It’s a cold winter night but the ladies gathered at White River Yoga in Montague seem warm in the beautiful old store that has been repurposed into a yoga studio. Most of the women have worked with this instructor for a long time, and tonight’s class with Bette Rodewald doesn’t disappoint.
Sharon Rubelman has taken classes from Rodewald for over twelve years in various locations. “You try harder in her class because she tells us to see what we can do and where we can go with yoga.”
Rodewald has taught yoga for many years now – both in her current role as a yoga instructor and in her previous work as a cardio pulmonary rehab nurse, most recently for Mercy Heart Center, now part of Mercy Health. She assisted and monitored patients who had experienced a cardiac event and needed supervision while exercising. After 15 years, she retired to spend more time with her husband, Bill, and their five children. However, she continued teaching her yoga classes.
It might surprise you to know that this agile instructor who teaches four classes a week just turned 80 years-old.
“When I started in Muskegon with cardiac nursing, it used to seem like only the men were having heart attacks and needed stents. Then we starting seeing more and more women who had heart issues and cardiac issues.” said Rodewald who cites better education about women and cardiovascular diseases.
“To me, it emphasized that if you don’t exercise and take care of yourself, everyone is at a high risk of heart disease.” A philosophy echoed by the American Heart Association and its Go Red For Women initiative.
Traditional yoga is done by slowly stretching the body into a variety of poses while focusing on breathing and meditation. When yoga first became widespread in the late 1960’s, Rodewald was invited to a class by a neighbor. Her response was, “Sure, I’ll go – what is yoga?” She went to the class and, with four little children at home at that time, she fell asleep during the resting phase at the end of class. She kept with it, and later in her career, Mercy Health asked her to start a mini-yoga classes for some of the rehab patients.
“With my nursing background, I could teach the patients the muscle systems they were using in poses as they slowly moved from one pose to another. They would gain strength and flexibility and we would use much-needed relaxation techniques at the end of the classes.” – techniques she still uses in her classes today since she feels the resting periods are as important as the poses.
“Meditation, where you sit for 8-10 minutes in silent mindfulness with diaphragmatic breathing can calm you down and change your brainwaves. It’s very tough to shut down your mind and remain quiet,” said Rodewald. “Yoga can help with balance and mobility, which are even more important as we age.”
“Stroke survivors can benefit as well. I once worked worked with a stroke survivor who made gains in these areas and strengthened the strong side of his body.”
Rodewald’s parents emphasized fitness and healthy eating long before it was popular. “We took long walks in the woods near Bluffton and Pere Marquette Park even in the winter time. They would put all of four of us girls into snowsuits and we’d walk four miles. It’s still my favorite form of exercise.”
“Because I have stayed healthy and active all of these years, I can see what happens to someone if they don’t or can’t take care of themselves physically. I hope that area women will continue to maintain a physically strong body. Do the right thing, and you might be able to live a healthy life for many years,” said Rodewald. “I never really retired. My children tease me that I just moved from one job to another!”