Point Reyes man debuts series in yoga for aging

David Briggs
For yogi Rich Clarke, independence, equanimity and stress reduction are the keys to aging well.   

Rich Clarke, a 73-year-old Point Reyes Station resident and former school psychologist, was in his late 20s when he began regularly stretching. He wasn’t turned on to yoga until he watched an interview with the rock star Sting in the early ’90s. “He was doing things I couldn’t dream of doing,” Mr. Clarke said. He began thinking about how the practice would benefit his future self: “If I develop a consciousness about flexibility, balance, agility and stretching now, I’ll be in a better position when I age.” Taking the initiative to invest in your body in the long term is a guiding principle for Mr. Clarke’s new class, Yin Yoga for Healthy Aging, which will debut at the Dance Palace on Sept. 11. The coed class is open to all ages (“We start aging when we’re born, and you lose muscle mass in your 30s,” he said) and is available to yogis of any practice level. Mr. Clarke began attending classes at Point Reyes Yoga, then Yoga Toes Studio, when it opened in 2001 and was encouraged by one of the studio’s instructors, Maile Sivert, to become a teacher about six years ago. He’s now a registered yoga teacher and has completed over 300 hours of training in which he focused on anatomy and a slower-paced style of yoga known as Yin Yoga. The “Yin” refers to a passive approach in which supported poses are held for a longer period of time, letting gravity do the work. Studying under Paul Grilley, Mr. Clarke learned poses that target the connective tissues that cause restriction and stiffness, as opposed to the “aesthetically rigid poses” used in traditional yoga. Then, last year, he took a yoga workshop on aging offered by Baxter Bell, a medical doctor, and Brad Gibson, a professor at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging. There he learned the “three pillars of heathy aging”: independence, emotional equanimity and the shortening of morbidity by using meditation to reduce stress. “That was the thing that gelled all these ideas for me,” he said. “They put it together in a way that I could see and teach.” Gina Kutchins, who has traveled to Peru and Guatemala for yoga excursions and knows Mr. Clarke from local classes, said Mr. Clarke’s patience and compassion will make him a fine instructor, especially for beginners. “Sometimes when people come into yoga for their first time it can be intimidating, and I think Rich would be an excellent teacher for someone breaking into the practice,” she said. “I think that anybody who is in his yoga class would feel very welcome.”