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Deborah Loftis went to a physical therapist last year when her osteoarthritis flared up.

“She couldn’t believe how flexible I was, given the amount of pain I was in,” Loftis recalled.

“Then she asked me what I was doing, and I told her I did yoga. She said, ‘Don’t stop.’”

Loftis doesn’t plan on it. In fact, with her recent retirement, she now plans to do even more yoga.

“One of the things I was really looking forward to in retirement was flexibility of schedule in order to be more active,” said 65-year-old Loftis, whose job at the Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond required a good bit of travel.

Among other activities, she will continue to practice yoga at the seminary offices with instructor Barbara Prema Brown, who regularly modifies poses for her students so they don’t aggravate injuries or conditions.

Brown, who is in her 70s, has found a niche in helping seniors stay active and strong. She has developed an approach to yoga that she calls “Aging Agelessly,” and she is presenting at a workshop on that topic at a three-day workshop next year at Yogaville, a yoga programming and retreat center in Buckingham County.

“Just because you age, you don’t have to let go,” she said at a recent class at Baptist Theological Seminary.

Loftis, she said, is a prime example of how to move through the setbacks of aging and remain on track.

“Deb amazes me,” Brown said. “I really use her like a guinea pig” when trying out partner poses.

Loftis admitted that she’s always been fairly flexible. But it does take some work to remain so at this stage of life.

“With regular practice, you can increase your flexibility and balance,” she said.

Her yoga classmates agree.

Jim Peak, who brought the yoga class to the seminary offices after trying it out elsewhere, said it has helped him get through knee replacements.

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Likewise, Tracy Hartman said her core strength and balance from yoga were critical when she broke her foot a couple of years ago and could not put weight on it for three months.

“It helped me during and it’s helped me after,” she said. Brown visited Hartman at her home, and gave her yoga poses with modifications that she could do from a chair.

Hartman, who will take over as dean of Baptist Theological in June, said she tries her best to make the two yoga classes taught by Brown there each week.

“When I’m traveling or when I have meetings, my body can tell when I miss,” she said.

Brown said that kind of commitment is necessary to see substantial benefits.

“It has to become a lifestyle,” she said.

For the retired Loftis, that’s no problem. “Yoga has always been part of the retirement plan,” she said.

Maria Howard is a group exercise instructor for the YMCA of Greater Richmond and the University of Richmond Weinstein Center. Her column runs every other week in Sunday Flair.

This article originally ran on richmond.com.

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