By Virginia Grantier
She knows about challenges: Brenn Lea Pearson, 64, who lives alone with her two dogs, is a longtime graphic designer in Evergreen who has been trying to regroup in this economy since her New York and San Francisco book publishing jobs went overseas and local work became scarce.
They know about challenges: This group that waits in their chairs and wheelchairs on Wednesdays for Pearson. They have a range of issues: Some have Alzheimer’s; others are recovering from strokes or other debilitating physical conditions.
Pearson reportedly has a way of calmly wading through challenges, helping this group and herself to feel better every Wednesday when she volunteers to teach yoga to participants of Adult Day Services at the nonprofit Seniors’ Resource Center at the Yellow House in Evergreen.
“She has some sort of magic,” says Judee Colton, a program assistant.
Colton said she has seen significant improvement in participants’ mobility, and she’s amazed at how Pearson can hold the group’s attention for an hour.
The group was focusing so intently one day that when an air-conditioning unit being installed in the yoga room fell several feet, staff members reported they nearly jumped out of their skins, but the intent yoga group didn’t even move and didn’t notice the noise, Pearson related.
As they sit in their chairs in a circle, there is chanting. They raise arms to the sun, down to the earth and then extend joy to each other and beyond. Various breathing and stretching exercises increase flexibility and strength.
Throughout one recent class, they laughed and chatted like comfortable friends about their memories and little things in their daily lives. In between that, and during exercises, Pearson throws in information about physiology, or yoga-term definitions, the goal of unity of body, mind and spirit. She shares that yoga isn’t a religion but a “way of being.”
There is a brief time, with staff’s help, that they get up, and, braced on chairs, try to stand on one leg for 30 seconds to work on improving balance, because “as you age, the first thing to go is balance,” Pearson said.
She indicates she doesn’t want them, or her, to just hang on to what they’ve got. She wants them to get better.
“It’s not about maintaining; it’s about growing,” she said in a recent interview.
And, “I want to bring joy to their lives.”
“I appreciate Cody and Brenn Lea coming in every (Wednesday),” said one woman from her wheelchair, who is recovering from a stroke and has limited use of her hands and legs, but unlimited smiles.
Many people start the class in poor spirits, are hurting and stiff. By the end, “they’re beaming,” Pearson said.
Of course, part of their happiness is because she doesn’t come alone. When she leaves her whimsical Evergreen house — which among other things has a chimney that Pearson the artist has turned into a lighthouse — her Cody, age 14, a sizable black lab, trails along.
Cody, an English Lab, a breed larger than the American Lab, with his broad head and feet that seem the size of salad plates, is all friend and no foe. Every Wednesday this elderly boy lumbers into the SRC, heading for yoga students on his legs that are like theirs — stiff.
He comes in carrying his leash, panting heavily his hellos and getting much love back. He’s hearing his name a lot as he drops the leash and starts visiting everyone, then periodically plops into the middle of the yoga circle to watch and relax. And then when the class is over, he automatically knows it, picks up the leash and heads for the door.
Cody is so central to the event that he shares billing with Pearson: It’s “Yoga with Brenn Lea and Cody” in the printed weekly activities calendar.
“He brings a sense of calmness to the room,” said Sandy Mathis, manager of the adult day care program and respite services.
An example of what yoga does: Pearson talks about a woman in her 80s who two years ago “couldn’t bring her arms even up to her shoulders.”
“Now (her arms) go over her head,” Pearson said. “Seated, trying to bend forward, her hands didn’t reach her knees. Now her hands go all the way to her toes.”
“I feel looser,” said that woman after a recent class. “I don’t feel stiff. I felt stiff before.”
Pearson said she and a friend, Kate Wellington, thought of the idea to start the class at the center about two years ago.
Pearson said she has practiced yoga for 19 years and has taught for five years, most recently at two studios in Evergreen.
She said she thinks yoga and getting a dog changed her life.
“I’m a much calmer person, much more equilibrium.”
Physically, she’s a full half-inch taller since starting yoga because the exercises have created more room between her vertebrae, and she said she can do more in her 60s because of her improved physical shape than she could do in her 40s.
Mathis said the yoga class is just one of many activities for the center’s Adult Day Services participants.
Participants can spend up to nine hours a day at the SRC — which gives their caretakers time off to rest or go to work. Mathis says the program offers daily stimulating discussion about current events and other topics, daily exercise, painting classes, crafts, games, gardening and socializing.
The center provides services for a wide area, including west Jefferson County, Clear Creek and Gilpin counties. And because of a grant from the Denver Regional Council of Governments, the center can provide Adult Day and Respite Services at no cost or reduced cost to eligible seniors.
For more information, call 303-674-2843.