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June 17. 2013 7:07PM

Salem seniors make a mind-body connection


Violet Jessel, a volunteer exercise instructor at the Ingram Senior Center, wore a colorful lei and hat as she danced to the songs of the islands during a recent Zengevity class held at the center. The new class, which is being offered at the senior center two days per week, incorporates music, dance, props and strengthening activities for both the mind and the body. APRIL GUILMET 

SALEM — With a song in her heart and a colorful lei draped around her neck, Salem's Linda Cignoni said she always loved music and dancing but never saw herself leading an exercise class.

Diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, Cignoni said her physical activity was previously "rather limited."

That all changed earlier this spring when Cignoni and six other members of the Ingram Senior Center signed on as volunteer instructors for the new Zengevity class, a program incorporating music, dance and exercise aimed at strengthening not only the body but the mind and soul.

"This is something all of us can do at our own pace," Cignoni said. "It's also a chance for all of us to let our hair down and have a few laughs."

Created by Massachusetts resident Georgia London about seven years ago, the program was developed with the unique needs of the elder population in mind.

London, a therapist, life coach and yoga instructor, said she found inspiration after teaching a senior fitness class for her local Council on Aging.

"I found that the seniors I was teaching needed much more," London said. "They needed mental challenges, emotional support and spiritual access, too."

Patti Drelick, senior services director for the town of Salem, said she learned about the program several years ago while attending a national conference.

Intrigued by the program, Drelick reached out to London and soon after recruited several Salem seniors to train as volunteer instructors.

"It's a movement class rather than an exercise class," Drelick said. "There's a deliberate emphasis on cross-body movements as this connects directly to the brain and can help ward off the effects of dementia and other illnesses."

The idea is for seniors to leave the class with a smile on their faces.

"We're strengthening the inside as well as the outside," Drelick said. "Students in the classes have told me it's helped them to feel free again."

With about 20 students enrolled in each of the two classes right now, Drelick said word of the new fitness offering has spread. There are several dozen people on a waiting list for upcoming classes.

During a recent class, Cignoni and fellow instructors Simone Somnors and Violet Jessel engaged their students with some gentle encouragement.

As Leon Russell's "Back to the Island" played on the sound system, the seniors swayed their hips hula-hoop style, with floral leis around their necks.

Later, the seniors donned colorful hats as they bopped about to "You Can't Take That Away From Me."

Jessel beamed at the head of the classroom, saying she was quite pleased to see so many friends show up for her class.

"It's just great to see all these people gathered here in a circle," she said. "I also like volunteering. You get back so much more when you give."

Somnors said she initially became interested in Zengevity when she was looking for an activity she could do with her mother, who has limited mobility and uses a wheelchair.

"I saw it for myself and thought wow, this is great," she said. "This was something both of us could do."

"Here, anything goes," Jessel added. "You can sit, you can stand. …It's entirely up to you."

Zengevity classes meet Mondays at 12:30 p.m. and Thursdays at 11:15 a.m. at the Ingram Senior Center, located at 1 Sally Sweet's Way in Salem.

For more information, contact Drelick at 890-2190.
aguilmet@newstote.com


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