Te Uku’s Joan Vanhoutte prides herself on her ability to hold a good yoga pose — and at more than three score years and ten is not at all fazed by those half her age practising Iyengar yoga weekly with her in the old Scout Hall along Cliff Street.
Her soft grey hair held back off her face with a wide turquoise band — reminiscent of the Jackie bands of the 60s — adds an air of youthfulness to Joan’s not informidable presence. And she defies her age throughout the 60-90-minute stretching and balancing classes in which some dozen women and two men were last week contorting their bodies into intriguing positions for the good of their physical and mental health.
Joan’s followed local Iyengar yoga teacher Corry Regnier around from Hamilton to Raglan for her weekly fitness fix since 1996, and says she has no intention of stopping anytime soon. “It was a bad back that brought me,” explains Joan, “but you should start earlier (younger) because it seems so much easier then.”
Practising yoga fixed her back, says Joan without a hint of doubt. “That’s why I kept coming.”
There’s been a broken ankle since — from walking over the farm that’s been home to her and hubby Maurice or Maurie as he’s affectionately known — and Joan says that injury’s also benefited from Corry’s TLC even though she gets a touch of osteo-arthritis now and again. Yoga, she’s adamant, keeps her from “getting decrepit”. “You should see my husband — he’s a mess,” says Joan of her apparently “stooped” partner. “But then he’s got the brain and I’ve got the legs,” she laughs.
Joan has an unblinding loyalty to Corry who’s taken her from would-be decrepit to agile yogi. “I wouldn’t go to anybody else … she’s my mentor and my friend.”
While Joan admits she gets a bit lazy on the yoga at home, she still walks the hills of their large sheep and beef farm regularly and can “dig up a plot of land” for a garden.
Joan did everything including backbends when she started yoga in her 60s, recalls Corry. Now the moves are a little gentler, because as you get older you become less secure. Joan, she explains, will now often balance while stabilising herself against the wall or will do sitting poses, still with forward rolls or twists. “I have to recognise when it’s enough.” Even so, Joan still does headstands or inversions as they’re called in yoga. “I like those because they get the blood to your brain,” she says. She also does “dogposts” — a crouching pose included in yoga’s ancient “salute to the sun” sequence which Joan finds a bit tricky to keep up with. And she does a “dynamic” warrior pose, interjects Corry. “Because I’m a Celt,” says Joan. “It brings out the fighter in me.”
Corry, in her mid-50s, has been practising yoga now for 33 years, having started as a teen and gone to India later to study the discipline founded by renowned master BKS Iyengar who, at age 93, is still teaching.
She qualified as an Iyengar yoga teacher 23 years ago and says she couldn’t keep teaching if it weren’t for the “transformation” she sees in her students who, in turn, “inspire me to create a sequence of poses so they (continue to) develop”