Sunday, March 29, 2020

Crazy & Yoga

My grandmother lived through the Spanish Flu. Long ago, when I was a youngster, she told me the scary story of how she'd sat in an upstairs window with her school friends in NYC, all of them watching in fear as body after body was carried from neighboring buildings. 

Bad old days, was her unspoken message: 
Don't worry little granddaughter. Things like that can't happen in these marvelous modern times.

Right as Grandma was about many things, she has proved wrong there. Now my husband and I are isolating; we are hoping and praying for deliverance for our friends and families. We also send our prayers for health and continued strength to our needlessly endangered and overworked health care community. We pray too for the rest  of the world. Each country now shows its true colors in the way it treats its poorest citizens--and many wealthy nations like ours are failing the test.

It would be ironic to drop dead of a heart attack -- instead of the  virus -- over political events an elder recipient of social security can do nothing about. I'll stop venting now and talk yoga instead. 

I've written about Yoga before on this blog. I have tinkered with Yoga since the 1960's. As powerful as Yoga is--this exercise which joins breath with precise movement--I've never been a consistent practitioner.  Of course, that fact alone means that I am exactly the kind of person Yoga was meant for.*  Discipline is as important in yoga as it is in any other exercise--and as it is in writing. That means you have to work out as near to daily as possible. I've been writing daily for years, but best case for me with Yoga has been attending a class twice a week. 

Still, not even that would have been possible for me before the new, sophisticated senior classes, because I'm a skeletal wreck. I don't mean I'm thin. What I mean is that inside I'm badly joined. Tendons are sub-par, misaligned; I have Scoliosis. Maybe I didn't come like that, but that's the way my torso's been since my teens. I have never -- even on my best 110 lb. day--been able to touch my toes. 

As a result, I've had to wait for Yoga's full revelation to arrive in my 70's with the advent of Silver & Fit. The hidden truth is so simple that for years my befuddled Western head wasn't been able to comprehend, but the light has begun to dawn at last. Since the gym closed, I've found I'm able to carry on my practice a bit at home, probably for the first time ever in my life.  

Recently, yoga has been helpful in keeping (what's left of) my sanity, so I'm going to share one of what are called "foundational" poses. It's a simple -- and on the surface, easy -- exercise, but poses are still complicated to explain. Whatever, I'm about to try.

The door opener for me was Mountain Pose, so that's the one I'll use here. It's a great place to start, or even if you never get an inch farther, I think this pose is magnificently powerful in a time when we truly need to BE HERE NOW.* There may not be a future, after all.

The illustration above shows the proper posture. However, the way in which the posture is acquired -- where you actually begin -- is important. So is the breath, but I'll explain that as I go. 

You begin with the feet. My instructor told us to stand hip-width apart, not "together" as above, so I'll add that caveat here. Therefore, your feet are aligned beneath your hips, leaving the natural gap between them. Next, turn your toes ever so slightly outward, just a small bit of angle. Hands are against your sides--as much as your structure allows--with the palm open and facing forward, the thumbs turned out.

After you've got your feet placed, straighten up slowly--perform every move with attention -- and then slowly push your heels together. This push activates your calves, next engages your knees, thighs and then your belly, all of which are all now involved. Once you've engaged the core muscles in the gut, you pause to check that your tailbone is pointed down. 

Naturally, as the tension ascends your body, you will pull your shoulder blades--very gently, please -- together. The breastbone pushes out, and you can help this with a deep breath. For most of us elders, the shoulders won't want to move much, but do what you can. Remember to keep the shoulders down. 

(Digression: Yoga is not about force, which is the very Western notion that your will can overcome muscular deficiency, and that you are not a Jock worthy of the name if you can't push yourself through any pain to perfection in less than a week. This attitude will inevitably end in OW! DAMN! You'll yank something deep inside, have to take a lot of Advil(c) and then just sour grapes quit.) 

Back to Mountain Pose instruction. 

Now take another deep, conscious breath and be certain that you are still looking straight ahead and that all those muscles are still contracted. Don't tilt your head up or down. Keep the thumbs of the hands aimed back. At this point, you can feel your "meat suit" self line up and balance. Imagine your head on a string, the crown gently pulled upward.

Here is where you remain, breathing deeply and slowly, in and out, in and out, for at least eight breaths. You can, if you like, imagine that you are a mountain, plugged into the great energetic being that is our beautiful Planet Earth. Don't forget that you are giving back as well as taking and you'll feel yourself become part of the cycle. Hold Mountain Pose until you find your mind wandering, then stop if you must or continue on to other postures you have a hankering for. 

I hope you will find Mountain Pose as restoring as I do. I return to the endless cleaning of surfaces, newly acquired groceries, etc. feeling refreshed and ready not only for the tasks ahead, but with spirits raised--despite the news. I'm not worrying about a future I cannot control and may not even see. The breathing and the posture re-adjustment helps me keep sane in times which are, frankly, terrifying. Somehow, in the middle of this disaster, we need to remember to keep our humanity and our compassion--both for ourselves and for others. Personally, for me, I've been finding even a little bit of this ancient practice smooths the way. 

~~Juliet Waldron                           

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*Everybody  IMHO
*Ram Dass


  1. Yoga can be freeing. I hope you are writing during this time, too.

  2. I enjoy yoga as well. I only go to one class a week which I am fortunate enough to be able to walk to. For the rest, I practice a few poses after my daily walk. I like the seated twists and forward bends particularly. :)


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