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Friday, 19 September 2008

YOGA (Stretching and Bending at 70)

By Brenton "Sandy" Dickson

Brentondicksonbadge When I reached Middlebury Gap, I stopped the car. It was a cool, October, early afternoon and my legs were cramped. The first session of my investing conference at Basin Harbor on Lake Champlain was scheduled for five. I had plenty of time for a short hike on the Long Trail.

I started north. My stiffness quickly subsided, but other issues began to surface. On some of the steeper pitches, my ankles felt like they might give way as I stepped on rocks that were poking up at odd and inconsistent angles. I was frightened. Things like this weren’t likely to get better. I was almost 70, damn it!

Then I found Yoga. My younger sister had described this to me as “spiritually refreshing” and “experiencing oneness with one’s body.” What was she talking about?

At Thanksgiving Dinner, my younger brother-in-law said something that actually made sense. “Yoga is great for toning muscles that you don’t use regularly.” My God! How simple.

In December, when 70 actually happened, I stopped by the local fitness club and enlisted. Then, clad in my new light gray Target sweat pants, loose at the bottom so as not to exaggerate my skinny legs, I tried to slink unnoticed into my first session.

I was terrified. Three of the walls were continuous floor to ceiling mirrors. The last thing I wanted was to watch while I made a fool of myself. How could I get out of this? There was no place to hide.

Probably 30 other participants of various sizes, ages, shapes and sexes, were beginning to set up shop. I tried to mimic them as best I could. The mats were all pointed in the same direction, but the remaining equipment placement seemed random. Blocks, bolsters, blankets, and straps strewn everywhere. What were we going to do with all these things? I had no idea what I was doing.

Fortunately, my attention was diverted to a mat near the center of the floor. It was occupied by a plump, middle-aged lady with dark hair. She was clad in matching sweat pants, sweatshirt, and headband, all bright red - probably her toenails too, but I couldn’t quite see. She was not trying to hide from anyone.

I sat down on my mat. Others seemed to be doing this. With trepidation, I peered at the mirrored wall in front of me. I couldn’t find myself. The room was on fire. All I could see was red, the lady in red. I looked to the left. There she was again. She was everywhere. The rest of us were scattered background clutter.

Soon, quiet Indian music began playing from a stereo at the front of the room, and Catherine, our teacher, dimmed the lights. Our first task was to sit cross-legged and erect. As a preteen, I would not have had trouble with this. But my 70-year-old body was not happy. It trembled. I teetered.

Catherine rushed to my rescue, placing a bolster under my buttocks and blocks under both of my thighs. My stability was restored. I thought to myself, I can do this.

But then my creaking limbs were led through a horrifying flow of twisting and bending contortions as we moved from pose to pose. Downward Facing Dog, Upward Facing Dog, Warrior I, Warrior II, Cobra, Happy Baby, Dead Pigeon. Good grief! How did they come up with these names?

I persevered, frequently watching what those toiling on neighboring mats were doing. To see if my left or right leg was over or under whichever of my appendages that it was meant to be. As I stretched and strained, the strumming of the Hindu sitar filled the air, occasionally drowned out by the whirring of stationary bicycles and rowing machines being operated by more sensible exercisers in the next room.

I found myself craning my neck, not only to monitor the behavior of my neighbors, but also to read the wall clock to see how much time was left in my ninety-minute ordeal. I knew that neck craning was a big no-no in yoga, since it compromised the integrity of a pose and thus could result in injury. But I could not possibly have survived without peeking.

The Savasana (corpse pose) during the final ten minutes of my yoga inaugural was a totally relaxing experience. It was a clever brainwashing exercise designed to make my body forget what it had just been through. I said to myself, this is nice I think I’ll come back.

I continued to subject myself to these routines through January, February and March. I got so that I knew what to do when Catherine said, “Warrior One,” just like Geri, my border collie, knew what to do when I said, “Sit!”

I wondered if it was worth the effort. I had to admit that it was. I was bending things that hadn’t bent for years. I was stretching things I never knew I had.

I became increasingly acclimated to yoga. I was the object of some amusement as I stood in bank teller lines in Modified Balanced Tree Pose. I understood more and more of the routines. Each time, I was a bit more flexible than the time before. Catherine was coming to my rescue less frequently. I tried to convince myself that she had not just given up on me.

In April, I was walking with Geri on the conservation trails at the edge of town. As I descended a long, rough bit of terrain which consisted of ledge, rocks and melting ice, I was moving quickly, almost running. I was in control. My ankles hadn’t felt that strong for years. I stopped. I looked down at Geri and cried, “Oh my God. Parts of me are getting younger!”

[EDITORIAL NOTE: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. Instructions are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

If Yoga had it's own corporation, they would send you a check for this free advertisement. I'm signing up as soon as I can!

We took Yoga classes back in the late 80's, but drifted away. You make me want to go back! I have been considering hot yoga. Any experience with it?

I'm sold too! I'll be looking for a class near me and see if it will help my aching back.

When I started Yoga classes a few years ago, I printed out copies showing the different poses along with detailed instructions. Some instructors are not as attentive as others. This way, I had a mental picture of how my body should be positioned and it made a world of difference.
Enjoyed your story!

Yoga for me has subtle and dramatic positive effects. Forget the oxymoron. Namaste.

"Parts of me are getting younger"

Back when my arms used to hang straight by my sides, I was an avid bowler. I competed with my brothers and often scores were 200+.

I bowled recently at a party I was invited to. When the best I could do was 132 my brother said, "I want to see the old you."

I said, "This is the old me!"

Your well told story had purpose here. Thany you.

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