Senior Centers

Outcome-based wellness programming for senior centers

By Nancy O’Brien

In the first months of 2009, I collaborated with two mind-body experts, Bornali Basu, Ph.D., and Allyson Pimentel, Ed.D, RYT, in designing and piloting a 10-week, outcome-based wellness program at a Harlem senior center. More recently, I’ve been collaborating with RSS (Riverdale Senior Services in the Bronx) in presenting six-week wellness series that we hope to amplify through Skype-like connections to other sites and the homebound and their caregivers.

In my work with Bornali Basu and Allyson Pimentel, drawing on our passion and extensive experience in yoga, meditation and working with elders, we developed sessions that included instruction in meditation, yoga, mindfulness, positive psychology techniques and other self-care practices. The curriculum was adapted from the evidence-based programs of John Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., at UMass Medical School and by Herbert Benson, M.D., at Harvard Medical School.

Participants ranged in age from 60-86, with the average age being 73.4 years. Several members were very consistent in their attendance and formed a core group of “regulars.” In fact, the sessions exceeded usual attendance expectations, showing a lower dropout rate than the usual fairly high rate reflected in literature for psycho-educational groups.

Participants reported in post-series measures that they learned to effectively utilize the mind-body stress-reduction strategies. Eighty-three percent of the participants stated that their sleep improved, and 100% of the participants stated they felt more confident in dealing with everyday stressors.

This is how some of the participants described their experiences:

“[What was most helpful was] learning to use my breath to calm myself and to scan my body with my mind to help to identify anything that is going on and to use meditation to find a way to make it better.”

“I liked the workshop because I learn to control my life.”

“I learned a lot. I learned to take time for myself. I used to try and solve everybody’s problems, not think about myself. Now I think about me, take time to smell the roses for myself. I’ve learned to say no to things that are not emergencies. I’ve learned not to rush, to take time for me alone in the morning. I’ve learned to just listen to quietness, stillness, to listen to the birds sing.”

It was a blessing to spend time getting to know these beautiful elders. I’ll never forget hearing about claw-footed bathtubs, the story of a treasured pin found after some deep faith-filled breaths, tales of those they had helped and those who broke their hearts. I sat some moments in awe of the deep beauty of their words, their faith – their ability to offer refreshment and to douse the fires of a troubled soul, whether in a crowded hospital or across the hall at home. And their joy!

I was so gratified to learn that the meditations and yoga and visualizations brought some comfort, some strength and peace. Their grace and spirits will long inspire me to try to bring the gift of yoga to elders whenever I can.


At RSS, with a mandate to reach out to low-income elders, we are presenting Real Life Solutions: Yoga, Meditation and Tai Chi for Chronic Pain and Stress and similar programming in the area. We are working to forge partnerships that will support Skype-like connections to satellite sites around the senior center so participants there can take advantage of the programming offered at the center through live, interactive and archivable sessions.

To explore developing sustainable wellness programming for your group or center, please email me at