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Yoga classes found to be a balm for caregivers

by: Merry MacKinnon, Woodstock resident Leslie Congleton conducts yoga classes specifically for family caregivers. Held at Reedwood Friends Church, the class includes group discussion.

When Leslie Congleton, in the course of her work at Legacy Caregiver Services, asks family caregivers what they might do to benefit themselves, she says they often can't think of anything.

According to Congleton, many people caring for the frail elderly and the chronically ill need to be taught how to restore some balance to their own lives, or else they risk becoming ill themselves.

'Caregivers become so worn down,' explains the Woodstock resident, who - with others at Legacy - helped develop a nationally-recognized program called 'Powerful Tools For Caregivers'.

Featured last summer on ABC TV's 'Good Morning America', and in The Wall Street Journal, 'Powerful Tools' is the name of a six-week class for unpaid family and friend caregivers which is now offered in 20 states, and has served over 15,000, Congleton says.

'They say one in four people are caregivers,' she observes - and then quotes former First Lady Rosalyn Carter on the four types: 'There are those who have been caregivers, those who are caregivers, those who will become caregivers - and those who will need caregivers.'

Last fall, Congleton began offering a yoga class specifically designed for caregivers that combined her knowledge of how to reduce stress with the restorative benefits of yoga.

'There are so many programs for patients, but not enough for caregivers,' explains Congleton, on why she decided to start her own yoga class. 'Caregivers don't eat, don't sleep, and they forget what's pleasurable.'

Eastmoreland resident Linda Sievers heard about it from her daughter, and enrolled in the five-week series of yoga classes held in the chapel at Reedwood Friends Church on S.E. Steele just east of 28th, and just north of Reed College.

'Congleton is so insightful and so gentle,' says Sievers, who is caring for a chronically ill family member. 'She gets us to open up about things.'

In the class, before the yoga begins, Congleton has her group of about eight students share feelings about their roles as caregivers and reflect on what activities might brighten their days. For example, one of Congleton's own simple suggestions to manage stress is to remember to breathe.

'When you're in the middle of caregiving, it's not always easy to remember to take a deep breath,' notes Sievers, 'and to think about something other than the care you're giving.'

Held in a chapel infused with softly colored light, the serenity of the class setting adds to the calming affect, Sievers says. She has finished the series, but would consider taking it again.

'It's a sanctuary, whether one is of that faith or not,' Sievers observes. 'And it's very good for people to be able to 'open up'. This concept, to me, is such a powerful one.'

Congleton comments that she's been amazed at the changes she's seen take place in her students after the classes.

'People come in, and you can see the stresses in their faces, in their shoulders,' Congleton says. 'And, at the end, they're relaxed, and more at peace.'

If you're interested in considering Congleton's class 'Wellspring Yoga Retreat for Caregivers', it will be presented next on Thursdays, May 8th through June 5th, at two times: 4 till 6 pm and 6:30 till 8:30 pm, at Reedwood Friends Church, 2901 S.E. Steele. The cost is $85.00 for the five-week series. Financial assistance and private sessions available. For information, call 503/777-8848.