As a US Navy trainer and fitness coordinator, Felicia Morales of San Antonio, Texas, developed specialized programs for active duty personnel who couldn’t pass fitness standards. Whether they were returning from medical waivers, maternity leave or had simply let good fitness habits slip, Felicia worked with each one to get them back into shape. Today, she uses those skills to teach participants at San Antonio Oasis how to improve their strength, balance and self-confidence through a variety of fun and rewarding workouts.
She joined Oasis a year ago, and one of the first classes she developed was Chair Dynamics: ABmazing Core. “The core engages everything: the abdominals, lower back and pelvic muscles,” explains Felicia, who is a certified core specialist. “By strengthening the core, we can improve posture, performance, balance and everyday movement.”
The popular class is chair-based and features continuous movement. “I put no limits on anyone,” Felicia says. “I try to keep the routines fresh and vary it up to keep it challenging. If someone can’t do a certain move, there’s always a way to adapt it so that no one feels left out.”
Felicia loves seeing the gains her students achieve. “I have people who were using canes to walk,” she notes. “But over time as they develop more strength and better balance through the course, they are able to go up and down steps without a cane.”
If It’s Not Fun, It Won’t Get Done
Moving around is one of the four basic tenets of a healthy lifestyle, along with eating well, adequate rest and not smoking. “These are the key ingredients to maximizing life,” explains Juliet Simone, national health and program director of The Oasis Institute. “What I find so harmonious is that these four factors affect every disease state in a positive way.”
That’s the core idea behind Oasis evidence-based health workshops and fitness classes offered nationwide. From classic workouts like cardio and strength training, yoga and Aquafit, to a wide variety of dance classes, arthritis programs, bone-building and falls prevention programs, and even hiking and cycling, Oasis provides members with fun alternatives to keep them moving no matter what their fitness level.
“The number one unifier of everything we do is building community to reduce isolation,” Juliet says. “Our classes feature certified instructors from the community who are supportive and eager to engage every participant.”
Finding Balance with Tai Chi
Balance is one of the many things in life that needs practice to maintain. As people get older and slow down, the fear of falling may prevent them from the very activities that will help rebuild balance. Tai Chi, which utilizes slow gentle flowing movements to build balance, is wildly popular throughout the country.
“I have a lot of students who come to Tai Chi because their doctor recommended it,” says Ilene Dunn, a certified Tai Chi instructor with Albuquerque Oasis. One of the classes she teaches is Tai Ji Quan: Moving for Better Balance®, a program takes eight movements from traditional Tai Chi and adapts them to focus on strength and balance. All movements can be performed seated or standing, with or without a chair.
“The body has balance receptors on the feet,” Ilene explains. “As we slowly step out, we are training those receptors to connect with the brain. All movements involve weight shifting, postural alignment. It allows students to build strength in their lower extremities, which is so important for fall prevention. They gain a sense of their body in space and practice balancing in a controlled way.”
Ilene’s students frequently tell her about instances where they prevented a fall by catching themselves when they slipped or tripped. “Our generation didn’t grow up with the mind-set of going to the gym after work,” Ilene adds. “Tai Chi offers a more gentle approach that yields the same kind of health benefits.”
Ed Griffith is one of three Soul Line Dance instructors at San Diego Oasis who lead packed classes of joyful dancers, no gym required.
“The course is totally stress-free,” he explains. “Everyone comes and has a good time. They love being around each other and encouraging each other.”
The dances include country and western steps as well as specific soul line dances set to R&B, jazz, Latin and gospel. “We don’t wait for the music to control us,” Ed chuckles, “we just dance away.”
His students report weight loss as well as improvements in their memory and endurance. But it’s the stress-relief and camaraderie that keeps them coming back. “It’s fun rather than intimidating,” Ed notes. “It’s something to look forward to each week.”
Mind, Body & Spirit
That’s exactly how Rhonda Wright’s students feel about her Non-Impact Aerobics (NIA) class at Rochester Oasis, in New York. NIA is a whole body approach to fitness that blends elements from dance, martial arts and yoga.
“NIA isn’t about memorizing,” Rhonda explains. “It encourages you to be in the moment, to increase awareness of the body and to experience the joy of movement. In this safe space, people experience a powerful feeling of being accepted and supported.”
Now in her 17th year teaching NIA at Oasis, Rhonda relishes the growth she sees in her students. “I’ve seen improvements in balance, strength and flexibility,” she says. “I’ve seen their confidence grow as they try new moves. I’ve heard their laughter as we challenge ourselves. And I’ve seen friendships grow.”
While she’s always learning something new from her students, Rhonda says she will always remember one in particular.
“After a long illness, I noticed one of my students back in class,” she recalls. “She arrived at class and told me she was just going to sit in a chair and soak it all up. That was her goal for the day: to get up, get ready, drive to class and walk in. In the same situation, I probably would have just stayed home. She taught me something that day. Sometimes, just getting yourself there is enough.”
A pioneer in healthy aging, Oasis encourages a three-fold approach that experts and our participants agree makes getting older interesting and productive: lifelong learning, active lifestyles and volunteer engagement. In 2017, more than 12,500 health and fitness classes were offered nationwide. These programs are made possible with support from a number of funders. For a complete list of partners and funders, click here.
For more information about Oasis health classes, find a city near you and check out a catalog.