Most people who are considering joining yoga classes sometimes find it daunting at first. The thought of standing in a roomful of people and attempting to do what they think are poses their bodies won’t be able to get into is both embarrassing and scary. Not so, according to Ellie Chamberlain. The widow from Bellingham found strength and peace of mind through yoga, saying that it gave her a peaceful feeling and an outlet for stress as she dealt with her husband’s illness.
Bellingham Widow Finds Physical Strength, Mental Peace Through Yoga
By CHAVA WIEBE — FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALD
Name: Ellie Chamberlain.
Age: She prefers to keep her age private.
Background: Chamberlain grew up on an apple ranch in Wenatchee. She spent most of her working years as an associate professor of family and nutritional sciences at the University of British Columbia, mainly working with undergraduates. After buying property and building a home in Bellingham, she retired after 33 years as an educator and settled in Whatcom County in 1997.
Family: In February, Chamberlain’s husband of 30-plus years, Bob, died after a seven-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Fortunately for her, her late husband’s three children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren all live nearby in B.C.
Important advice: A counselor at Alzheimer Society of Washington, a support and education group, offered this guidance: “Keep yourself healthy.”
Chamberlain took the advice to heart and began taking yoga classes more than two years ago. Yoga offered her a peaceful feeling and an outlet for stress, both especially helpful as she dealt with her husband’s illness.
“Yoga was a holistic, physical and mental release for me during an incredibly difficult time,” she says.
Yoga also has helped Chamberlain improve her balance, flexibility and strength.
“I’ve had balance issues that many people my age have, such as having to hang onto rails,” she says. “By stretching and keeping yoga a consistent part of my life, I’ve found my muscles don’t ache as much, and I have more energy. It motivates you to keep moving, and helps you keep a positive, healthy attitude.”
Wants to stay independent: “I have a lot of stairs in my house,” Chamberlain says. “If I want to continue living there independently, I must stay healthy and strong.”
Chamberlain says it makes sense to practice yoga now, while any balance problems are routine, as a way to enable her to stay at home longer.
“I don’t want to participate in yoga because of range-of-motion or dizziness issues, rather, to prevent them in the first place,” she says.
Try it: Citing the famous Nike slogan, Chamberlain encourages people considering yoga for the first time to “Just Do It.” Wear comfortable, stretchy clothing the first few times, she advises, and don’t be deterred by fear of the unknown.
As with any other exercise or fitness class, people should be sure to mention any physical considerations or limitations the instructors should be aware of. In yoga, for example, instructors can modify poses and techniques to suit each person’s needs, even if it means doing yoga exercises while sitting in a chair.
Friendly bunch: Chamberlain says the instructors and her class members at Yoga Northwest, in Fairhaven, are eager to help newcomers with that “lost look” in their eyes, and says people of all abilities are welcome.
“We feel like a family,” she says.
Serving and learning: After her many years working with students, Chamberlain feels that service to others is “what makes us feel alive.” So she dedicates time each week volunteering in the Intensive Care Unit at St. Joseph hospital. She’s also an active member of her church, First Congregational Church of Bellingham.
Sister time: Along with volunteering and her weekly yoga classes, Chamberlain looks forward to her sister’s annual visit every summer. They love to hike, swim, explore Fairhaven, attend jazz festivals in Vancouver, B.C., and ride Amtrak to Seattle for day trips.
“I like to stay busy,” Chamberlain says. “My days just seem to fly by. It’s all about staying active, serving others and continual learning.”
The benefits of yoga are multifaceted, according to research conducted through the National Institutes of Health. Some examples:
- Yoga is more effective than a self-care book, but not more effective than stretching classes, in helping people with chronic low-back pain. Researchers concluded that yoga’s benefits for low-back pain result mainly from muscle stretching and strengthening, rather than yoga’s mental components.
- Weekly classes of yoga or intensive stretching can reduce low-back pain and improve back movement. Both types of classes were equally effective, and their benefits lasted for months after the classes ended.
- Iyengar yoga can improve fatigue and vigor in breast cancer survivors. Researchers noted that the study involved a small number of women who were diagnosed as being in the early stage of breast cancer and who had completed cancer treatment.
Yoga does indeed work miracles, not just physically, but emotionally and mentally as well. So if you’re still considering joining that yoga class, heed Ellie and Nike’s advice: “Just Do It.”