When I first started teaching yoga in the Presbyterian Church basement 17 years ago, I heard through the grapevine someone had determined I was in the business of altering minds and therefore shouldn’t be allowed to teach in a church.
Me, a heretic? Hardly. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Certainly, if I had the ability to alter minds, I wouldn’t be teaching in a church basement, charging $5 a crack, in a rural southern Ohio town. I would be in the big league, now wouldn’t I? You know, like Bikram Choudhury.
Whoever said this, had a misperception of yoga and one far different from mine.
Yoga is an ancient practice and the goal is to reach a constant state of physical, mental and spiritual peace of mind, which may not be completely achievable for many of us, but a little slice of that is far better than none.
For me, yoga is a way to quietly exercise, stretch, lengthen, tone, become stronger and, even more importantly, learn how to relax and breathe.
I like the way it makes me feel. If you do it long enough, you will see a change in your body. You look taller. Your body is stronger and there is more muscle than fat. There is a name for this: A yoga body.
In yoga the term ‘mindfully aware’ is bandied about with good reason. It means paying attention. When you pay attention to your breathing you learn to control rather than be victimized by those high dungeon drama moments and all the angst that is part of daily living.
Getting your breath under control leads to getting yourself under control. Instead of hyperventilating when a nail-biting situation presents itself, breatheeee ……….
You can control your breathing and, in turn, govern your reactions. Instead of flying off the handle when someone has infuriated you … stop, breathe deeply and rhythmically, count to 10, and then tell them to bugger off or, better yet, smile and don’t engage at all.
When you are aware of your breathing and controlling it, you are controlling yourself.
In the beginning
I started doing yoga when I was 15 years old. I did it then because I thought it would help me lose weight. It will, but mostly it tones, lengthens and strengthens.
Later on as in … now and menopause
Forty-five years later, I’m not worried about losing weight, although I know a lot of women are. I am, however, concerned about maintaining my height by improving my posture, keeping strong bones, a sturdy back, legs and knees, toning body parts, preserving the ability to bend over and pick up something off the floor and retaining balance. Balance is a big issue with older people. They fall a lot. Falls can be lethal for a senior citizen. Doing yoga improves balance.
I sit on the floor regularly. I always have. Women my age, and even younger, don’t do that. I don’t know if they don’t do it because they can’t get down or back up, or because it’s not ladylike, but I plan on sitting on the floor until they cart me out of this house feet first. If you don’t use your flexibility, or what you have of it, you will lose it.
Moving more, rather than less, taking the stairs instead of the elevator – oh, you already know the drill – is beneficial, warding off age-related physical and mental health problems. In yoga, you move all body parts.
Menopause can take its toll if you don’t fight back, kicking and screaming all the way. Many practitioners believe yoga postures reduce the frequency of hot flashes as well as prevent belly fat, grouchiness, loss of libido, sleep disruptions and all the other menopause-related nonsense post-middle aged women are subjected to.
And, no, when I do yoga or instruct I don’t do the sweat-inducing Bikram yoga that is better suited for the young. I don’t want my students quitting after the first session because they fear stroking out. We go slowly and easily. It isn’t a contest or a competition. We talk, probably more than we should, but that’s the way we roll. I have made some enduring friends over the lotus position.
I joke, even though it’s true, about being able to sit down when you execute many of the yoga postures (as well as lie down), which I happen to like. It is not high impact exercise. You are not pounding your feet against pavement or straining your knees, as is the case in high impact exercise. Yoga is gentle but it works.
Every yogi has heard the expression “You are only as young as your spine is flexible.” If you cannot bend over or get out of a chair easily or execute a sit-up it may be due to an inflexible spine. Yoga strengthens the spine. Stretching keeps it supple and promotes the flow of blood to the spine.
If you are looking for an exercise regimen, yoga may be it. Have you ever given yoga a whirl? Did you enjoy it? Did you find it beneficial? Relaxing? Toss in your two-cents Cougar!
By Cindi Pearce