Super-focused students work on mobility and strength in classes designed for those 50 and older.

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SITTING ON A bolster, a strap wrapped around my lower back and feet to help keep my pelvis and chest lifted upright, I noticed how focused my fellow students were.

They were scattered throughout the Montlake Community Center gym, sitting on bolsters, blocks or blankets. Nobody appeared distracted as yoga teacher Hiroko Karrfalt checked on everyone’s setup.

I was there for Gentle Yoga, a class designed for folks 50 and older. I already could tell I would learn a few things about focus and modifying a yoga practice.

Lifelong Recreation

Check out Seattle Parks and Recreation’s fitness offerings for those 50 and over at

After our opening hip work, we moved into seated twists, with many still sitting on a block or a bolster. At first, I found myself distracted, reading a sign on the wall and not paying full attention to my twists. I reminded myself to follow the lead of other students. I focused on my breath and paid attention to my spine.

We also did a wide-legged forward fold, and this time Hiroko stopped to show us how to know whether our pelvis was tilted forward or back, and ways to modify the pose to make sure we were rolling forward. Some people sat on the floor, while others used a block to get the best angle.

Afterward, we moved to our backs, and lifted our legs into the air. I knew what was coming — core work. Hiroko had us lower one leg at a time, then lower both legs side to side for a twist and core challenge. The slow pace made the core engagement even more challenging — when moving at Hiroko’s pace, I couldn’t use momentum to make it easier.

We turned over to our hands and knees and took our first downward-facing dog, with Hiroko stopping us to explain how our shoulders should rotate and how to lengthen our spines in the pose. We also did more core work on our hands and knees, extending legs and arms to challenge balance and stability.

By now, we were warm enough for backbends, and moved to the floor to add belly backbends.

The final push came in the last section of class, when we worked on standing poses like Warrior 2, triangle and side angle. The intensity level increased as we worked on leg strength and stability, and Hiroko checked on alignment to encourage her students to strengthen their leg muscles and work on joint stability. I appreciated the added challenge.

Hiroko worked in one balancing pose, standing on one foot and wrapping our arms for eagle pose. She also had us bind our hands for seated shoulder openers, and advised her regulars to do these while watching television at home during an upcoming two-week class break.

Our final rest was quiet and sweet.

The slower pace reminded me that movement is important, no matter the pace or form. We challenged our bodies in all directions, in mobility and in strength. While it is an all-levels gentle class, Hiroko said her regulars are strong, so she likes to challenge them, and I could tell. Taking the gentle yoga class with such a consistent, focused group of students was a lovely start to the day, both physically and mentally.