A gentle approach to a centuries-old practice

Rock River Center Yoga Instructor Jen Pierce (third from left) leads students in a class. (Photo by George Howe)

Pierce leads yoga class at Rock River Center

OREGON — My wife and I decided a couple of months back to make a conscious effort to eat better, and exercise more often. We signed up for a weekly yoga class at the Rock River Center in Oregon. With our yoga mats tucked under our arms, and water bottles in hand, we didn’t exactly know what to expect and if we would walk out after the hour-long class feeling like the tin man from the “Wizard of Oz” in need of some joint lubrication.  All of our uncertainties quickly melted away as we introduced ourselves to the class’s instructor, Jen Pierce.

Pierce grew up in Oregon, has been an instructor for 25 years, and has been teaching at the center for the last five. The first thing that struck me was how slowly and deliberately she spoke to the class of eight students. As we began learning the different poses such as downward dog, table top and puppy pose, with soothing meditative music in the background, I started imagining that I was in a flowered meadow looking up at a beautiful blue sky. With her calm soothing voice, it’s all about the relaxation aspect, breathing, and mindfulness that yoga can provide and the atmosphere that Pierce creates.

Make no mistake, this is quite a workout and you make of it what you want. Working with primarily a little older crowd, Pierce wants her students to get the most out of the class without worrying about perfection.

“I have made a conscious effort to follow a program called ‘subtle’ yoga that focuses on trauma-sensitive poses helping everyone to achieve the neurobiological benefits out of what’s being taught,” Pierce said. “There is no right or wrong pose. I want it to be soothing and enjoyable.”

Pierce’s instruction style isn’t lost on her students.

“Jen is so excellent with people of different abilities,” Sandra Stengel, who’s been coming to the class for two years, said. “If for example you can’t get on the floor, she will demonstrate using a chair. She is really good at getting the most out of each person’s abilities. That’s why I continue to come back.”

Pierce shared with me that she has been a caregiver most of her life helping people find their way. She earned her master’s degree in Austin, Texas, and a doctorate in education at Oklahoma State University. Besides teaching yoga, Pierce was a certified group fitness instructor for a decade and currently works at a hospital as an activity therapist for stress management at a behavioral health unit for adults.

Sometimes, these classes can be a challenge that Pierce welcomes.

“These people are required to attend the classes as part of their treatment as opposed to folks that sign up for class,” Pierce said. “I like the fact that this group of people can sometimes not want to participate and I try to reach them through interacting using deep breathing, mindfulness and meditation that keeps them in the present. It’s a good feeling when after joining in, they find the benefits of what I’m sharing.”

Pierce appreciates Oregon and the people that have been involved in her classes, along with the management of the Rock River Center for continually allowing her to provide instruction. The feeling is mutual.

“Jen came highly recommended and we were able to work out an agreement and schedule,” RRC Activities Director Deb Julian said. “We are lucky to have her.”

“I definitely still take joy leading classes,” Pierce said. “This is such a nice community of people that are interested in lifelong activities that can increase their quality of life. Namaste.”

Jamie Nobis, executive director of the RRC, shared how proud they are to provide quality programs and activities for the seniors of the community.

“We are blessed with a very dedicated staff and board of directors,” Nobis said. “We partner with several agencies to provide support groups, health and nutrition services, and a variety of educational opportunities to the community.”

If you are interested in any of the programs offered at the center, they can be reached at (815) 541-5479. Regular business hours are Monday-Friday 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

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