This morning at yoga class I had occasion to feel a pang of time displacement, and I remembered my very first days of practicing yoga. This was brought on by the attendance at class of a young and eager student who had only ever done yoga tapes and DVDs; she’s 21 and full of the joys of life. It was as if a younger version of myself had walked into the practice this morning (in a way, at least).
When I started my yoga practice back in 2006, I was a very different person than I am today. I was drawn into the classes by the potential for a gentler complement to the rough-and-tumble workout I had adopted to that point. In 2006, I was 41 years old and starting to slow down, but I wasn’t able to let go of the idea that I might someday go back into practicing martial arts.
I would spread out a huge long gymnastics practice mat in the aerobics room at the local gym, and there I would spend about 20 minutes doing all the standard rolls I learned back in 1997–99, trying to maintain the basics of my practice. Then, I punched and kicked a heavy bag and performed kata, along with some calisthenics. One of the few constants from then to now was the pool. I swam laps then, and I swim laps now.
Yoga transformed my practice of fitness but it also woke me up to the damage that I had been doing to my joints and tissues with the heavy martial arts-based training. In my active dojo days, I would sport at least 10–15 bruises from training at any given time. I had developed chronic pain in places other than my lower back (which was the reason I had to stop training in the first place), and my joints were feeling the burn.
That’s when I turned to the pool for aerobic exercise, racing the clock to get a more intense workout; and the martial arts routines fell off in favor of a slower, more gentle yoga workout.
I did get caught up in a bit of hubris though, and I have suffered for that. I became the “gumby girl” of the class, able to fold to extreme lengths, pull my feet behind my head and bind in bizarre pretzel poses. It became my calling card, and I was proud of my ability to do difficult poses.
Then fibromyalgia began its long, slow creep, and I developed sciatica, along with generalized tissue pains in my legs and torso and stiff neck pains that forced me to discontinue headstands. So I took up weightlifting, because it gave me the feeling of strength I craved. Until I developed tendonitis in both arms and shoulders.
And the kicker occurred last year, when I bent over like I had bent over a thousand times before, and something tore in my lower back. I had to listen, because it hurt so bad. Now I can’t do about 30–40% of the yoga poses I used to do, and I’m no longer the “advanced student” in the class. The fresh-faced 20-somethings come in and show me up handily. I’m not bitter about that; I just miss being able to join them in the practice.
I’m the sideliner now, who has to assume child’s pose when my shoulders or arms won’t hold me up in Downward Facing Dog pose or who has to put her arm down in triangle pose because of the fibro pains in my side. I’m the object lesson. A hypermobile go-getter who met her comeuppance in her own body.
This morning, in our Saturday bonus class, the new 21-year-old student had the bubbly attitude I remember having back in my early days of yoga practice. She looked like she was in the hypermobile camp, bending to the extreme and saying it felt great. I remember those days. My teacher, full of vata energy, declared that yoga would keep you young, and that she was nearly 65 years old. (She’s definitely not showing her age).
The usual aghast response from the 21-year-old followed. I had a thought that I vocalized at that point: I hate to think how my body would be if I had not practiced yoga all these years. It is possible that I have slowed my body’s decline, and that I might be mostly disabled by now if I had not kept up a regular practice (not only of yoga but also of swimming and other milder exercises). It is impossible to know, really. But I do not regret my path.
Yoga has always made me feel better, and that’s why I do it. It is therapy; even my pain doctor stopped prescribing certain therapeutic practices when he realized I had a regular yoga practice. Now if I could just get the hang of meditation…
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