Just how old yoga is and the nature of its ancient ties to Hinduism are a matter a debate. Contemporary history is more clear. Americans first took to yoga in the sixties, but the boom in all things yoga—from eco-friendly mats to yoga vacations in Bali—took a few more decades to arrive. In 2001, a Time magazine cover story estimated that 15 million Americans were practicing yoga and 75 percent of all health clubs were offering classes. It described the many people attending yoga classes—from Madonna and Oprah to Supreme Court justices—as “Type A strivers” wanting “to become Type B seekers, to lose their blues in an asana (pose), to graduate from distress to de-stress."

Never mind who else is spending time on a yoga mat—most teachers will tell you that it benefits almost every body at every age. More and more hospitals are offering classes. An increasing number of health professionals are recommending it to their patients for myriad reasons: back pain, arthritis, depression, cancer, MS, osteoporosis or everyday stress reduction. Good instructors will show you how to modify a pose to accommodate any limitations you may have.

A growing number of specialty classes make yoga accessible for people at any age, with most any body. At age 79 Lenore Bijan teaches Seniors Only classes twice a week at The Movement Center, where she took her first class at age 72 and followed up with its teacher training program, becoming its oldest graduate. A professional ballet dancer in her twenties, Bijan says her body serves as her laboratory to figure out what works for older bodies. She brings elements of Tai Chi into her classes and has students sit in chairs sometimes, assuring them that “Chair yoga is not a sissy thing—it can be a workout.” I attended one of her classes and she was right.

Below you’ll find an introduction to some of the specialized yoga programs and organizations offering instruction in Portland, most of them open to the public and a few of them free. It’s a good idea to check web sites for schedules and make a call before trying out a class. Some classes are drop-in and others are a series. Ask about discounts that may be available for students, seniors and people with medical needs.

Health and Wellness Focused Programs

The Seniors Only class at Movement Center Yoga Studio.
The Seniors Only class at Movement Center Yoga Studio. Photo: Machaela Morrissey.


The Movement Center Yoga Studio

Thirty classes per week at this long-established yoga and meditation center in Laurelhurst include Seniors Only; Healing Yoga Practice, a gentle practice especially suited to people dealing with chronic health conditions; Medical Qi Gong For Self-Healing; and a Healthy Back Yoga course taught by an instructor who is also a physician. Also on the weekly schedule: Pre-Natal Yoga. Meditation, Tai Chi, Qi Gong and private therapeutic yoga instruction. Ten of the 30 teachers are longtime Movement Center instructors.

1021 NE 33rd Avenue
Portland, OR 97232

Amrita: A Sanctuary for Yoga

The wellness program here was developed alongside regular classes by studio founder Sarajoy Marsh, who once taught yoga classes for the MS Society, and Kimberly Carson, a health educator and yoga therapist who previously taught yoga to patients at Duke University Medical Center. The wellness program’s goal is to provide medically sound, gently tailored, and accessible yoga classes to people living with chronic, progressive, or debilitating illnesses, and for whom yoga could complement medical treatment. Classes include Ease into the Spirit of Yoga, for people with chronic pain, or recovering from stroke or injury; Chair Yoga, also for people who need a modified class; and Yoga for Women With Body Image and Food Issues. Mary Williams, a non-studio instructor, teaches Yoga for All Abilities (www.celebratethesenses.com), a class for children with a wide range of health and mental health issues, including Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, hyperactivity, ADHD, sensory processing disorders, developmental delay and autism spectrum disorder. Amrita also offers a 10-week course in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction that incorporates yoga.

0110 SW Bancroft Street
Portland, OR 97239

Gentle Yoga for People With MS

Instructors help students into the pose in the Gentle Yoga for People With MS class.
Instructors help students into the pose at the Gentle Yoga for People With MS class.

Two yoga classes for people with MS are offered on Saturday mornings in Northeast Portland under the auspices of the OHSU Foundation. Yoga I is for students who are less mobile and Yoga II for those who are more mobile. Class fee is on a sliding scale and scholarships are available. For more information and registration, check the web site and call Susan Dobrof at 503.230.2074. Class location will change in January 2011 from Whole Foods Market to the nearby yoga studio, Lotus Seed, at 6 NE Tillamook Street.

Whole Foods Market
(Second Floor)
531 NE 15th Avenue
Portland, OR 97212

Julie Lawrence Yoga Center

Another Yoga for MS class meets Tuesday mornings at Sunset Yoga Center in Southwest Portland. The class is an offsite program of the Julie Lawrence Yoga Center, which handles registration.

