Jean Welder was teaching yoga before yoga was cool

For four decades, Jean Welder has been teaching yoga. It’s a lifestyle she has practiced herself, said Welder, who turned 80 Sunday.
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For four decades, Jean Welder has been teaching yoga. It’s a lifestyle she has practiced herself, said Welder, who turned 80 Sunday.
For four decades, Jean Welder has been teaching yoga. It’s a lifestyle she has practiced herself, said Welder, who turned 80 Sunday.
MEEKER I For Jean Welder, yoga isn’t just about breathing and relaxation.
It’s a lifestyle.
And it’s been a lifestyle she’s lived for the past 40 years.
Welder, who turned 80 Sunday by celebrating with neighborhood friends and family, has been teaching yoga and its philosophy for four decades.
“I’ve been doing this since 1969, when nobody knew what yoga was,” she said.
Welder’s been teaching yoga in Meeker since 1975, when she and husband Frank, who was a hydrogeologist, first came to town.
“I don’t think I could even guess at (how many people she has taught), thousands,” she said. “I’ve had three generations (of students in Meeker).”
For many of Welder’s students, yoga was more than a one-time class.
“Yoga has impacted so many people in the 40 years I’ve taught it,” she said. “I get letters from students who say they are still using it. A lot of my former students are now teachers.”
Welder was teaching yoga before yoga was cool, before it became the big business it is today.
“There was no such thing as a yoga mat when I started teaching; they used carpet pad,” Welder said.
“When I first started teaching, it was called yogurt, because people didn’t know what it was,” she said. “One time (at the city of Lakewood where she first taught yoga), I had to change the word yoga to stretching, because people were associating it with religious connotations.
“But there’s more acceptance now,” Welder said. “I don’t have to defend myself or explain myself, because people will do it for me. People know me and they know what I teach and they have benefited from it.”
One former student, who was in Welder’s very first class in Lakewood, wrote to her in 2000, “Your first yoga instructor always has a special place in your heart and their teachings remain as your foundation. May I take this opportunity to thank a wonderful lady who has helped so very many — many of us going on to instruct, to pass on a legacy that gave so freely to each and every student.”
While yoga’s acceptance and popularity have grown dramatically over the years, Welder remains true to the fundamentals she first learned. She even uses the same yoga mat she used 40 years ago.
“It’s the best yoga mat I’ve ever had,” she said. “I still use it. It’s great.”
Husband Frank, who is 86, has practiced yoga — he’s also a black belt in taekwondo — as have her three grown children.
At the family’s upriver ranch, Jean Welder teaches a group of yoga and tai chi students who will become teachers themselves.
At the family’s upriver ranch, Jean Welder teaches a group of yoga and tai chi students who will become teachers themselves.
“The kids have all, at one time or another, done yoga,” she said.
Welder’s introduction to yoga came through the book, “Yoga for Americans,” by Indra Devi. It changed her life.
“That was it,” she said.
Welder was later introduced to tai chi, which originated in China as a martial art, through a book by Edward Maisel. She teaches both yoga and tai chi and combines elements of each one, calling it tai yoga.
“Yoga is a series of postures that is internal activity and external quiet,” Welder said, “where tai chi is outward quieting and internal balancing stimulation. Both are done with synchronizing movements with your breath. Breathing is probably the most important thing.
“It was the men who asked me to teach tai chi, because they relate it to martial arts,” Welder added.
“She really blends the two,” said student Avis Loshbaugh. “I do more of the tai chi. It has more to do with mind/body integration. I do it more for balance and stress relief. It’s a very calming thing.”
Linda Stewart, another student, is taking a certification class so she will be able to teach yoga and earning graduate credit through Adams State College at the same time. She uses the principles of yoga in her job — she’s an occupational therapist — as well as in her personal life.
“I commute, so (yoga) helps with the aches and pains. The breathing is the biggest thing,” Stewart said. “It helps me relax and how I carry my body. I also use it in horse riding, because they’re a reflection of you, how you’re sitting.”
Stewart’s mother, who will be 88, took yoga lessons “years ago” from Welder, as did Stewarts’ daughters.
Welder teaches what she calls “more classical yoga.” The teachings of yoga — known as the eightfold path to yoga or enlightenment — started some 5,000 years ago in India.
“Sometimes it’ll change you,” Welder said. “There are so many schools of yoga. You have to do the one that fits yourself. It’s your autobiography in motion.”
Welder’s now passing the torch on to others who will teach yoga. She’s teaching students — Avis Loshbaugh, Paul and Vanessa Martin and Linda Stewart — who will become certified to become teachers themselves.
“They are going to be qualified to pass it on,” Welder said.
Paul Martin, who works for White River Electric Association, is also a minister at the Church of Christ in Meeker. He has no problem reconciling yoga with his faith.
“The word yoga means yoke,” he said. “You’re yoking the different aspects of your life. How you breathe. How you stand. How you think. It is really intended to go much further than the mat.
“Interestingly, I look at the philosophies of yoga, and they’re not contradictory to Christianity,” he continued. “The Bible teaches us to be rooted and grounded and to interact with our fellow man with love, respect and tolerance. Those are the fundamentals of yoga. Yoga is a set of principles, not a religion. It covers every aspect of your life.”
Paul Martin has been doing yoga for 16 years. He started practicing yoga when he was living in Rangely and took a class from Welder that was offered through Colorado Northwestern Community College. Paul introduced yoga to wife Vanessa before they were married. They’ve in turn passed it on to their daughter Alahna, who is 11, and son Stone, 9.
“I like it,” Alahna said. “It teaches how you can be a better you and harmonize with nature.”
The principles of yoga have not only been a lifestyle for Welder, but the physical benefits saved her life, she said.
“Three years ago, I broke my femur, and for six weeks I couldn’t put weight on that leg, so I had to hop. If I hadn’t had the upper body strength … they say 80 percent of people my age die from that injury, because they can’t get up and they get pneumonia and die,” Welder said.
“Yoga and tai chi saved my life, just being able to take care of myself. It gives you the ability to pick up groceries, to carry your grandchildren. It will give you independence and self-respect. It’s important to stay strong just to walk around this wonderful world of ours.”
Now, 40 years after teaching her first yoga class, Welder has cut back her schedule to where she only gives private lessons. But she believes just as strongly in the philosophy of yoga as she did when she was first introduced to it four decades ago.
Teaching yoga — and teaching others to teach yoga — has been Welder’s mission in life.
“This is not an ego thing; it’s my purpose,” she said. “The movements, that’s just part of yoga; it’s a lifestyle.”