Motion Activated

Originally designed to assist those suffering from Parkinson’s disease, the Covington Family YMCA’s Basic Movement class has been extended to all members.

by Jessica Hudgins

A group of 15 or so people meets at the Covington Family YMCA to stretch, destress and connect with one another every Tuesday morning from 10:15 a.m. to 11 a.m. Formally called the Basic Movement class, the 45-minute block is designed to “lead participants through various stretches and strength exercises in an inclusive and welcoming environment,” according to Covington Family YMCA Executive Director Louly Hay-Kapp.

The Y holds the class in a brick cottage on Newton Drive, a stone’s throw away from its main facility. A long ramp leads up to the building, a few rose bushes growing on the path. As visitors walked in, they passed through a small sunroom and entered the main area where classes are held. Several chairs were placed in a circle, with a pile of red medicine balls in the middle. People milled around the room, placing their hats, water bottles and bags onto the surrounding tables. A small group gathered, smiling and chatting as they passed around a thank-you card for a former teacher who recently relocated. Andy Hudgens, a welcoming woman who took time to greet everyone as they came in, took on the responsibility of organizing the card. 

Andy, 70, and her husband, Tom, 71, started attending the class when it was first offered two years ago. It was designed to serve people who, like Tom, suffer from Parkinson’s disease, a progressive nervous system disorder. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms include tremors, slowed movement, speech and writing changes, impaired posture and balance, loss of automatic movements and rigid muscles. Upwards of 60,000 Americans each year are diagnosed with the disease, the cause of which remains unknown.

“We know people who think they can’t move,” Tom said, “and it’s easy to entertain that thought if you’re not careful. That’s where the exercise comes in.” 

“Many people ranging in age and ability have incorporated this class into their healthy lifestyle.”

Covington Family YMCA Executive Director Louly Hay-Kapp

The YMCA decided to open the class to all members, not just those impacted by Parkinson’s, soon after it began. “We soon realized that the class could benefit many more people and invited others to join,” Hay-Kapp said. As a result, the class grew to its current size. 

The room brimmed with energy as the latest session began. Instructor Nathan Hutcheson started by asking each participant to state his or her name. As they advanced around the circle, people asked about a recent shoulder surgery and a birthday that had been celebrated over the preceding weekend. Hutcheson turned on some music.

“Reaching your hands up, strong neutral spine, up to the ceiling and down,” Hutcheson said, his voice calm and level as he led the class. “This time, at the bottom, see if you can stretch down. Just take a moment here to stretch your low back.” 

Teresa Burchfield completed the exercises while standing, working according to her comfort level. Hay-Kapp concedes that keeping participants engaged and relaxed is a vital aspect of the Basic Movement class. “Many people ranging in age and ability have incorporated this class into their healthy lifestyle,” she said. Burchfield enjoys her time at the YMCA, where she has found the environment to be supportive and encouraging. “It helps us stay flexible and strong as we age, relieves stress and anxiety, offers social interaction and mentally helps keep the mind focused,” she said. 

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The class moved into lunges at around 10:30 a.m. Participants turned their chairs sideways—as though they were following the person in front of them around the circle—and pushed one leg back before leaning onto the chairs for support. It began to rain while everyone coordinated with a neighbor, and a woman in royal blue plants and an unabridged view out the window broke whatever tension remained in the room: “Severe weather alert!” Everyone laughed and turned to watch the rain fall and the trees sway, and a few conversations broke out about how uncooperative the weather had been during the spring. 

During one of the more intense exercises, which required participants to lift their legs and squeeze a medicine ball between them, the class fell silent, as it was virtually impossible to perform the exercise and talk at the same time. Hutcheson executed the maneuver with the class and asked a tongue-in-cheek question once he released the stretch: “Did you guys feel that one a little more?” A collective chuckle could be heard. As the clock neared 11 a.m., Hutcheson went into the cool-down process. 

“We’ll take a few minutes for breathing,” he said, “for coming back to the breath.”

The room again grew quiet, and it became apparent that it was an important time for everyone involved, as participants focused on comfort and relaxation. Soon after, Hutcheson dismissed the group for the day and was met with applause. The Basic Movement class does not focus on competition or becoming physically stronger. It encourages participants to discover what they can do to continue to grow. 

“When you’re new to a group, it’s normal to feel like everyone’s looking at you,” Andy said, “but we’re just trying to stay standing.” 

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