Ingrid Gabriel: Down Doggie
March 13: Continuing on with our series of Seniors Gone Wild and our deep dive into aging hijinks, today we explore the potential of Creaky Yoga. Full disclosure, I had a mild aversion to the Western version of yoga practice. My skepticism regarding yoga began in the now-old-new-age as it blossomed into popular culture like an invasive species. I found the sort of show-offi-ness and monetizing of an ancient spiritual practice designed to prepare one for meditation, disingenuous, to say the least. Also, I couldn’t actually DO yoga since it’s uncomfortable and I didn’t make any progress at all in the two classes I took.
But forty or so years on, I realize that I don’t care that much about my opinions anymore. My opinions are often boring and turn out to be…well… opinionated and of little merit. I am revising my world view every time I turn around, and so it is with yoga. I am evolving.
So, with that caveat, please enter Ingrid’s Way Back Machine…
Unlike me, my beautiful and thin-as-a-whisker friend, Lotus, took to yoga with religious zeal back in the 80s. At a social event, she was demonstrating her skill with her nose touching her third chakra and her foot pointing up to nirvana, as her tiny top rode up and her tiny shorts rode low. Her long dark hair brushed the floor and as she arched her back in Cropped Top Pose, she said to her admiring male audience, “My lovers really appreciate my flexibility since I started yoga.”
The guys froze in mid-beer-swig considering the possibilities and the women side-eyed each other over the rims of their margaritas. The thought bubbles hovering over the men read, “Must find woman into yoga.” The thought bubbles floating above the women read, “Men are so dumb.”
My smug disapproval grew over time as I observed what I came to describe as The Tyranny of the Limber…mostly men in micro trunks posing poolside and congratulating one another on the beauty and strength of their yoga practice. This, while also keeping a sharp eye out for any females who might be throwing them an admiring gaze and could be potential partners for a spiritual encounter.
It further annoyed me that many yoga posers (ha!) who were not actual yoga instructors liked to throw around the Sanskrit descriptions of asanas (meaning, roughly, “to sit”) instead of using the correct names like Walrus Pose, Twizzler Pose, Platy Pose and Meno Pose. I was irked and remained irked.
It wasn’t that I was not impressed by these displays. I was. Yoga does not come easy even if you are already gifted with great flexibility and balance. It takes dedication and discipline and a willingness to progress slowly. I was just suspicious of the motives, particularly when yoga studio franchises, celebrity gurus, the fashion industry, expensive yoga retreats and cruises, and the media all found a path to monetize what had traditionally been a search for god and spiritual wisdom.
But then time knocked off a little of my smugness and I got older and creakier. I noticed that parts of me were not moving gracefully, and I couldn’t get off the floor without using my hands and maybe something (or someone) to help haul me to my feet. I was losing the range of motion in my shoulders and neck, and I did not like where that was leading. And, as you might have guessed already, it led to yoga.
A friend was attending a week-long free-class offered by a local instructor and invited me to join her. Instructor Heide was very skilled and patient. I was encouraged that while I was struggling a little, there were also several attendees who were there despite significant mobility challenges. I didn’t have a physical excuse other than too many years bonded to an office chair and a keyboard. On day two, Heide told me, “You will see real improvement on the fourth day.” That perked me right up. No one had ever told me that I would see improvement.
So, being disciplined, I showed up with my mat for four days in a row (I know…the struggle is real) and hand to heart, my Down Doggie Pose began to extend and my arms didn’t shake with the effort. Soon, I realized that I felt great and that I did not have to take the athletic Iyengar school yoga crowd by storm to practice yoga. I didn’t have to perfect Inverted Pretzel Pose. I could do simple yoga at my own sluggish pace, and let my body run the program, adding on time and complexity as it chose.
I got further encouragement from the AARP (that cult for retired people that begins trying to recruit you as soon as they learn you have turned 40). In an article imploring me to “give your body what it may need,” Julie Blamphin writes:
As a longtime certified yoga instructor, I know how the liberating techniques below connect women with our wild sacred energy held in the abdomen, pelvis and lower body. During your practice, you may notice sensations such as tingling, pulsing, shaking and warmth as you stimulate blood flow in the deepest layers of your connective tissues. Stay in the moment and fully savor what you feel, without expectation or judgment.
I cannot deny that my wild sacred energy has been on hiatus for some time, and I am not sure how I will manage it if it decides to return. A shaking, tingling and pulsing pelvis may be awkward to explain or camouflage (maybe start wearing a cape), but I did get some positive feedback from my Body that went like this…
“Body: Hey, Mind…you with the thoughts.
Me: What I can I do for you?
Body: More, please, of that stretchy-twisty thing where you try to look at our back, even though we are not an owl. The organs and systems took a survey and we like.
Me: You mean yoga?
Body: Whatever you call it. We can get off the floor again without Hands and Hands likes it. Pelvis says it’s tingling and reports a high level of sacred something-or-other, and Spine says it doesn’t get so stiff and stuck in one place. Knees didn’t have anything to add, but they said they aren’t bothered. So, Body is on board.”
Good to hear.
Now that I’m a believer, I leave my yoga mat unrolled in a spot where I can’t trip over it (“9-1-1?…I have fallen over my yoga mat and can’t get up into Warrior Pose!”), but I can’t ignore it either. It’s right there, under the sleeping dogs, and we Down Doggie together.
Having experienced more fluid movement and less joint pain, I am not likely to abandon my fledgling practice. I have come to crave the deep stretch that yoga delivers and I am secretly proud of myself for making the effort. I can testify that yoga is a path toward renewed physical freedom.
There are, of course, many emotional, psychological and health benefits attributed to yoga practice. Some of the claims are so extravagant that you wonder how we don’t all just keel over from yoga insufficiency … leading to a form of yoga scurvy. Perhaps we’ll explore that in a later installment.
But next up in our Sunny Gerontology series is “Bra Calculus”… the mathematical equation for determining the ratio of supportive discomfort versus the diminishing returns caused by gravity. See you on the flippity-flop.
Now, where did I leave my cape?
© Ingrid Gabriel, 2023