By Greg Hernandez
The calming voice of instructor Marco Beghin fills an upstairs meeting room at the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Senior Center where the weekly Balance & Strengthening class is taking place.
“This is not a place where you can resolve things,” Beghin tells a dozen students as they lie atop yoga mats with their heads propped up by a small stack of books. “You’re just allowing yourself to take time, to be at home with yourself.”
In his gentle way, Beghin and two assistants are teaching the seniors how to find balance and core strength and how to access their own natural energy when performing such daily activities as walking, standing, and sitting.
They are being taught to rely on support, breathing, and equilibrium in order to move with a sense of freedom, fluidity, and confidence.
“What we are working on is our habitual patterns of tension,” Beghin said in an interview after class. “Over a lifetime we create muscular, psychological, or emotional barriers. There are all these layers that are interfering with our functioning as humans. This work really is helping to observe those habits and see if we can change them through thinking differently.”
The goal is for students to come out of his class with the ability to apply basic principles on how the body-brain connection works. These principles include upright balance and tone; integrated alertness and coordination; sensory body awareness; clarity in thinking and focus; harmonious breathing; and strength and inner confidence.
The class provides seniors with a pragmatic way of approaching daily life when it comes to doing movements like bending down to tie their shoes, grabbing something off a lower shelf at the supermarket, riding the bus, or walking down the street.
“At the beginning, you could see people struggling physically when we were walking or standing or sitting,” Beghin recalled. “After so many classes, you can see the light in their eyes now. People are really joyful.”
The popular class is limited to 12 students per the three-month cycle. There has been a waiting list since the class was first offered earlier this year.
“It’s a deep class,” he added. “You really learn to connect with people and with yourself. It’s also about taking time for yourself. The ability to stop and take time for yourself is really the beginning of the journey.”
“I am so much better than I was when we began”
Beverly Winters, 71, swears by the class and has already signed up for the next cycle.
“As they teach the technique, you find yourself releasing more and more tension even when you thought you were already there,” she said. “It’s been great for me because I have arthritis, back pain, and knee pain. I am so much better than I was when we began.”
Fellow student Michael Baroto had previously taken yoga and line dancing classes at the Center, and found the Balance & Strengthening class to be the most life-changing.
“There’s a different awareness of your own physical being,” he explained. “I think about this class every day. I walk differently because of it. When you are walking down the street, you’re aware of your power pushing you through down the street. My balance is more secure. I was not aware of all this stuff before I started taking this class.”
Sharing the Alexander Technique
The Balance & Strengthening class most likely would not exist if Beghin hadn’t decided to become a Center volunteer in 2018. During volunteer orientation, he was intrigued when a staff member asked if any of them had special skills which they could apply to the Center’s programs and services.
After a rigorous training of more than 1,600 hours in the mind-body discovery process known as the Alexander Technique, Beghin offered to bring his work to the Center’s seniors.
“It’s been an incredible healing journey as a queer man from abroad,” said Beghin, who is originally from Italy and has lived in the United States for 20 years. “As I do this work, I’m helping myself.”
To learn more about Balance & Strengthening—and the more than 100 additional health and fitness classes, activities, and events offered each month at the Center for LGBT seniors—visit lalgbtcenter.org/seniors.