My husband and I are mostly homebodies, so our travel in early March was unusual. First, there was the weekend in Atlanta, watching our grandsons and other young people perform in a talent competition. Along with other parents, grandparents and family members, we crowded into seats in two hotel ballrooms to watch and cheer as the kids sang, danced and did monologues from Friday afternoon to midday Sunday.
We had barely recovered from that marathon when it was time to leave town with two friends for a trip to Greenville to see Les Miserables at the Peace Center. We’ve had tickets for shows there for the past few years and always enjoy staying overnight. With our friends and other guests, we partook of the hotel’s popular happy hour before heading out for dinner and the show. The next morning, we took advantage of the free breakfast bar before driving back to Athens.
A few days later, we were off to Asheville with my sister-in-law for a long-planned trip to see the Downton Abbey exhibition at the Biltmore Estate. By this time, news about COVID-19 was beginning to catch our attention, so we packed hand sanitizer and used it often. We checked into our hotel on Tuesday, March 10, then went out for dinner. The next day we got up early since we had a full day planned at Biltmore, which included a special “behind the scenes” tour of the servants’ quarters. A guide led our group of about 20 through the narrow corridors the servants used to traverse the house.
We finished our day at the estate with a tasting at the winery and dinner at one of the restaurants on property, then headed back to the hotel. Before turning in, we watched the news and were astonished to hear that toilet paper had suddenly disappeared from the nation’s grocery shelves.
None of us slept well that night and as soon as it was light, I was up and packing. “We need to get home,” I told my husband. He knocked on his sister’s door and found she was up as well. Skipping the hotel breakfast in the lobby, we hurried to the car and headed for Athens. It was March 12 and it was beginning to dawn on us that our recent activities had perhaps put us in danger.
The next morning, COVID-19 was much in the news and we were now paying full attention. I headed to Publix and spent three times as much as I ever had on a single trip for groceries. But I realized that we were going to need to self-quarantine for at least 14 days while waiting to see if any of the hundreds of people we had mingled with in the past two weeks had exposed us to this frightening new virus.
Meanwhile, everything in Athens seemed to lurch to a sudden halt. UGA told students not to come back from spring break. K-12 schools announced they were suspending on-site classes. Our granddaughter’s day care center closed. Concerts at the Performing Arts Center to which we had tickets were cancelled. Our son and daughter-in-law told us that the dance competition in Spartanburg they had planned to attend with their students was called off. And so it began ….
Looking back now, I’m still amazed at how quickly our lives changed. And, just as astonishing, how quickly we adapted to the “new normal.” What else could we do?
Of course, everyone’s experience is different, and for most of us retirees there was much less disruption in daily routines than for younger people with jobs and kids. Our son and his wife closed their performing arts studio on March 13 and called off rehearsals for their planned mid-April production of Shrek Jr., which involved a large cast of kindergarten through eighth graders. But within a couple weeks they were offering their usual dance and musical theater classes via Zoom and looking into other ways to keep their business afloat.
Our daughter was among the UGA employees allowed to work from home, though doing so with an active toddler under foot has been challenging. Still, she and her husband have been grateful for the opportunity to spend more time together, as has my son’s family. The break from their usually super-busy lives has been welcome – just not the reason for it.
For my husband and me, the biggest change was not physically interacting with our grandkids, since we were used to serving as on-call babysitters and chauffeurs. My husband, who handled the lion’s share of those responsibilities, felt particularly adrift. To distract himself, he undertook a series of long-overdue projects around our house and over the course of the past couple months has cleaned up his “home office” (a cluttered bonus room), rearranged or tossed enough junk from the garage that we can now actually get a car inside, and pressure-washed our deck, driveway and sidewalks.
I have been less industrious, spending inordinate amounts of time online – reading and sharing information about the virus, checking up on Facebook friends, and searching for the pandemic necessities: face masks, hand sanitizer, disinfectant, and nitrile gloves, all of which I managed to find locally.