Gentle Yoga for Women Healing From Cancer

Two free weekly yoga classes for women recovering from cancer are among services provided in a partnership of the OHSU Center for Women’s Health and the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute. Location is the Center for Health and Healing at the OHSU South Waterfront Campus. Classes are taught by nationally certified cancer yoga teachers and assisted by an OHSU oncology nurse and physical therapist. Space is limited; registration and a health provider release form are required. One instructor also leads an eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course for caregivers and men and women healing from cancer. The course includes some very gentle yoga. For more information, including cost, and registration, call 503.245.9642.

Center for Health and Healing
OHSU South Waterfront Campus
3303 S.W. Bond Avenue
Portland, OR 97239

Yoga for Individuals With Cancer

Gentle yoga classes are part of the mix of cancer support services at Legacy Good Samaritan Medical Center in Northwest Portland. Classes meet Tuesday and Friday and students can attend on a drop-in basis. Classes are designed to allow the body to
return to its natural state of balance, strength and flexibility and are open to people recovering from cancer treatment, currently receiving treatment or adjusting to
living beyond cancer. A signed permit from a physician and registration are required.

Legacy Good Samaritan Medical Center
Medical Building #2
Lower Level—Women’s Wellness
1040 NW 22nd Avenue
Portland, OR 97210

The Yoga Project: Classes for the Larger Woman

The yoga for Larger Women class at the Yoga Project.
The yoga for Larger Women class at the Yoga Project. Photo: Yoga Project.

Vilma Zaleskaite, co-director of this yoga studio in Sellwood taught her first Yoga for the Larger Woman class in 2005, because, as she says on the studio web site, she was convinced “that yoga can be for every body. This was not exactly a common message at the time to judge by the look of most fitness or yoga magazines. No wonder that many women 'of size' could not imagine that yoga could be for them. …We were not surprised that, to begin with, classes had few takers.” That was then, but word of the classes spread, classes grew larger, and now there are three classes every week and a growing sense of community among students. Check the web site for class reviews and registration information.

1229 SE Nehalem Street
Portland, OR 97202

Yoga Calm®

Yoga Calm for kids.
Yoga Calm for kids. Photo: Yoga Calm.

Jim and Lynea Gillen used skills acquired in years of teaching yoga and her experience as a school teacher and counselor to develop Yoga Calm, a child education method for teachers and parents that engages all aspects of kids—hearts, minds and bodies—through a blend of physical yoga, social skills games, mindfulness activities, and counseling techniques. The goal is to help kids develop emotional intelligence, communication skills, trust and empathy, while nurturing teamwork and leadership. Local classes and workshops for kids as well as accredited courses for teachers, counselors and others are listed on the web site, along with class fees and locations.

Nonprofit Programs

Street Yoga

Street Yoga. Photo: Campbell Salgado.
Street Yoga. Photo: Campbell Salgado.

Although its classes are not open to the public, Street Yoga provides free weekly yoga and wellness classes to young people from ages three to 25—and their caregivers—at more than 28 partner sites in the Portland metro area, including schools, social service agencies, shelters, treatment centers, and residential programs that serve youth and their families. Portland yogis can take pride in supporting this national organization founded right here, and many take its weekend teacher training program. Street Yoga gives youth and their caregivers tools to help overcome early life trauma, through the sharing of mindfulness and wellness practices grounded in yoga. Caseworkers can contact Street Yoga to find a placement for young people and their caregivers, says Rachel Fachner, interim executive director. The organization served 1,000 young people and caregivers last year.

Holiday's Health & Fitness Yoga: Standing on Your Own Two Feet, a Program for Teens

Long-time Portland yoga teacher Holiday Johnson created a nonprofit program 19 years ago to bring the benefits of yoga to teens and teachers of teens, and it continues today. The goal is to encourage young people to develop their potential through the practice and wisdom of yoga in classes that emphasize fitness with awareness, personal development, self-esteem and lifelong health habits. The eight-week course is open to young people ages 11 to 18 of all fitness levels, as well as full-time teachers of teens. Students can join at any time and can also take any other classes at a discounted fee; teachers of teens also qualify for a discount.

3942 SE Hawthorne Boulevard
(at The Hawthorne Wellness Center)
Portland OR 97214