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Copyright 2009-2010 by
Mary Brotherton
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Inside my Brain

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Saturday, November 19, 2005

Eileen Petrovich gives her recently deceased husband much credit for her current success as one of Brevard’s premiere yoga instructors for seniors. A former native of New Jersey, Petrovich and her husband accelerated their plans to retire to Florida, when he was diagnosed with cancer.

“I started taking Yoga 18 years ago, when I had a corporate job, and I was raising children. I had an elderly, ill parent living with me, and my yoga classes helped me make it through, without stress,” she said. “I had started internally thinking, that I wanted to get my certification, but then my husband got sick.”

Believing that she would have to delay her plans, Petrovich concentrated on caring for her husband. She pointed out, “He was so very instrumental in having me do this. I was caretaking, and we talked about my being certified. That entailed my going away for four months to school, to get the certification; he supported that. It was very hard for me to go away for four months, but when I came back, and I started teaching, I knew I had found my home.”

Petrovich has always had a strong interest in aging, so it was natural for her to develop a special yoga routine for seniors.

“The first class that I put together, was for seniors who had never had yoga before, and I knew as soon as I taught that first class, that I was hooked. This was it.

During the two years that she was sole caretaker for her husband, Petrovich kept her class schedule restricted to a few private, gated communities, but she found that before she could begin teaching, she had some barriers to overcome. Some of her students are much older than she is, and have misconceptions about yoga. She stresses that yoga can mean different things to different people. Yoga is not a religion, nor is it a torturous invention designed to turn people into pretzels. In Eileen Petrovich’s classes, she focuses on body awareness, stretching, posture, and breathing.

“I try very much, to present yoga as a program that really just includes breathing, stretching, and relaxation. That’s basically what it is. I also discuss the fact that this is the only body we will have, and right now people have a higher life expectancy. What‘s the sense of living longer if you are not in good shape?”

Her primary goal is to make her students comfortable, and for some, that means the convenience of taking yoga classes in familiar surroundings, such as the community rooms at Compass Point or South Oaks. Both are gated communities, where only residents are able to attend. For others, there is more comfort in attending a class in a public setting with a group of strangers.

The men who take her class at Century Oaks on Stack Boulevard, in particular, seem to prefer taking yoga when they have the opportunity to get to know their classmates in a neutral setting, rather than attending class with neighbors.

“I couldn’t get my brother-in-law to attend classes with my sister, in their own neighborhood, because he knew all the women were her friends; but when I started my first workshop at Century Oaks, two months ago, he joined us. Other women saw my brother-in-law, and they bring their husbands, now. To me, having three men in my class is such an accomplishment. They need it, and they love it. They are doing so well.”

Petrovich and Century Oaks have developed a mutually supporting relationship. Catherine Sonn, the Miami born marketing director for Century Oaks explains, “We want to give back to the community. We have this great room at our facility that is not being used all the time.”

Century Oaks is a retirement community with an active lifestyle for apartment residents 55 and older, as well as assisted living suites for persons with daily care needs. Residents use the activity room for chair aerobics and the PACE exercises endorsed by the Arthritis Foundation, as well as senior seminars and other events, but the area is largely unused in the evenings.

“We are willing to think outside of the circle,” said Sonn. “We are open to working with the community. That’s why we are offering the use of our room to other senior organizations, or to individuals such as Eileen, free of charge.”

Sonn understands how some seniors can be intimidated by the idea of yoga, so is very pleased to see that the classes Petrovich offers at Century Oaks have been so well received by the public.

“I limit my classes and workshops to ten people, twelve maximum,” Petrovich said. “The students become friends, and there’s a nice energy in the class.”

She offers a six-week workshop for beginner seniors to determine if yoga is something they want in their life, and usually, the majority of the students choose to continue with traditional classes. By the end of six weeks, Petrovich has been able to identify anyone with physical challenges, and with her smaller classes, she is easily able to remind individuals to take special care of injuries or areas recuperating from surgery.

“I want it to be intimate. I need to know…it’s a serious thing to teach seniors, because they have bursitis, they have replaced knees, replaced hips... I’ve taught the younger set, but I am where I need to be, teaching seniors. I believe that the type of yoga that I teach connects very well with mature people. I did not get that same connection with the younger students.”

Petrovich is considering offering a special chair yoga class. She said, “In almost every one of my classes, there is one student who needs chair yoga that is not going to be able to function in my class. It’s not fair to my other students, and I really cannot teach chair yoga at the same time I am teaching other yoga, and give everyone the attention they need.”

With students as young as 55, and into their 80’s, it is vital to Petrovich that each person receive individual attention, while ensuring personal safety and individual comfort.

“I like to get to get to know my students. I am going to open another class in January, in Century Oaks, and I would also like to teach in another gated community.”

Eileen Petrovich is fulfilling her dream, while encouraging seniors to breathe completely, stretch and reach for theirs.

For more information about Elder Yoga, call Eileen Petrovich at 321-722-5744 or email her at .

For more information about the retirement community life at Century Oaks, or to reserve the community activity room, call Catherine Sonn at 321-722-4440 or visit them at 4001 Stack Blvd, Melbourne, FL.