As for toilet paper, we periodically found packages in various stores and each time felt like we’d just won the lottery.
Because grocery shopping was always something I enjoyed, I’ve continued to shop in-store rather than exploring pick-up or delivery options. But as soon as I had acquired a mask, I used it, along with gloves. Trips to the store are no more than once a week, and sometimes less. Even so, the night before an early morning grocery run, I have trouble sleeping. My brain wants to make sure I haven’t left anything off the list and insists on mapping out the most efficient route through the aisles. (It took a couple people telling me I was going the “wrong way,” before I realized there were now arrows on the floor to direct one-way traffic.)
After our initial self-quarantine, we started taking daily social-distanced walks with our daughter and granddaughter in their neighborhood or ours. Our grandsons live a bit farther away and have been busy with school work and Zoom activities, but we’ve seen them a few times too, and have also visited via FaceTime.
Besides walking, I’ve done some exercise classes online – not as regularly as when classes met in person, but I’m trying to do better. My husband and I have taken some OLLI classes on Zoom and my book club has met a few times that way. I’ve also puttered in the garden more than in previous springs and have made an effort to keep a journal.
In many respects, our days are not so different now than they were pre-pandemic. But in other ways, the virus has had a profound effect, both good and bad. The bad part is being physically separated from family and friends, not being able to hug or even get closer than six feet. And the anxiety that accompanies what once were nonchalant activities: going to the mailbox, walking the dogs, getting gas, interacting with anyone outside our immediate circle.
The good part has been the chance to pause in the usual busyness of our lives to reflect on what’s really important and what isn’t. Our days are simpler now with fewer options and limited boundaries, but that’s mostly OK with us. We are incredibly thankful that we have a roof over our heads and can meet our immediate needs, and are more mindful than ever that others are not so fortunate. We have upped our donations to organizations like the Food Bank and the Athens Community Council on Aging. Shopping locally and finding ways to support small businesses is a renewed priority.
It’s ironic that our enforced isolation has fostered an enhanced sense of community connection. Until recently, we had never attended a meeting of the Athens-Clarke County Commission in the 40-plus years we’ve lived here. Since March, we’ve watched several sessions live online and have a new appreciation for our local elected officials and the difficult tasks they are facing.
When protests erupted nationally in the wake of the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, we followed the news closely, listened to many conversations with thought leaders, and watched via Facebook the June 6th event organized by the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement. We’re now more tuned in to local and state happenings and are working to become even more informed about issues we care about. With a national election looming, it seems imperative to be involved in ways that we still can be, even from home.
There is no knowing what the future holds. There is so much that is beyond our control. But as we wait for events to unfold, what we can do is choose to make good use of each day that is given to us. We’re trying.
There’s an article making the rounds on Facebook about adult children who are freaking out because their Boomer parents are not taking the present global pandemic seriously and continuing on with their lives and activities as though nothing is happening. Why? Because these Boomers don’t acknowledge that they are, in fact, seniors and in a high-risk population for COVID-19. The article is pretty funny, in a black-humor sort of way.
Hopefully, you are not one of those seniors. Hopefully, you are being smart and hunkering down at home and practicing social distancing measures if/when you do venture out, keeping six feet from other people and washing your hands a lot, among other measures.
But as the current situation threatens to continue on for an unknown time frame, you may also be feeling bored, lonely and anxious. So here are some ideas for ways to help yourself and your community while keeping safe.
#1. Start your day with mindfulness meditation.Rebecca Shisler Marshall, a faculty member at UGA whose area of expertise is helping people deal with stress and anxiety, suggests the following exercise: Turn your attention to the way it feels in your body right now—the coolness on the edge of your nose as you breathe in, and the warmth as you breathe out. Or just notice the feel of whatever you are sitting against. See if you can be present with the sensations in the body for just five seconds. This is mindfulness.There are plenty of online resources if you want to explore further, including a four-week DIY course called Everyday Mindfulness that Marshall is offering through her Centered Living website (http://www.centeredyou.com/). If you’d rather pray than meditate (or want to do both), many local churches are offering services online; check websites.
