LEWISTON — Paul Jones felt himself slowing down.
He was in his late 60s, a recent retiree at loose ends. He found himself sleeping later, staying up later, going out less and less. He joined a gym thinking the exercise might help, but his workouts just made him bulk up. He was still stiff and stooped. He still felt old.
“Rigor mortis was beginning to set in ahead of time,” Jones joked.
His doctor suggested he try yoga. One class, the doctor encouraged. You don’t have to get into it too deeply, he said.
Six years later, Jones, 73, is now a certified yoga instructor.
“It’s done so much for me, I want to share,” he said.
One of the oldest instructors in the area, he offers two classes at Chill Yoga in Lewiston. One is Gentle Yoga, a beginner’s class that focuses on breathing, stretching and increased movement.
The second he calls Geezers Yoga. Its tongue-in-cheek Web site description: “This class is for Geezers — both men and women— who are still frisky enough to move. Come on in and have some fun with others, who are willing to loosen up their rusty joints and increase their lung capacity enough to re-oxygenate the blood. … You can sleep in Friday morning, come to class at 11 a.m., and be done in time for lunch and an afternoon nap!”
“I want to prove you don’t have to be pencil thin and 18-years-old to do it,” he said. “You can be fat and 73 and bald.”
Jones started yoga about six years ago. It was his doctor’s suggestion and Jones — an Army veteran who retired from the engineering department at WMTW Channel 8 — wasn’t immediately enthusiastic.
“I thought yoga was a bunch of old guys in towels sitting around going ‘Ohm,'” he said.
But his gym offered a class and he decided to check it out. During that first class the room filled with younger people, many of them women, including his instructor. Jones felt a little intimidated.
“I expected her to look at me and say ‘You’re crazy, old guy,'” he said.
But everyone was friendly and welcomed him. He stayed through that first class even though he was too stiff and out of shape to do some of the poses fully. He went back for the second class. And the third.
After a few weeks he noticed he was able to sit straighter, move more easily. Instructor Heidi Audet noticed the change, too.
“He seemed more relaxed,” she said. “He even said to me, ‘You know, I get this overall good, buzzy feeling.'”
Soon he was taking two classes a week and practicing at home. Yoga’s easy movements, slow stretches and focus on breathing made him feel energized. The camaraderie of the classes made him feel like he belonged.
“The other students, they’re all so much fun,” he said.
When Audet and her business partner, Nerys Bayley, opened Chill Studio in Lewiston, Jones went with them. With their encouragement, he started to think about becoming an instructor. It would mean 200 hours of coursework, a big commitment, and so he wasn’t sure he wanted to do it. Then he thought about the people he could teach.
“I thought there must be other elderly people like me out there,” he said.
In February, after a year of work, Jones became certified. His class rules are simple: Don’t make yoga into a competition, have fun. And if it hurts, don’t do it.
“You don’t have to kill yourself and be running around in pain,” he said.
So far Jones has two students in his Gentle Yoga class, including one 77-year-old. He also teaches a weekly class at SeniorsPlus in Lewiston.
His Geezer Yoga started two weeks ago. Jones doesn’t have any students for that class yet. But he’s not discouraged. He plans to offer some form of the class at least through the summer.
Yoga, he said, gave him both energy and purpose. He wants others to experience the same.
“This body is 73,” he said, “but the inner me is 20.”