STRETCHING THE YEARS: Local yoga instructor teaches flexibility to seniors

Mar. 21, 2013 @ 08:51 PM

Hillsborough may not have a Fountain of Youth, but at least it has a young-at-heart yoga instructor teaching pupils at the Senior Center.

Here, in the glass studio, Joy Gornto brings the art of yoga to those navigating the mature years of life.

“Yoga is a union between the mind and breath,” she said. “I am trying to teach them that if they listen to their body, they can open up to its greatest potential based on the person.”

A retired teacher, her family moved from White Plains, N.Y., to Durham when her father worked for Liggett & Myers. Now, her passion is teaching the elderly.

“In general, the elderly are very afraid and timid they are going to fall in their normal routines of life,” Gornto said. “What I offer them is an awareness of balance and straightening of the spine to give them the tools they need to age confidently.”

Inside the studio at the senior center, about a dozen participants sit in chairs. They focus on Gornto as they listen, follow and perform the initial chair exercises.

“Yoga is a journey and we learn from ourselves,” Gornto says.

One of the participants in the class is Gornto’s mother, who at 86 is discovering the benefits of yoga, which gives her mobility and an awareness of balance.

“She had some health issues recently and I believe yoga has helped her to recover and gain an independence in life,” Gornto said.

Yoga isn’t just for women or those young in years or young at heart, she said. “We have two men and they both enjoy coming here.”

When she became a yoga instructor, Gornto tried to start a similar class in the Chapel Hill area, but it didn’t catch on. When she came to Hillsborough, those that took her class saw the benefits of being mind and body aware. Class interest evolved and size grew.

“I really believe that yoga is a wonderful preventive measure that elderly can take,” she said. “As we age, our spines curve and our gait changes and through yoga I teach ways to achieve balance and be safe with moving.”

While Gornto gives instruction and encourages proper mechanics of yoga movement, she advocates that beyond the physical movements, the mental affects of yoga are equally important in the life of the elderly.

“Through yoga, I teach length of breath and the power of inhaling and exhaling in a controlled manner that carries forth in other aspects of a person’s life,” she said. “Through deep breathing, one is able to soothe muscles and gain control by cultivating healthy breaths.”

Currently, Gornto teaches at both the Central Orange Senior Center and the Seymour Center in Chapel Hill. Her class is called Gentle Joy of Yoga and from the earliest moments of class, she strives to maintain safety and ease into the various stages of yoga, so that her participants are safe.

“We begin in the chair and we progress through various exercises where we use the chair, either sitting or against a wall as support,” Gornto said.

After she retired as a teacher, Gornto followed her passion and became a certified yoga instructor. Toward the end of her training, she suffered an injury that required surgery and rehabilitation. However, Gornto kept going to class and used yoga to regain her own strength and peace.

Gornto suggested that the history of yoga places a strong connection on a person’s peace and how peace is healthy for life.

“In my class, I teach my students to find where their own peace is from; to visualize peace in their lives,” she said. “Peace can be a hymn in church, looking out over a sunrise or a quiet place they find rest and harmony. It is important for seniors to realize they are in control and to also learn ways to face the challenges of life confidently and with peace.”

From her class in Hillsborough, Gornto has found those that attend to reward her with kindness and an eagerness to learn.

“My personal reward is to be in the presence of their goodness and appreciation; they are so thankful,” says Gornto.

Of her participants, she said, “They give terrific effort and are the hardest working individuals. It is beautiful to see elderly that love life and are striving to achieve better health as they age.”


For information, contact the Central Orange Senior Center at 919-245-2015 or the Seymour Center in Chapel Hill at 919-968-2070.

Class times in Hillsborough are Mondays and Thursdays from 10 to 10:50 a.m., and 1 to 2 p.m. on Tuesdays at the Seymour Center.


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