#2. Stay informed.DO NOT believe everything you see on social media. Instead, go to reliable sources like the CDC website (www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov) and the Georgia Department of Public Health (https://dph.georgia.gov/). The New York Times is offering free access to their extensive coverage of COVID-19, as well as an e-newsletter you can get delivered to your inbox daily (see button near top of their website to sign up). And AARP (https://www.aarp.org/) has special info for seniors, including advice for caregivers.
For local information, visit the Athens Clarke County government website (https://www.athensclarkecounty.com/), where you can see video messages from Mayor Kelly Girtz and watch meetings of the county commissioners live via YouTube. You can also find info on how to give input on their decisions since meetings are not presently open to the public. Also check the University of Georgia website (https://www.uga.edu/) for info being shared with faculty, staff and students. Did you know that a group of faculty from the Center for the Ecology of Infectious Diseases is operating a coronavirus tracker and that another faculty member is working on a vaccine? Go dogs! Sic this epidemic!
#3. Keep your pantry stocked, but don’t hoard.If you are not already the kind of shopper who plans ahead and makes a list, now is the time to do that. Grocery stores are working overtime to keep stores clean and stocked, but we all know there has been panic-buying of toilet paper and hand sanitizer, which means they’re hard to find. So just buy what you need. Many stores are placing limits on certain items anyway. Also check current store hours, which have changed recently. Mornings are usually less crowded (and shelves and other surfaces will have been recently cleaned), but you can also call your store and ask for advice. Or place orders online and take advantage of curbside pickup or delivery. And did you know the Athens Farmers Market (http://athensfarmersmarket.net/) is also taking orders through Collective Harvest for pickup or delivery? Support our local farmers until in-person markets are open again. And be sure to thank those who are working hard to provide for all of us.
#4. Keep busy.Now is a great time to do spring cleaning, put away winter clothes, and organize closets. You can also tackle all those jobs you never get around to, like sorting family photos and decluttering those spaces where “stuff” accumulates.
#5. Get outside.Fortunately, the weather is getting warmer, so take a walk in your neighborhood or putter in the yard or garden. If your yard is like ours, there’s lots of weeds to pull right now. But don’t overdo it. Be mindful of your limits, so you don’t end up sore or, worse yet, needing to see a doctor for a strain or sprain. Athens has many beautiful outdoor spaces to visit. There’s the State Botanical Garden (ground open noon to 7 p.m.), and the UGA campus (now that students are mostly gone). Just be mindful of social distancing when you run into others. As of Thursday, March 19, Athens-Clarke County has closed parks and dog parks.
#6. Get some exercise.Yes, classes are currently not available at most local facilities. But in addition to walking, there are exercises you can do at home and even while sitting. Silver Sneakers is offering classes via Facebook Live and members can also access videos and subscribe to an electronic newsletter with exercise tips (https://tools.silversneakers.com/). Local tai chi instructor Michele Simpson suggests Googling her mentor David Dorian Ross, who has many free videos on YouTube. One she recommends is called Sunrise, which contains many of the moves she teaches in her classes. Some other local instructors are setting up classes via Zoom.
#7. Exercise your mind.While OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) has cancelled face-to-face classes for the rest of the semester, some are being offered online via Zoom. Check the OLLI website (https://olli.uga.edu/) to find out what classes are available and to register for any classes you hadn’t previously. And If you haven’t yet tried Zoom, there are instructions to help get started.
#8. Read a book (or several).The Athens Regional Library System is closed at this time, but you can access books and magazines online through the RBdigital app. See link on the website (http://www.athenslibrary.org/athens) You can also sign up for the NextReads newsletter for book reviews and suggestions . Support your local bookstore by ordering from Avid (https://www.avidbookshop.com/). See info on their website about arranging pickup while the store is closed. And several neighborhoods around town stock free “little libraries.”
