MOULTRIE -- "Remember your breathing," encouraged Wes Friedlander, yoga instructor at the Colquitt County Arts Center. "That's the most important thing."

Since its introduction in September, yoga has become one of the most popular classes at the Colquitt County Arts Center. The center now offers five classes each week, with two instructors.

Friedlander described yoga as a "series of movements and postures coordinated with breathing, meant to tone and lubricate the body and to relieve stress."

Yoga enthusiasts claim that yoga helps manage or control conditions and diseases such as anxiety, arthritis, asthma, back pain, blood pressure, carpal tunnel syndrome, depression, diabetes, epilepsy, headaches, heart disease and multiple sclerosis. Yoga is also said to stimulate the immune system, lower fat, boost self esteem, and improve circulation.

Friedlander said that he first became interested in yoga as a way of self-betterment about two and a half years ago.

"I bought a book and started doing it," he said.

Friedlander teaches four classes per week at the Arts Center, as well as teaching classes at the Hospice office.

In addition to her duties as an art instructor, Nancy Chaffey teaches one yoga class each week.

Although she began practicing yoga about three years ago, this is her first time teaching it to others.

"When Lea (Hawkins) first mentioned it, I said yoga's great. I do it every morning," Chaffey said. "Then she added that she needed another instructor."

The Arts Center offers punch cards for those who regularly attend classes, or individuals can pay on a class-to-class basis. The punch cards include 10 classes and expire in 11 weeks.

"The number of students fluctuates from week to week," Friedlander said. "In a typical class, I have at least four people."

"I have four regulars who come every week," Chaffey agreed.

The instructors encourage the participants to come at least once a week. This helps them to stick with the class and not lose the flexibility and strength they've gained.

"It's (yoga) is a personal thing," said Friedlander. "It's promoting self-wellness and it's really easy to learn. It's a way to get more in touch with yourself. It's not like a religion thing, and it's not like a weird thing either."

Friedlander added that people shouldn't feel uncomfortable. Yoga is not competitive, and everybody starts on his own level.

"I tell students to just do what you can do," he said.

Chaffey and Friedlander said that yoga can work for anyone, regardless of age.

Lola Knox, 82, also agrees. She attends Friedlander's noon class on Wednesday each week.

"After the first class, I thought this wasn't meant for 82-year-old women," Knox recalled. "I was sore."

Knox did, however, continue the classes. She believes that the stretching helps with her arthritis. She adds yoga to her regular exercise schedule of swimming and water aerobics.

"My daughter would say that I'm sort of an exercise nut," Knox said with a laugh. "It's make me feel better; gives me energy."

Knox admitted that sometimes yoga is still a little hard for her, but she's enjoying it and is still learning.

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