As we all know, as we get older it’s important to get regular exercise for our physical as well as mental health. Some of us have always had active lives – tennis, golf, hiking biking – there are all sorts of activities that can give us the workouts we need. Some of us go to the gym. I don’t, but I understand some people do. I don’t swim, hike, play anything, use equipment of any kind, run, power-walk – let’s face it, my idea of heavy lifting is adding a second olive to my martini. So when a friend told me she was taking a yoga class and asked if I’d like to go with her, I jumped (figuratively, of course, not literally) at the chance.
My yoga class is perfect. First and foremost, I am not the oldest person in the room. Or the most out of shape. My class consists of women – and a few men – all of a certain age who understand that another word for ‘yoga pants’ is ‘sweats’. We have our mats, our towels, and a lovely, sympathetic instructor who doesn’t mind if a person sits back and says “I’m not doing THAT.”
The class is once a week in the basement of a Catholic Church. As a very lapsed Catholic, I’d like to think that my Mom is looking down from somewhere and thinking, well, it’s better than nothing. Our instructor is ageless, slim but not buff by any means, and has a warm, wonderful voice. She dims the lights, puts on some New-Age-y flute music, and we’re off.
I don’t know the name of the type of yoga she teaches. I know there are different types, and most of them are hard to pronounce and end in –a, but I don’t know what our practice is. That’s what she calls it – our practice. Whatever it’s called, it concentrates a lot on breathing. Deep and slow, being aware of the rise and fall of our belly, and pulling our navel in towards our backbone. All while lying on your back, on your mat, in a semi-dark room, with no cell phone, husband , child, not even the dog – already, this is worth the price of admission.
The first thing she asks us to do is let go of your day. Boy, is that a great start or what? Sure, I’ll let go of this day – and yesterday, and the day before that. Then, she asks us to notice our breathing. This is easy. I’ve been breathing for a long time, and I’m very good at it. But then things pick up a bit. We, as a group, are big on stretching, lower back strengthening, and more stretching. So we do certain poses. Downward Facing Dog is one. You start from the Table Pose (on your hands and knees) then straighten everything up until your butt is pointing straight up in the air. Not the most dignified look in the world, but it really does feel good. There’s Cats and Cows, also good for the lower back. Sun Pose – great stretching. Warrior Pose – feeling strong.
We also do balancing poses, which is when I have to bite the bullet. I have terrible balance. I never learned to ice skate or roller skate. I barely learned to ride a bike. Remember the balance beam in gym? Couldn’t do it. So standing on one foot, my other leg straight out behind me, one arm extended and the other perpendicular to the floor is where I wobble, lean against the wall and wait it out.
Let me tell you, I usually don’t break a sweat, but I’m always warm. The energy is really flowing, I can feel it, and sometimes I can even touch my toes. And my body is really getting a workout. Our instructor tells us all the time – this pose opens up your hips, this gets blood flowing through your spine, this one helps strengthen your core. The balance poses are to help you sharpen your mind and help you focus…hmmm…those are the ones I can’t do…hmmm…oh well.
And when we’re done, we rest. That’s my favorite part of the class. Actually, she tells us to rest a lot during class. She’s very nice that way. She understands that not many of us place our bodies into these positions when we are away from class, so she allows us plenty of recovery time. Being told to ‘just rest’ is my idea of great advice. She reads lots of lovely things to us, passages that talk about kindness, to others and to ourselves. Kindness. Such a fine word. Underused, I think. She also talks about being forgiving and compassionate, again, not just to others, but to ourselves. We are often guilted into treating others nicely, but it’s not often we’re given permission to be nice to ourselves. Here is where we meditate. Since it’s really hard for me to remember anything anyway, when she tells us to empty our minds, I’m right there. More deep breathing. She tells us to be aware of our body. Usually I’m trying to ignore my body, but by the end of class, it always feels good. Well, maybe not good, but better. Stronger. More breathing – it feels different now – deeper, more controlled.
Now, this is relaxed.
This is where I can fall right to sleep.
Usually I manage to fight it.
But not always.