#9. Support the arts.This is a very hard time for arts organizations such as UGA’s Performing Arts Center, the Classic Center, Town and Gown and other local theaters and entertainment venues. As PAC director Jeff Martin noted in a recent email to patrons announcing the cancellation of the remainder of the PAC’s spring season: “It pains us to turn off the lights in our venues for the next two months, but we know this will bring safety and peace to our community during this challenging and unprecedented time in our history. We appreciate your patience and understanding as we continue to work through the ramifications of these cancellations and changes.” While most venues are offering refunds for cancelled performances and events, other options are to donate the cost of the tickets or apply the cost as a credit to be used later.
#10. Support local businesses and charities.While restaurants are generally closed, many are offering takeout and curbside delivery options. Flagpole has a list (https://flagpole.com/blogs/grub-notes/posts/helping-out-restaurants-while-social-distancing). Or call your favorite eatery to check. And remember those in our community who especially need help. If you are able to, send a donation to the Northeast Georgia Food Bank, the Athens Area Humane Society, the Athens Community Council on Aging, or other local service organizations.
And finally, but perhaps most importantly, STAY CONNECTED. There’s Facebook and other social media, of course, just be even more aware of fake news right now. Facetime is a great way to visit with grandkids. You can also call or text friends, family and neighbors. Or email them, or drop a card or letter in your mailbox. Don’t hesitate to reach out to let others know you’re thinking about them – or to ask for help if you need it.
We’re all in this together, so let’s do our best to take care of ourselves and others.
Sharron Hannon is retired from UGA where she was director of public relations for academic affairs.
January is the time for new year’s resolutions and topping many people’s lists is a resolve to get more exercise. For seniors, that’s a particularly smart goal. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, regular physical activity is the key to a happier, healthier life. It helps protect against heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and falls, and can also ward off depression and dementia. Of course, with advancing age, joints become stiffer and bones get weaker, so the best fitness regimen for seniors is a low-impact workout that will build strength and stability.
The current recommendation for older adults is about 150 minutes of exercise a week, which may seem daunting. But joining a fitness class (or classes) particularly designed for seniors can make that goal easier to achieve – and even fun! Here is a rundown of some popular exercise options and where to find them locally.
A recent article in AARP magazine listed 21 reasons to do yoga after age 70, including improving flexibility, enhancing balance, easing back pain, soothing stress and slowing aging. Fortunately, Athens is a yoga town, with many choices of age-appropriate classes in a variety of settings, including the YMCA, YWCO, and various yoga studios. Check out the offerings online, looking for classes described as gentle, restorative or therapeutic. While many are done on mats using props, you can also find classes – including Silver Sneakers yoga – that are done in chairs.
If you’re new to yoga, contact the instructor or facility ahead of time to discuss what type of class may be best for you. And once you get started, pay attention to your body. “Gentle yoga doesn’t necessarily mean easy,” says Chandra Ross, the owner of Let It Be Yoga in Watkinsville. “I am always cautioning people to be mindful of how a pose feels and adapt it to their own abilities.”
Nancy Bauman has been attending classes three days a week at the YWCO since receiving her Silver Sneakers card (see box). “I love both the regular yoga and Silver Sneakers yoga classes,” she says. “Yoga helps me maintain muscle strength and balance, as well as a positive attitude. And I enjoy the social aspect of the classes.”
What you’ll need for yoga classes: A mat (while many studios provide mats, having your own is more hygienic), non-slip yoga socks if you don’t want to go barefoot, and comfortable clothes that allow you to move and stretch. Find supplies online.
Where to find classes for seniors:
YWCO (562 Research Dr., Athens, www.ywco.org)
The YWCO is a Silver Sneakers facility, so you’ll find yoga classes done in a chair, plus Easy Hatha Yoga and Relaxing Yoga classes done on mats. Classes are free if you have Medicare insurance that incudes Silver Sneakers. Otherwise, there is an annual membership fee, with a discounted rate for seniors.
