention to really dive into the practice. Over time I learned it helps quite my mind, it helps me heal, helps me let go of the things that no longer serve me. It pushed me to work towards the best version of myself not only mentally but physically. It also taught me that self-care is so important to balance out mind, body and spirit. Yoga is the tool for me that inspired me to turn inwards to evolve – meaning always growing, always learning – and definitely has helped me stay healthy.  Yoga is a never-ending journey I am always trying to improve my practice and to be open-minded about learning from others.

What inspired you to become an instructor?

Feeling the benefits and the transformation yoga helped me with, I could not keep it to myself! I wanted to share this! I want everyone to find that path of enlightenment within his or her space and his or her own journey. So if I can help in any way, by holding space and/or by guiding individuals, I wanted to learn how to do that through yoga.

How important is meditation and stretching?

Meditation should be a law! Take five minutes, minimum, a day because It is so beneficial and important. My favorite part is learning to bring your attention to your breath, something we do naturally so you don’t ever really think about it or pay attention to it, but during meditation you take time to control and slowly breathe, which helps tremendously in brining things to a calm state and it also helps with clearing your mind, developing mindfulness and finding your balance to recollect and reenergize.  It can be a challenge to meditate but I think yoga helps. Yoga is like a guided meditation. With each pose, you are focused on that specific pose and taking it to the level you need and concentrating on your breath. Everyone’s style is different that is the beauty, so you get to take it as far or as little as you need it.

Stretching in yoga goes hand and hand with breath and meditation. It draws your attention to your body and deeper into your muscles with concentration on your breath so you do not overdo it. It helps your flexibility and to strengthen your muscles. It helps with alignment and balance.

How can tribal members benefit from yoga?

Yoga is a journey of self-exploration and self-worth because you discover a lot of things about yourself. I think that finding a way back to grounding and balancing yourself is definitely an important thing to do. As Native Americans, we can relate as far as Mother Earth and nature; and recollecting and re-grounding with it, is also a way to rebalance and come together.

What are some of the health benefits of yoga?

I believe the health benefits are endless but to name a few: it helps with joints, certain poses like eagle pose can squeeze fluids in, giving fresh nutrients to your joints. Other poses can help elevate your heart rate, increase your endurance and help with blood flow which gives you fresh oxygen to your cells. Yoga helps with any back pain and improves posture and helps protect your spine. Nevertheless, most importantly it helps with reducing stress, anxiety and brings self-awareness and increased energy.

What style do you teach? What are the other styles?

I mainly teach Hatha, I am certified to teach the other styles as well, such as Yin and Power. Hatha is what I teach right now at Spark Hot Yoga. Hatha is a good class to start with. It consists of twenty-six poses, it can be a sixty-minute or a ninety-minute class and it’s broken down into two categories, a standing series and a floor series, with a warm up and cool down. The focus is compression and extension, movement with breath.

What is your all-time favorite pose?

Dhanurasana-Dancer pose! It’s a love-hate relationship with the pose. It’s a tough one for me, you really have to balance and concentrate but it challenges me every time and I get to push myself somewhere new every time. That feeling of knowing I pushed myself out of my comfort zone is so rewarding, I feel it carries on to other things in my life, so in a way that pose influences me.

Any advice for yogis just getting started?

Yoga is a journey, your own personal journey. It is a practice and you’re always learning something new. No matter how many years someone’s been practicing there is still always something new to learn. I still learn new things all the time from other yogis or instructors. Always be hydrated, drink lots of water, eat a well-balanced diet, go in with no expectations and always have fun!

What happens during a typical Seilavena Williams Spark Hot Yoga class?

I try to make sure that I have good music that fits the mood – to be fun, energizing but also grounding and calming. Through my training, we were taught to teach all levels at all times that way no matter where you are in your practice you get the full benefits. In my warm-ups I try to bring a different pose, so students can learn something new outside of the twenty-six poses in Hatha and with variations as well. Overall, I want you to have fun, challenge yourself and to find one moment where you are able to balance and reconnect with yourself.

What is the most rewarding part about being a yoga instructor? 

I definitely think it is knowing I get to hold space for people to take their journey with yoga.  To take that sixty minutes to guide them into a moment of peace and inspiration. And mainly that I get to help others, it really makes me happy and it feels good to extend that out to people.

Starting September 5, Seilavena’s classes will be held on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. as well as on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. For further details, please contact Seilavena Williams or Marysville Spark Hot Yoga at (360) 386-9271.

