Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Amazing Greys group explores the golden years

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WHAT does it mean to be a senior? Most of us don't have time to think about it, but at St. Benedict's Monastery, the retreat and conference centre is the ideal place to ponder the philosophies of life.

The centre offers a wide variety of spiritual programs for people of all walks of life and all age groups, but this fall it has lined up several that are targeted toward people in midlife and beyond.

For St. Vital resident Carol Ann Gotch, 60, being a senior means reflecting on her life and learning a new way of looking to the future. Life can be tough, and entering or living in the golden years should be about better times.

"When I celebrated my mid-50s birthday, a friend took me out for supper and said she wanted to honour this age," said Gotch. "Something struck me in the way she said that, and I wondered why we aren't honouring this time of life."

Gotch is one of the facilitators for a group of elders called Amazing Greys. The group will meet for an orientation on Sept. 13 at St. Benedict's, and for a couple of hours one Tuesday a month after that until next spring. The centre is nestled along the west bank of the Red River, about three kilometres north of the Perimeter Highway, east of Main Street.

Started two years ago, the Amazing Greys has averaged about 18 members who meet to reflect on their lives, share stories, and sometimes heal past wounds.

Group discussions tend to be spiritual, but they also cover general topics and life's lessons learned, said Gotch, who leads the sessions with counsellors David Walsh and Jackie Lawson, and Sister Mary Rose, a retreat and spiritual director at the centre.

With aging comes a stronger sense of one's mortality, which is one of the sparks that gets seniors into a philosophical frame of mind, Gotch said.

"There's a deepening sense of joy and a claiming of one's life," she said. "To be able to come through the losses, one begins to come through to the other side."

The Amazing Greys program is open to anyone 55 years or older and costs $180 for the year.

"We just try to provide space for each of us to experience the richness of this time," Gotch said.

Adelle Yanuszewski, 63, a retired social worker from West Kildonan who has participated in the Amazing Greys since its inception, said that she just loves it.

While admitting that she doesn't really know what it means to be a senior, Yanuszewski said the program has improved her relationship with family and got her thinking about what she wants to do with the rest of her life.

"The popular culture tends to think of becoming older as a kind of stagnation," she said. "This group really opens things up for you.

"I've really enjoyed it. The possibilities are endless, because where I go with this is my own choice."

Yanuszewski said as a result of her participation, she is now exploring the possibility of volunteering with support groups, especially in helping people using dogs as therapy.

* * *

St. Benedict's is also offering a new relaxation program called Gentle Wisdom Yoga for Midlife and Beyond. Instructor Annie Deeley will lead participants in 10 Tuesday evening sessions starting Sept. 16. She will use posture, breathing techniques and guided relaxation to improve flexibility and mental clarity. The sessions cost $85.

"Gentle Wisdom is just a name I came up with for the kind of yoga I teach," said Deeley, a resident of Norwood Grove. "It means you need to listen to your body so you don't overdo it."

The yoga sessions are geared toward anyone who needs a break from the stress of everyday life, but they are ideal for those in middle age and suitable for seniors.

"It's simple enough that big chunks of it can be done every day," Deeley added. "That really is the hope. It's simple enough and gentle enough that people can do it at home."

The relaxation portion at the beginning and the end of each session allows participants to take home the benefits of the exercise long after the class is over.

"It has benefits for the physical body, but it also has benefits for the rest of you as well. It's very calming."

Deeley also said her yoga classes take into account the abilities of the participants.

"It's not hard work at all. You don't have to be a pretzel to do yoga. You do what you can do. As long as you're bending over and reaching towards the floor, that's all that matters."

* * *

Retreat and spiritual director Sister Marie Baker will lead a four-day mini-vacation called Seniors' Sabbath from Sunday, Nov. 2 to 5. Participants will stay in residence at St. Benedict's and enjoy good food and entertainment, make new friends and have time for spiritual reflection.

"The idea of sabbath is to get away and to rest," said Sister Marie, adding that it's also a time to learn.

"Certainly people that are in the workforce find that it's good once in a while to take a sabbatical. Sabbath and sabbatical come from the same root word. Seniors don't necessarily get a chance to get away from their own home or apartment."

The Seniors' Sabbath costs $235 per person for private accommodations, or $215 for shared rooms.

For more information or to register for any of these programs, call 339-1705, or visit www.mts.net/~stbens.

PHOTO LINDA VERMETTE/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 10, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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