YMCA (915 Hawthorne Ave., Athens, www.athensymca.org)
Among the Y’s class offerings for seniors is a relaxing, 90-minute Yin Yoga mat class for “all levels.” The Y offers a senior member rate, payable in monthly installments.
Let it Be Yoga (90 Barnett Shoals Rd., Watkinsville, www.letitbeyoga.org)
Gentle Yoga classes are offered several days a week in a funky red barn decorated with local artwork. There is also an Ahimsa class, described as a blend of gentle and restorative yoga. All classes are drop-in and donation-based ($5-10 suggested). The schedule changes monthly.
Accessible Yoga Studio (195 Miles St., Athens, www.accessibleyogastudio.com)
The studio is connected to Athens Physical Therapy, but it’s not necessary to be a patient to take classes. “Accessible Yoga is for everyone, including people who think they cannot do yoga,” says Manjula Spears, a teacher with 28 years of experience. Classes are offered on a drop-in basis, though Spears says she appreciates advance notice if someone is coming for a visit. The suggested donation is $15, but “we do not turn anyone away.”
Sangha Yoga Studio (834 Prince Ave., Athens, www.healingartscentre.net/sangha-yoga-studio)
Founding director Meghan Burke teaches a Therapeutic Gentle Yoga class, while other instructors offer Gentle Yoga and Yoga for Mature Bodies classes. Punch cards are sold for 6, 10 or 20 classes taken within a set number of weeks, with prices ranging from $11-14 per class.
Five Points Yoga (1260 Milledge Ave., Athens, www.athensfivepointsyoga.com)
A good bet for seniors is the Gentle Flow and Restore class, but owner Shannon Ball is happy to discuss other class options. A 5-class pass is $65 and is valid for three months after the first class. Drop-in price is $17 per class.
The health benefits of tai chi – a low-impact, slow-motion form of exercise – were extolled recently in an article from Harvard Health Publishing, which noted “there is growing evidence that this mind-body practice, which originated in China as a martial art, has value in treating or preventing many health problems.”
Additional good news about tai chi is that it can be adapted to various levels of fitness, from those who are already active to people rehabilitating after a fall or surgery – or even confined to a wheelchair. Michele Simpson, who teaches classes locally, was a runner for 35 years before undergoing orthoscopic surgery. She has practiced tai chi for 15 years and it’s an important part of her own fitness routine.
“Movement in a patterned way is good for the brain,” Simpson tells her students. “It’s good to run or bike, but it’s hard to do a puzzle at the same time.”
Simpson emphasizes breath and mindfulness when she teaches and is always “scanning the room” to make sure participants are not straining or having any difficulties. “The goal is serenity and calmness,” she says, “while at the same time strengthening the body.”
For Ted Staton, a student of Simpson’s, tai chi has helped him achieve better balance. After breaking both legs jumping out of a truck while serving in Vietnam, Staton has experienced ongoing physical problems. Now a retired minister, a recent fall in his yard led him to physical therapy and then to tai chi. “My six-year-old granddaughter calls it ‘exercise for old people,’ he says, “but it has helped me with flexibility and endurance.”
In February, Simpson and Tom Wittenberg will partner to teach a tai chi class through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI). The class will be offered Tuesdays and Wednesdays from Feb. 11-26 at a cost of $51 for OLLI members.
Tai chi can be done barefoot or wearing lightweight, flexible shoes. Clothing should be comfortable and not restrict your range of motion.
Where to find classes:
YWCO (562 Research Dr., Athens, www.ywco.org)
Simpson has been teaching tai chi at the YWCO for the past year and was joined last fall by another instructor, who teaches a slightly different style. Classes are free with a Silver Sneakers card or covered as part of YWCO membership.