Wisdom Warriors find strength and balance in yoga

Photo/Micheal Rios

Photo/Micheal Rios


By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News 

It’s a gorgeous, warm summer morning on Thursday, July 23. The Tulalip Wisdom Warriors are sitting only mere feet away from the calm, chilled waters of Tulalip Bay. They marvel at the magnificent world in front of them; the gentle rays of sunshine, the beautiful sky, the flagrant ocean breeze that blows ever so softly against their skin, the soft crunch of dried grass beneath their shoes. It’s the perfect day and relaxing setting for them to experience the happiness, confidence, and mental sharpness that are direct results of practicing Anusara chair yoga.

“What I’d like to encourage today is people really listening to their body, to know what your body’s capabilities are,” explains second year UW medical student and Karen I Fryberg Tulalip Health Clinic volunteer Autumn Walker. “You know what injuries you have and what limitations you have with your body, so when we are doing today’s yoga class I want you to use that inner mind to listen to your body and say ‘I know I can only go this far with this pose because of my limited ability with my spine’ or ‘I’ve already had an injury with this leg so I’m going to go easy on this side.’ If you have any questions at all let me know.”

And so the class begins.

It is the monthly Wisdom Warrior Provider Class and for this class, an open invitation was sent out to anyone who would like to attend and share in this new experience of learning Anusara chair yoga. For the Wisdom Warriors, the monthly provider class has become a tradition of gaining new experiences that bring them together every month, to chit-chat, catch up on current events, and gets them outside, off the couch and away from the TV.


Photo/Micheal Rios

Photo/Micheal Rios


Taking full advantage of the picturesque summer day, Walker and Veronica Leahy, the  Tulalip health clinic Diabetes Care and Prevention Program Manager, decided to have their monthly provider class just below the Kenny Moses building, on the edge of Tulalip Bay. They came up with the idea of teaching the Wisdom Warriors chair yoga as a means of creating accessible paths to wellness for those who could not benefit from traditional physical activities due to age and/or limiting physical conditions.

“Roni and I were talking about how the community has been encouraging a lot of the members of the Diabetes Prevention Program, the Wisdom Warriors, to do walking as exercise,” said Walker. “When you walk without using other wellness strategies sometimes that can lead to injury. For example, if you’re walking without stretching or not being mindful of your body then that can lead to injury. Since we want our Wisdom Warriors to be able to use their bodies for a long time and walking pain-free, we wanted to setup some programming for them that would support that health and wellness.

“I’m familiar with yoga. I’ve been practicing yoga for almost ten years, and it’s helped me a lot with the pain I’ve been having, keeping my muscles healthy and strengthened, and it also provides me with awareness of my body as I’m using it. So when I’m exercising in ways that’s not yoga, I know better how to take care of myself. I was hoping to share that with the individuals today; to teach them a little bit about how to be mindful about what their body needs and wants, to respect the injuries that they have, to accept themselves for that without judgement, and to practice a little bit of stretching.”

It is no secret that America (and most of the world for that matter) is faced with a health crisis.  The U.S. Surgeon General states that “25 percent of all adults, approximately 50 million, are not active at all through some form of exercise or physical activity.”  If you number yourself in this sedentary group or your physical fitness activity is limited because of various physical conditions, then you belong to a large population underserved by innovative means of exercise, like chair yoga exercise programs.

“Props like a chair and towel are used as support as we gain more of an awareness of our body while recognizing and accepting limitations. For example, if you don’t have that hip flexibility that you once had, then you can use a chair to get into a better position for your own body’s needs. You can custom use the props depending on your body’s needs, so the practice becomes individualized, where you’re not saying everyone has to be a certain way,” continued Walker. “Some of the people who came today have varying limitations. One person has had hip surgery, so she needed a different modification so she could adapt the practice to what’s best for her and what her body needs, not just saying I need to do this because everyone else is doing it. She was able to listen to her body and modify the poses to fit her body’s needs.”


Photo/Micheal Rios

Photo/Micheal Rios


Chair yoga offers the ability to improve your health through an amazing form of adaptive exercise.  You are supported by a chair, so you can receive yoga’s healing and restorative benefits that have been known for thousands of years. Yoga relaxes your body and mind, improves your musculoskeletal fitness and flexibility, and elevates your overall health and well-being. The Wisdom Warrior chair yoga participants were full-on recipients of the mind and body relaxation benefits.

“This was the most perfect setting for relaxing that I’ve felt in a long time,” said Mabel Norris, a Haida tribal member elder from Hydaburg, Alaska who is a regular at the Wisdom Warrior events. “The thing is I find that my balance isn’t quite as strong as it once was, but I was pleasantly surprised I had some and was able do the stretches.”

You are invited to join Wisdom Warriors and start your path to better health, with the support of your community. Class locations can vary. Please call 360-716-5642 or go to the Tulalip Health Clinic for more information.


Contact Micheal Rios, mrios@tulaliptribes-nsn.gov