Beyond Yoga 2/22/18
Inspirational videos featuring cheerful age-defying goldeners with generous joie de vivre are one of my favorite things in the world. Who doesn't love a 92 year old rock climber who boils it down to, "Don't smoke, watch what you eat, and keep moving"? What about a retired ceramicist who designs obstacle courses in the backyard, trains himself in knife throwing, juggling, and balance drills and calls his program Never Leave the Playground? How about the 99 year old yoga instructor and ball room dance enthusiast whose picture hangs on my studio door?
I want to be that fun-loving, graceful, mobile woman spreading joy and inspiration everywhere I go as I (hopefully) grow very old. I want to move even better than I do now and keep improving as the years go by. It’s radical to say. Does anyone ever tell us that we can keep improving our body and brain as we age? That there's hope?
How thoroughly have we digested myriad versions of the message of inevitable decay?: can't teach a old dog new tricks, getting old is for the birds, it's all down hill from here, well that's what happens when you get old. Getting old in our culture seems to mean deterioration-- just like a car, just like any inanimate object.
I know, I know-- what right does a 45 year old woman have to speak about this? I’m just middle-aged. But here’s the thing. I've spent large chunks of my life feeling no allegiance to my body whatsoever and therefore taking terrible care of it. I’ve felt resigned to traits I assumed were genetic- poor eye-hand coordination, severe myopia, cranky knees, foot pain, being afraid to do daring gymnastic things with my body, especially anything involving going backwards, being “tight” and inflexible, especially in certain places like hamstrings. I hated and dreaded gym class from an early age. Group sports gave me cotton-mouth and sweaty palms. I hid in the art room for as much of school as possible; in many ways visual art and writing was the ticket out of contending with my body.
Yoga was a way for me to pursue something physical and still feel safe; it was slow, calculated, introverted, interoceptive. It wasn't something I had to be good at. It's still a source of familiarity and comfort but I realized I was interested in more ways to achieve mobility, calm, strength. I needed more/different stimuli to keep growing. Stepping outside the zone of comfort and familiarity isn't always comfortable, right?
I get it. I'm with you. And I will keep forging ahead to know more. Through coursework and self-directed study, I now know exponentially more than I did even a year ago. I’ve searched and searched for ways to re-inhabit my body and as I’ve gathered information, I’ve also gathered hope alongside a generous dose of space for mystery and humility. My body, memory and mental acuity are changing and it's intriguing. I believe now that I'm capable of learning to juggle, unicycle, play sports, cartwheel, swim better, see and concentrate better-- all sorts of things I previously thought out of reach.
My opinion now through experience with both my own and student/client bodies is that there is far more hope and possibility for transformation than we think. Than we are told to believe. We are neurally plastic, dynamic, and capable of change until the moment we stop being alive in this body. This belief drives and inspires what I teach and why I teach.
Lately a typical class includes warming up by shaking and bouncing our bodies and “scrubbing” our joints. We frequently use small therapy-balls to massage and mobilize feet and then slowly circle all of our joints to improve and maintain mobility. There are always balance/vision “drills” because I consider balance to be a foundational skill few of us work on in all it’s complexity. There is body-weight strengthening, some sort of quadrupedal locomotion around the room and a wind-down with a restorative yoga pose. Always, there is shavasana because deliberate rest is a precious thing. We breathe, we move, we play, we hopefully laugh and we meet ourselves where we’re at. But we still hold out hope for improvement.