The first time I tried yoga I hated it. I signed up for a class at a local gym that overlooked the water and was dominated by the young and driven, which was not really a problem except that the gym – excuse me, “fitness spa” – offered classes that seemed to be only geared only to that age and personality type. Step classes, jazzercise (OK, this was a while ago), spinning, boot camp. Every class was packed with determined, fashionably dressed young women radiating the “don’t mess with me I’m getting my place in the front of this class and I’m going to kick ASS” face. Throat-constricting.
I tried a yoga class and even that was crowded and had a weird hard vibe. One had to be careful of one’s neighbor as we moved from one position to the next. That was unpleasant enough, but the instructor actually seemed mad. Like, if you didn’t do something right, he’d make a little huff sound, “hhheh,” and he’d say, “No, see, you don’t twist over, you…” and he’d demonstrate with a scowl on his face. Well, excuse me, master. Did it ever occur to you to ask who was new to yoga and who was not? And how can one do something well without first being given the opportunity to try and fail a few times? You are a teacher. Expect to correct. That is my zen thought for you for the day. You’re welcome.
I didn’t return. But then a couple of years ago, I saw a class called “Keep Breathing Yoga,” and it was sponsored by the local beach cities health district, a decidedly less high-octane group, and omigod, classes were held on the beach. How cool was that?
I’ve been going ever since. My teacher is excellent, and can do incredible things, yet she doesn’t pressure and she doesn’t make little huffing noises. She says, “there’s a reason it’s called yoga practice. It’s never perfect. Every day is different. Don’t judge yourself. It’s just you and being present in this day and practicing the best way you can.”
I’ve since learned that there are different types of yoga – hot (um, no f-ing way), bikram, vinyasa, and more… and hatha, which is what I take. It’s slow; you achieve a pose and hold it for a few breaths. We have a 5-minute meditation in the beginning. We say “Oooommm” to begin and end. We have a 5-minute shavasana at the end – lying on your back. arms and legs slighty flung out, still, letting the earth hold you. Just my style.
I probably annoy my friends by frequently suggesting that they try yoga too: it’s so mind-cleansing and body-strengthening and balance-enhancing. But as with most activities, people pretty much fall into two categories: already doing it, or never gonna try it, especially at our age, it seems. Putting yourself out there to try a new type of exercise is just something that many of us will consider as we get older. I think that embarrassment, resistance to change, and even reluctance to spend money on something that’s not a sure thing all play into this closed-mind thinking. Who wants to pull on some yoga pants and look ridiculous? Who wants to try to bend into a pretzel and humiliate herself in front of a class? Who wants to get in the car and go to some gym or studio every week to do yet another thing? Who wants to spend the money?
If money or transportation or even a sense of discomfort in attending a class with other people are keeping you from trying yoga, you might want to give it a try in the privacy of your own home. Margaret Manning has created a Gentle Yoga For Seniors Video Series on her Sixty & Me website. There is a cost but I think it’s pretty reasonable: $39.95 for an 8-video set; $10 extra if you want DVDs in addition to online access. There’s another 3-video set on chair yoga for $22. I love this quote from Margaret:
Yoga is not about twisting yourself into a pretzel. It’s about giving your body the attention and love it needs through breathing and gentle movements. It’s about being healthier and happier at any age.