“Yoga was my first love and that’s why I come,” 77-year-old John Barr said, sitting for an interview at the Duanesburg YMCA. It was honest the way he said it; no obligation or pressure behind his words, just happiness. “After class, you feel better than when you walked in,” he said. “So I stayed.”
In 1972, when John first joined the YMCA, he viewed fitness the way most of us view it. We show up, put our 60 minutes in on the elliptical, treadmill or other cardio machine, lift a few weights — maybe three sets of 15 bicep curls, a few leg presses, some crunches — and leave. We put our time in. While that worked for John in the beginning, the spark of organized exercise classes wasn’t far from his reach, he just didn’t know it yet.
During his first yoga class, John felt his body coming alive. “It really does change your mental outlook,” he said. “I found a place where I could relate to people and speak openly.” Beyond the physical aspect of group exercise classes, there’s camaraderie and social benefits to exercising in groups.
“There’s no competition,” John said. “Somehow you don’t think like that. It’s all about you. You close your eyes and do the best you can and that’s good enough.”
Now, thanks to John and his friend, Bill Blance, 79 — the original morning yoga attendees — a group of older men regularly attend exercise classes together.
Learning something new can be exciting, so John and Bill urged other older men to try Pilates. “We’re all at different levels,” John said. In explaining how wonderful the experience of exercise among friends is, John said they root for each other during class and congratulate each other afterward.
“My challenge is I go to where I feel it and then push it just a little bit,” John said. “I’ve become far more conscious of my body and what my body is saying to me.”
Exercise, breathing, yoga, Pilates, diet and stress release are all things John feels are necessary in order to rid your body of negative elements. By eliminating the negatives — stress, fatigue, soreness, etc. — the positives are able to take place, helping the body to function better.
“Exercise has created another ‘Us’,” John said. As a result of sharing the Y experience and each other’s company, they have all become a little more open, less serious, more laid-back and less stressful. “The hardness [of exercise classes] sort of dissipates when you’re happy.”
As a result of the Y Challenge, John was introduced to classes like High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and Chisel, which he now incorporates into his regular routine. “You can never have it all,” he said, “because there is so much more to do than what you’re doing.”
If John were an instructor, there are two things he would do: teach people that fitness and health are more about the insides than the outsides, and encourage more men to participate in group exercise classes. He believes that if men would show up to class, without feeling self-conscious, they would get more out of the YMCA than by doing isolated work.
“Because of the Y, my life has changed spiritually, mentally, physically and socially,” John said. “It is such a worthwhile endeavor. I believe in it. It’s something that allows me to be who I am in a very positive way.”