I dabbled in Yoga back in the 60’s. The first thing I learned was that I am “white-man-stiff”. A naturally bad back left me unable to touch my toes, even on my youngest, skinniest day. Even the simplest yoga posture was a tough proposition. As a kid, I’d always tried to “be strong” even when I wasn’t, so I really pushed the poses. You can imagine what I felt on the following day.
I injured my lower back. I froze my neck. I couldn’t bend down to my toddler without collapsing. My eyeballs throbbed. After that introduction, you better believe I approached yoga practice with deep respect for my limitations. I kept it up for a few years, slowly and carefully running through a few postures every day. The most adventurous I got was a sunrise salutation or three. The emphasis in the book I followed was on stretching, focusing, centering, and, finally, relaxing, feeling the welcome tingle of blood flowing in starved places.
Imagine my surprise when I, now an elder who has been through a couple of large surgeries, thought I’d check into my gym’s yoga class. I found that Yoga has become, over its years in the West, a Type A sport. The misperception is my fault, for the class is at a Gold’s Gym©. I’d joined one a few years back in order to mess with the machines so that the few moving parts I had left didn’t entirely atrophy. The first yoga class I attended destroyed me in less than 30 minutes. I had to pick up my mat and hobble out the door in utter humiliation while I could still be sure I could drive myself home.
Limping around the house a day later, I came up with “Kick Your Ass Yoga.” Joke aside, I’m still attending. I found the “second best” teacher in my gym, whose single class is not so full and who is closer to me in age. She’s not the least interested in her resident “cripple.” In my baggy sweatpants and tee shirts I’m likely an embarrassment among all the bendable Lycra Ladies in proper yoga garb. Despite that, and a rise in my daily intake of ibuprofen, I go and follow her instruction as fully as the body Nature gave me can.
It’s a maxim in Yoga that you are only as young as your spine. I hate to think how old that makes me, but it is also said that where there’s life there’s hope.