I’ve always been active, playing in a variety of sports and physical pursuits. As a young girl I swung high on playground swing sets, played backyard kickball, rode bikes and skateboards. In teenage years I loved gymnastics and played competitive volleyball. I continued volleyball after becoming a young wife and mother, and added running a couple of miles a few days a week. During my corporate years in the 1980s, I spent lunch time in the workout room wearing my trendy leotard, tights and legwarmers as I followed Jane Fonda’s legendary video. (Why did we wear legwarmers? And, they’re back in style!)
In my late thirties I became single, and trauma, anxiety and bad habits took over my life. I experienced the loss of several loved ones. During this time I also lost myself and gained weight. To regain control of my life, I started walking every day, which eventually turned into running. A friend introduced me to a running group, and I learned how to run long distance. After completing many half-marathons and doing intensive training, I ran the Chicago Marathon in 2008.
Then, in my fifties, I was alone again. I moved to a neighborhood that didn’t feel safe for running by myself. By this time I was performing regularly as a musician, which included many late nights. I was also self-employed, meaning I worked all the time. Still, I walked whenever I could fit it into my schedule, trying to keep my cholesterol low, burn calories and keep up my heart rate.
Even though I’m health conscious, something was missing. I’ve never slept well, with my brain spinning nonsense and anxiety. For years, family issues, work and music kept me going at a frenetic pace. Then in 2013 I met a wonderful man, now my husband, who was retired and suggested I retire, too. He gifted me with the opportunity to slow down my life, weed out what no longer served me, and try new things.
In the past I’d been curious about yoga, watched some videos and read some books about it, but without someone to guide me, it didn’t connect. I reconnected with a former work friend who was now into yoga and raved about its benefits. My husband, a longtime yoga practitioner, mentioned that he started with a Jane Fonda yoga video. Jane Fonda’s workout helped me in the past, and she is a known exercise guru. Jane Fonda AM/PM Yoga for Beginners is a great starting point for both uninitiated and mature adults, with a choice of three routines each lasting around twelve minutes. It felt great and I could see benefits even with these short workouts. After a couple of months I became bored with the limited routines and decided to look for a yoga studio close to where I live. The Yoga Patch is only a couple of miles away, and one class, Slow Yoga with Joe, looked intriguing, so I grabbed my old blue Pilates mat and drove to class. I couldn’t find the building and arrived a few minutes late, but Joe greeted me warmly and I found an open spot near the front. I hoped I wouldn’t do anything embarrassing, like fall over or fart (it happens). I loved it and I’m now a regular in the class.
By “slow,” Joe means that poses are held for an extended time, and each pose flows slowly into the next. Joe explains clearly what to do while also demonstrating, and he emphasizes that each person should do what feels best and how to modify poses to fit our own ability and body. Breathing is an important part of yoga, and he reminds us how and when to breathe to get the maximum benefit of each movement. At the end of class, Joe leads participants into Savasana, which is Corpse Pose, lying on our backs. Chopra.com describes it this way: “Savasana might look like a nap at the end of your yoga practice. But it’s actually a fully conscious pose aimed at being awake, yet completely relaxed.” Which is exactly what it feels like and the perfect way to end each class. After resting for a few minutes, we slowly make our way to sitting. Joe says something like, “Thank you for practicing with me today. The light in me sees the light in you. Namaste.” We all say “Namaste” together with our hands in prayer position on our foreheads or hearts and bow toward the floor. Participants thank Joe for the great workout and his detailed and kind instruction.
When I practice yoga, I often close my eyes. I rarely look at other people or around the room, instead focusing on my own mind and body. When my mind wanders, as it often does, I catch myself and refocus on the moment. I concentrate on how each pose feels and what area of my body feels pain or discomfort. I learned how to send energy to where it’s needed for maximum effect. Now that I’ve been doing yoga for several years, just sitting down at the head of my mat puts me into a relaxed state. Holding poses is good for my muscles, and with added stretching and tension I feel limber and strong.
Once, I mentioned to Joe that I’m often sore the next day after yoga class. He said, “Really? I’d think with your regular practice at home you wouldn’t be sore.” So, my once-a-week yoga practice wasn’t enough? It seems I should be doing it on my own, too! At first, I felt insecure about this. I wasn’t sure I would remember poses without guidance. The next day, in my living room, I rolled out my mat, sat down in Lotus pose, closed my eyes, and put myself into the moment. I found I easily flowed from one pose to the next, choosing poses based on what seemed beneficial to my mind and body at that time.
My favorite pose is the Turtle; seated, touch the souls of the feet together and bend forward, sliding the forearms underneath the legs. It feels good on my back and inner thighs, and by adding pressure with my forearms, I can create tension and build strength. If I want, I can turn my forearms over and lift my legs, still touching at the feet, for Flower pose. During class one day, Joe told the class about an elderly female friend who does a Sun Salutation flow, a series of several common yoga poses including Plank and Downward Facing Dog, at least once every day. When I’m doing my home practice, I think of that woman and know that if nothing else, I can do a Sun Salutation flow.
Balance is what I’ve been missing in my life. Adding restful and calm activities to my busy list of tasks and chores allows my mind and body to reset. I meditate at times, too, which is easier now that I do yoga and know the calm feeling that comes using simple mantras to clear my mind. Balance is also a crucial part of yoga. Many yoga poses involve balance work to strengthen the core and spine. Along with yoga, I try to walk for thirty minutes or more almost every day. After reading Younger Next Year for Women, by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge, M.D., I added a simple workout routine of squats and lunges, plus lifting small hand weights for upper body strength, a couple of times a week.
I’m 64 years old, not a “spring chicken” but I’m still an active person. I’m not completely virtuous, either. I’m lazy or tired sometimes just like anyone. I like sweets and I wish I could lose a few pounds. I sleep better these days, although not every night. But who knows how long any of us will live? I’ve lost people both young and old. What I do know is that I want to live the best life that I can, while I’m able, and to achieve this I’ll keep adding tools to help myself to my daily toolbox.
I wish I’d learned about yoga earlier in my life. But then I may not have found Slow Joe, as he is now known, who provided an informative and appealing introduction to yoga, and a solid base upon which to build my own practice. I enjoy yoga and its benefits so much that I sometimes dream about becoming a yogi and leading classes. For now, I think I’ll finish this essay, do a full body stretch and a Forward Fold, followed by a few minutes of Ujjayi breathing (also called “ocean breath) to let out toxins, and go about my day.