Time and repetition
My dad had this mantra … OK, he would probably disavow anything to do with the word mantra, it being rather “new age” for him, but, in fact, he did have this underlying idea that if someone else could do something, so could you.
It was always there, behind his encouragement, his prescriptions for fulfillment. He never pushed or cajoled, just let us know that if we wanted to do something, there was always a way to get it done.
So I guess I can blame him for my first attempt at yoga.
I was in my early 50s, one of the senior, age-wise, members of the middle school faculty. I was, for what reason I don’t know, attracted to a flyer posted in the teachers’ cafeteria for a series of yoga classes that would be offered in the elementary school.
As I said, I have no idea why I was so enamored with the idea, but I signed up.
Having no experience with yoga, I arrived on that Tuesday afternoon totally unprepared.
Not only was I not dressed appropriately — remember I was one of the older teachers who thought that skirts and dresses were work wear and I didn’t have a yoga mat, nor any idea that there were such things.
I can see the yoga teacher now, surrounded by lithe young women dressed in lithe young women yoga clothing carrying rolled up yoga mats and me, in a skirt and blouse and carrying a gigantic purse. She must have thought, “Well, here is a challenge.”
But I am resourceful, living only two blocks from school, I was able to go home and change into jeans and find an old sleeping bag that looked like a yoga mat (not a good idea, I found out later).
At this point, there were a few years to go before the joints in my body rebelled against gravity. I could still get down to the floor, move around and get up without assistance.
So given that little bit of an edge, I joined in with the group. We were quickly on to learning how to sit and stand in perfect posture, thinking of ourselves as marionettes with a string running through the top of our heads, pulling us into alignment. I felt so proud. I could stand up and realign my body, just like the others.
But, hold on! We then progressed to a lotus sitting position which did prove to be a bit of a task for my older, more voluptuous legs, OK not voluptuous, a more appropriate synonym? Fatter, creakier, crepitacious (I made this word up). Take your pick.
For some reason when we were all settling into the position called “downward dog,” the teacher hovered over me, asking if I was OK. What did she mean? Was I doing it wrong? Yes. She graciously moved me around into what was closer to what the others were doing and then she asked me if I could breathe? Breathe? I was breathing. I’d been doing that for all of my life. This was something I thought I’d mastered but, apparently, I had dozed off while she was instructing us on the correct breath patterns for this pose.
My bright red face was the tip off. Instead of breathing in and out in the correct sequence, I was holding my breath.
I found that trying to remember when to breathe in and when to breathe out while reconfiguring my various body parts into what might not be considered particularly normal, at least in my experience, was difficult.
To be fair, I am not someone who was blessed with good coordination. I’ve come to the conclusion that my proprioceptors designed to help me know where my body is in space are probably the off- market versions.
Add this to my lack of rhythmic ability and yoga becomes one of those things that my dad told us about …if someone else can do it, so can you … with the addendum that you may have to work much harder and experience more failure than others to get to a minimum competency. I lasted three weeks.
When was I supposed to breathe in, breathe out, hold my breath?
I watched the leader and thought that she, who could move in a sylph- like fashion through each pose, was far beyond anything that even closely resembled what I was capable of doing. She was one of those people who walked, sat and looked sincere.
She fit into the category of people that I describe as sincere because she lived her philosophy. No faking. She was the real thing. Her brindle colored hair was beautifully held in a meticulously crafted French braid. She sat straight up, shoulders over hips, resting easily in a position that I tried hard to emulate. It made my back hurt. She glided when she walked with those same shoulder and hip alignments that were so elusive for me.
I guess when you have simply sat down without any instructions for 50 years, at some point, you are just too far gone. My downward dogs and upward cats or whatever they are called were a constant source of worry for the poor woman.
She spent more time with me than the others and I felt guilty. So, I, and if you can believe me, I decided that if I didn’t go again, it would mean more time for others. That’s as good an explanation as I can give. A pathetic excuse, but that is what I’m sticking with.
Yes, there was a lot of guilt involved. I could recall my father’s philosophy with every poorly placed breath and limb, but there is also my corollary to my dad’s prescription — born of exasperation, get out while the getting is good.
It’s been a quarter of a century since then. Somewhere along the way I accumulated three replaced joints. A cautionary tale of forkfuls of excess and lack of good posture no doubt.
I’ve been able to walk and talk and breathe doing normal things and I’ve, from time to time, become aware of not slouching and somewhere in the back of my mind the idea of yoga and its documented health benefits has remained quietly alive.
The internet resurrected my interest. Mandala Moon Yoga announced a chair yoga class on Facebook. Chair yoga? A yoga sans mats for those of us who have multiple constraints, for those of us who might need heavy equipment to assist with getting down and up from the floor.
So, I went to an introductory class of chair yoga last week and found that I am still as awkward as ever, but this time, I got the idea that one does not have to be perfect to reap the benefits of trying.
I can dress in comfortable clothes. I don’t have to bring a mat or even a chair. There will be downward dogs and salutations, etc. modified for those of us for whom the traditional yoga is a ship that has sailed off into the better coordinated sunset.
The leader is kind, a typical looking, woman without a beautiful French braid, who assured us that learning yoga is a process. It takes time and repetition. Her sincerity is just as real but not as intimidating.
And then there is my dad’s advice, if others can do this, so can I. My first class is on March 2.