By Alicia Doyle

The Writer
Specializing in Good News
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Ex-Marine teaches yoga to seniors

Photo by Richard Quinn/Special to The Star:Manuel Macias, a teacher of Ashtanga yoga, leads a twice-weekly class at the Santa Paula Senior Center. Macias says Ashtanga is the most challenging form of yoga.

Ventura County Star

Spinal realignment. Body detoxification. Strength, flexibility and stamina.

These are among the many benefits of Ashtanga yoga, the latest offering at the Santa Paula Senior Center taught by a former Marine.

"We are continuously trying to provide programs to our senior population," said Brian Yanez, community services director. The program is unusual "because we are targeting seniors who need to continue to be active. Yoga is an exercise that can increase muscle tone and overall reduce injuries in the future."

The class, designed for those 50 and up, is offered at 11 a.m. Mondays and Thursdays at the center, 530 W. Main St.

Volunteer instructor Manuel Macias said he believes that "yoga is for everyone."

In the yoga world, Ashtanga yoga is known as a strong, vigorous practice meant for the young and few, said Macias, 31, a certified Ashtanga instructor. "But where I learned from, and what I believe and see with my own eyes, is that Ashtanga is for everyone — maybe modified here and there, but every size, age and shape can perform at their own level and build from there."

'Something was still missing'

A Santa Paula resident, Macias was a student at Ventura College pursuing an associate degree and working three jobs when he decided to enlist in the Marine Corps. In November 2002, after serving four years, he received an honorable discharge and returned home.

"Being home again was great, but something was still missing," he said. That's when a friend took him to his first yoga class.

"First 10 minutes, and I was hooked," he said. "Before I knew it, the thought of becoming a teacher had somehow become the reality of my new life objective. I decided that I would pursue a career in teaching yoga.

"I had always dreamed of studying Ashtanga yoga," he said. "I see it as the Marines' of the yoga world — the most challenging both spiritually and physically."

Ashtanga — also spelled Astanga — means eight limbs in Sanskrit, which refers to the eight limbs of yoga laid out in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The Ashtanga method of asana practice was interpreted by Krishnamacharya and Sri K. Pattabhi Jois from an ancient text called the Yoga Korunta, which described a unique system of hatha yoga developed by Vamana Rishi.

Pattabhi Jois is a living yoga master who was born in 1915 and began his studies with Krishnamacharya in Mysore, India, at age 12. He became the leading practitioner and teacher of Ashtanga yoga, which is a set series of poses done in a flowing style.

When teaching students the Ashtanga sequence of breath and body movement, Macias always teaches at each student's pace.

"The biggest challenge for me is to get the student to slow down, listen to their breath and move with the pace of their breath."

As yoga students, older adults are no different than others, Macias said.

For all ages, simple things like good posture while sitting and standing can help the body feel lighter and more mobile. Belly in, tailbone tucked and shoulders back are among the verbal commands students hear in his class.

"Breaking down each movement and giving constant visual examples are key," he said. "I have students sitting on chairs in a horseshoe formation to allow everyone to see and watch. Students are encouraged to speak out during class so that everyone, including myself, can learn from each other and grow in their yoga practice."

Stronger, more flexible

Alma Lorraine Barber of Santa Paula said the class has helped her with balance, posture, breathing and building strength.

"The classes have helped with ways to alleviate lower back pain from sitting long periods of time while painting, and I feel like I have more strength and flexibility," the 73-year-old said.

"I enjoy the classes so much," she said. "I would definitely recommend this class to other seniors because Manuel is a great instructor, and he revises some movements to fit the person's body, depending on what problems they might have."

Yoga is appropriate for all ages, Macias said, especially those living with the stress of everyday life as well as the stress of aging.

"Poor blood circulation, insomnia, digestive issues, mobility, posture, anxiety, panic attacks are just some of the things I encounter when working with the public, seniors and all ages," Macias said.

"It's nice to bring students together to enjoy the same yoga buzz that all yogis come back to class for."

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