There's a way to improve your heart health, reduce your stress level and strengthen and tone your muscles through Yoga by Jo, an hour long weekly class sponsored by the Blue Mountain Health System at the Summit Hill Heritage Center every Thursday at 6 p.m. and led by JoLynn Gazo. Thanks to a yearlong grant by BMHS, the class will be able to run for at least an entire year.

"I emphasize thoroughly warming up followed by stretching. We don't use much by the way of props, " Gazo said in describing the class. "We can adjust and adapt the class to anyone's limitations and it is a way for everyone to take part."

The only equipment Gazo recommends bringing is a yoga mat and yourself. She said while many classes work on advanced and special techniques she works to make hers accessible to a wide range of students from beginners to advanced pupils. She has been teaching for the last five years and began when her former teacher was unable to continue leading the class she was attending. "I have been studying yoga for the past ten years and have found many benefits from it," she added.

Some of the health benefits which both Gazo and Blue Mountain Health Systems Vice President of Public Relations Lisa Johnson listed during the interview include improving heart health, reducing obesity, reducing symptoms of arthritis and fibromyalgia, helping migraines and mitigating depression. Gazo also said the biggest benefit is the overall muscle strengthening and toning yoga provides.

Johnson said Horos and Summit Hill Heritage Center Deb Ranck approached the BMHS for assistance in sponsoring the class and her company was more than eager to help. "We are constantly receiving calls from people looking for classes like this one and while there are many Zumba and aerobics classes in the area, it is difficult to find a yoga class with a certified trainer," Johnson said.

She said Blue Mountain Health Systems is glad to help with classes like this one that are in the community and accessible to neighborhoods. "People from Summit Hill can walk to this class which is right in the middle of the community. It's local and you don't have to travel to enjoy and benefit from it."

Johnson said BMHS also sponsors a program for older residents over the age of 55 called New Seasons which helps people maintain overall good health. She looks at programs like that and classes like Yoga by Jo as important ways of keeping the community healthy.

She said that it is important for classes like this to be available on an ongoing basis. "Consistency is something that is needed [for programs like these to succeed]," Johnson said. She added that while big events have their place it is the small community events like classes such as these that also help improve the area.

Class attendee Karen Vasiliou of Lansford said she loves the class. "It's so relaxing." Long time student Marian of Jim Thorpe said, "It's very much a strength training. It improves your overall core strength." Gazo emphasized that point. "It is a great help especially as we get older. Core muscle strength becomes more and more important as we get older," she said.

Classes will run every Thursday evening at 6 p.m. throughout 2013 at the Summit Hill Heritage Center and last about an hour. Gazo recommends students bring a mat with them for the exercises. For more information about participating in the class, contact her at (570) 436-1762. For information about other local wellness programs, Johnson said the Blue Mountain Health Systems website calendar of events would be the place to look. The web address is www.blmtn.org and search on Calendar of Events.