Old Man Yoga

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I dislike yoga. Perhaps, though, “dislike” is the wrong word. I would hate to be thought one of those ridiculous examples of toxic masculinity that pretends that yoga is somehow emasculates a person. I would never claim that yoga is easy, or ineffective. Because it’s yoga’s very effectiveness that is one of the reasons that I dislike it.

Yoga works. Having been in a regular practice (pretty much daily) for several months now, I have seen definite benefits.

And I resent that, because I find yoga boring. I’m not sure why. I enjoy related exercise programs like Pilates or t’ai chi, and I’m no stranger to the idea of centering and focusing on breath and one’s body.

And every time I mention this to someone who is a yogi, I get the same litany of Have you tried… and they mention some ancient or new-fangled version of yoga practice. The answer, usually, is “yes.” I’ve tried kundalini, ashtanga, hatha, and yin (I find the latter to be the least boring, precisely because it doesn’t try to be anything but what it is). I refuse to try Bikram because I know too much about the culture, and I don’t want to do hot yoga because I already sweat enough.

You Can’t Keep an Old Dog Downward

But I still get up in the morning, I still unroll the mat, and I grumble while I look through the video offerings of Yoga With Adriene, Yoga With Kassandra, or (if I’m feeling especially masochistic) Boho Beautiful. I also occasionally dip into 5 Parks Yoga and Fightmaster Yoga (the latter just because the name appeals to an aging jarhead).

Why do I still bother? Simply put, because (grumble) it works. I recently was pointed at a list of “18 Amazing Benefits of Yoga, According to Science” (which of course appeals to my curmudgeonly skeptical ways) and scanning through it, I thought it might be worth it to describe the top three that apply to my own yoga experience.

In no particular order:

  1. Regular Yoga Practice Relieves Stress and AnxietyThe controlled breathing that is inherent in practicing yoga is probably the biggest factor in reducing stress. When focused on breathing, participants have little room to engage in irrational fear, worry, or other obsessive thoughts, many of which are contributing to their stress levels.
    Pardon me while I cough politely at the “controlled breathing” idea. My breathing while trying to hold half-moon pose is anything but “controlled”. But there is a lot of encouragement to control breath, and by the time we’re down in shavasana and I’m letting out those deep diaphragmatic breaths, it’s true that the stresses of the day — whether impending or cumulative — tend to lose their power.
  2. Those Who Practice Yoga Are More Aware of What’s Going on in Their BodiesYoga is also based on being aware of what your body is and is not capable of. Because no pose should be forced, those who are practicing yoga must listen to their body and make adjustments based on what it is telling them.
    That’s the dirty little secret behind doing Old Man Yoga. Yes, you become more aware — more aware of the parts that are tight and hard to move, that are painful and dangerous to hold, or just more aware that while you may be doing what the instructor on the screen is doing, you don’t look like them.
    But that’s ok. It’s actually one of the best lessons I’ve learned about yoga. It’s a personal journey, and it’s good for life. Yoga fits your range of motion where you are now, where you were, and where you will be — there’s always some kind of yoga you can do.
    Sure, I get in touch with my body, and it tells me that I’m no longer an energetic modern dancer or a hard-charging devil dog, but what I am — an Old Man Yogi — is just fine, as long as I keep showing up on the mat.
  3. Practicing Yoga Can Help Treat ArthritisThe gentle stretching of yoga can ease joint discomfort and the focused breathing can help those in pain distance deal with the chronic distress.
    I was discharged from the Marines because of problems with my knee joints. Earning a degree in Dance didn’t exactly improve that situation, but having a focus on Eastern forms of dance — t’ai chi, kaluripayat, Javanese — and Modern and improv, which tend to be lower to the ground and lower impact, helped keep me moving.
    However, twenty years later, the bad knees have expanded to bursitis in the shoulders, lower back pain, the occasional ankle strain (because dancers are the least graceful walkers you’ve ever seen) and a recurring spasm in my left trapezius. Mix that with the interesting climate of Wisconsin, and it makes for quite a symphony of stiff joints. I remember, several years ago, asking my physician what was wrong with me.
    “Nothing’s wrong,” she said. “You’re getting old.”
    I have a few easy metrics of how my arthritis is doing. I live on the second floor of my apartment complex; I often work at events where I’m on my feet for 20 or so hours at a time; and occasionally I get to drive a friend’s fancy sportscar, which is low to the ground.
    How hard it is to get out of the sportscar, or how much my legs hurt at the end of a long day, or how much I have to use the handrail to get up the stairs — these are all the metrics of how my body is dealing with getting old. And since I’ve been doing yoga on a regular basis? All of them have gotten easier.
    Not easy, mind you. At the end of the 47th Annual Madfest Juggling Festival here last weekend, I felt like every joint was yelling at me to stop trying to recapture my circus days of youth. But a “Restore and Reboot” yin yoga session with Kassandra eases the aches, and calms the fears of mortality that accompany them.

What Will Yoga Do For You?

It’s worth visiting the rest of Jenn Miller’s article about yoga to see which of the eighteen benefits (backed by science!) might apply to you.

I’m not going to tell you it’s fun. But even if you don’t enjoy doing it, I can promise that you will enjoy having done it. Regardless of where you are in age, flexibility, or experience, it’s never too late to start your own practice.

Get on the mat, already!

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