Athens Community Council on Aging (135 Hoyt St., Athens, www.accaging.org)
Simpson teaches at the Center for Active Living, part of ACCA. The annual fee to take classes at the center is $50 for Athens-Clarke County residents, $60 for non-residents. Yoga and other classes are also offered at the center and included in the fee.
Rocksprings Community Center (291 Henderson Ext., Athens, www.accgov.com)
Wittenberg teaches a drop-in tai chi class on Thursdays from 10-11 a.m. through the Leisure Services division of Athens-Clarke County Government. The fee is $3 for Athens-Clarke County residents, $5 for non-residents. On the ACC website homepage, type “tai chi” into the search box.
NIA (pronounced Nee-ah) classes – which initially stood for non-impact aerobics – were developed in the early 1980s in response to the high-intensity workouts of that era and the subsequent wear and tear on bodies. Founder and co-creator Debbie Rosas combined dance, martial arts, and healing arts to “tone your body while transforming your mind.” The 60-minute workout of simple, choreographed moves is practiced barefoot and is adaptable to individual needs and abilities.
Over time, NIA emphasis shifted to Neuromuscular Integrative Activity with a focus on “dynamic ease,” defined as the ability to perform a movement with maximum efficiency and minimal effort. “In NIA, we believe every person can discover, explore, unleash, and enhance their individual potential to live a healthy and meaningful life by engaging their senses and listening to their bodies,” says Michelle Arington, a certified instructor who has taught locally for several years. “Each workout brings mindfulness to your dance movement experience leaving you energized, mentally clear, and emotionally balanced.”
Arington was drawn to NIA after a car accident reduced her ability to move and exercise. “I missed dance,” she says. “I grew up as a dancer and wanted to connect again to that sense of joy I knew as a child. I took a class and fell in love. Nia provided a way to get back to my body.”
Where to find classes:
Elevate Athens (1059-A Baxter St., Athens, www.ElevateAthens.com)
Until this year, Arington has taught classes in multiple locations around town, but in January she opened her own studio to offer a full menu of “body sustainability” options. In addition to Nia, she offers Ageless Grace classes, which she has previously taught through OLLI: brain-stimulating exercises done in a chair to a playlist of “golden oldies.” She also offers Therapeutic Yoga classes and is working to become a Silver Sneakers location. For now, pricing options include drop-in, class cards and memberships.
About Silver Sneakers
If your Medicare insurance includes Silver Sneakers as a benefit, you have access to free memberships and classes at the YWCO and several local commercial gyms. Check your eligibility at www.silversneakers.com. Once you’ve logged in, you can find all the Silver Sneakers facilities in this area. You also have access to on-demand videos and other perks.
Jessica Groves, who holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience, will teach a “Move Better, Live Better” OLLI class in April at the Athens Movement Practice studio that she and her husband Marvin Chapman opened this past year at 160 Tracy Street (Unit 9) in Athens. The 4-part class will be on Mondays and Wednesdays April 20-29 ($20 for OLLI members). Groves also offers an ongoing Master Movers class at the studio.
Both the YMCA and YWCO offer water hydrobics and low-impact cardio classes taught by instructors trained to work with seniors. “I have taught the senior population for over 15 years and have seen the growth of many seniors from getting off some of their medications to moving better and meeting new friends,” says Elyse Giles, wellness director at the YMCA. “Exercise is so important for bones, cardiovascular, mental awareness, flexibility, and balance. It is never too late to start!”
Thrive Integrative Medicine at 2080 Prince Ave. offers a variety of movement classes, ranging from beginners and advanced taiji, foundational yoga, and martial arts study. Find out more at www.thrivespace.com.
Aikido classes for longevity are offered at the Winterville Center for Community and Culture. These are beginner classes taught by John Smartt, 71, a triple black belt practitioner who uses the principles to enhance the lives of older people through expanded confidence, balance, stamina, mental acuity and a fresh take on life.
Photos by Kent Hannon