Health Page: ‘Wellness Warriors’ Celebrate Artful Living At Any Age

By: Jennifer Sexton-Riley

Gail Tilton.

Gail Tilton has an affectionate nickname for the students in her Artful Living class. She calls them her Wellness Warriors.

If the nickname sounds heroic, there’s good reason. Let’s face it. Finding ways to stay healthy, active and engaged throughout the winter season can be challenging, and the pandemic didn’t make things any easier. Exploring new methods of keeping fit and learning new things among friends is a quest worthy of a warrior.

Sponsored by the Chatham Center for Active Living, Tilton’s free Artful Living class takes place over the course of six sessions at the community center. During each class session, participants are introduced to one or more experts in a variety of wellness practices and healing modalities, from meditation to healthy body alignment to Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) and more. Learning about new methods to improve and better enjoy their daily lives is a great way for Tilton’s students to spend time. Doing so in a friendly, social atmosphere? Even better.

Tilton describes herself as a student of
holistic medicine and wellness healing for over 50 years. After losing family members and her husband too soon to cancer, Tilton dedicated herself to learning as many methods as she could of disease prevention, as well as ways to increase the likelihood of living a long, healthy life.

“Years ago, someone who knew that I enjoy artwork asked if there was anything we could do as a group during the winter months,” Tilton said. “I have a certification in expressive art therapy, so it was natural that during the first course, which at the time I called Artful Aging, we got together and created murals, art journals and things like that. At the time the class met in the COA, so we could only fit 10 people in a small room.”

Then the COVID pandemic came, putting all in-person meetings to a stop and forcing people to take crash courses in Zoom and other online platforms.

“Obviously, since we couldn’t meet in person, we couldn’t do things like murals,” Tilton said. “So we started to talk virtually about improving our health and everyday lives. We delved into research about how our thoughts affect our wellness and our lives. Soon I was bringing in different people via Zoom who practice wellness programs.”

When in-person meetings once again became possible, the interest in wellness practices was here to stay.

With the recent change in name from the senior center to the Chatham Center for Healthy Living, Tilton’s class also needed an updated moniker. The transition from Artful Aging to Artful Living was an easy one, and Tilton said she feels the new names better reflect the goals and the value of both the center and the class.

I started to realize that the word ‘aging’ can have a negative ring to it,” she said. “A lot of the things we are doing are to make positive changes in life right now, in a healthy and preventative way to enhance our current lives. I began to realize that active people, even in their 70s and 80s, might not consider themselves old enough to go to something with ‘aging’ in the name. It needed a different image.”

Tilton said that each year in the middle of winter, she begins to start thinking about what she will incorporate into the program, which runs from the beginning of February through the middle of March. This year’s class series came together easily, with a variety of interesting topics. Session one included Chatham meditation facilitator Joan
Konopka, Chatham acupuncturist and wellness consultant Jenny Wood on deep breathing and gentle qi gong movements, and John Rosario, a massage therapist, certified health coach, biological wellness consultant, energy medicine practitioner and fitness trainer from Osterville who explored body alignment and posture.

Konopka explained that mindfulness is an important practice for our active minds, which tend to flee the here and now in order to worry about the past or fret about the future.

“The worry and fear about the past and the future tends to make us feel helpless, powerless, and alone. We feel stuck,” Konopka said. “Our real power is in our breath, in the present moment, and the life force which connects us all.”

Konopka expressed her appreciation for the fact that the Artful Living class is offered free of charge, thanks to sponsorship by Friends of the Center for Active Living.

“When I am facilitating, or when someone is exploring meditation and mindfulness, there’s nothing to go out and buy,” Konopka said. “We’re really sharing something that we all already have.”

The remaining February sessions of the Active Living class series included repeat visits from Konopka and Rosario, plus Orleans chiropractor Kevin Lowey on multiple aspects of nutrition and fitness, hydroponic gardener Donna LePage of Chatham on her soilless gardening techniques, and EFT practitioner Casey Hammond, who shared her knowledge of EFT therapy, also known as “tapping.” The two remaining March sessions will each feature one facilitator for the entire class period. Session number five will feature artist Ward Parker, a “Paint Nite” host who will discuss Vincent Van Gogh and the wellness benefits of creating art. Mary Parsons of Chatham will complete the series with her session six nature walk and exploration of the Japanese practice of “forest bathing,” followed by a healthy luncheon.

Tilton said she is grateful to have the opportunity and pleasure to share so many beneficial ideas and practices with the participants in the Artful Living class.

“The people who come in to share their skills with us are real encyclopedias of knowledge,” Tilton said. “I find myself fascinated, and at the end of each session there is something for everyone to try practicing at home, from Jenny’s qi gong movements to Jon’s ideas about how to sit with better alignment in our chairs, to Kevin’s wonderful way of greeting the morning by flinging his arms up over his head and saying ‘I am a happy bird!’ I challenge anyone to try starting the day like that!”