Never having been an athletic type, being brought up in family where lounging on the deck of a comfortable yacht was about as much “sport” as we engaged in, I came to appreciate the joys of physical exercise rather late in life.
I have told the details of my seduction into running at the age of thirty-nine in an episode in my memoir, Six Generations of First Born Women, so I won’t repeat it here. Suffice it to say, I became an avid devotee of running. One could say obsessive in that I ran at least three miles daily, in all weather (I even had cleats on my running shoes to run on ice on winter city streets.). I ran in wind, rain, snow, and heat. I ran drunk and sober. I ran with our dog Cassidy; I ran with friends and lovers. I ran with my daughter and I ran alone through the sunflowers on the Parndorfer heide in Austria. I ran to keep in shape and to stay sane. I ran to think and to create. (I would do my best problem solving while running.) I never ran with plugs in my ears, listening to a Walkman (remember them?), or an iPod. Running made me acutely aware of nature (there is nature in the city, you know.)
I credit running for saving my health and bringing me to this stage of my life with energy to spare. But our bodies are like machines with many parts that rub and pull and grind and wear down. I started to feel the effects on my knees, of those years of running, and have gradually shifted the running to a more conservative “power walking” with weights. While that has solved the knee problem, I knew I needed to do something more for my head, something that would solve the mind-body problem.
From all I’d read and heard, it seemed like yoga might fit the bill. After all, Cambridge, Massachusetts (my city) has always embraced alternative life experiences and catered since the 1960s to those who were searching for intellectual, spiritual, scientific, and physical solutions for life’s problems, and variations on Yoga has always been a part of that scene.
A few years ago, “Power Yoga” seemed to take our city by storm. Everyone was doing it, and one of the biggest centers sprung up on our corner. Being rather naive about it, yet having the idea that I can do anything, I gingerly showed up one day for one of their open sessions. It nearly killed me. I’d never taken a yoga class before and this seemed more like yoga taught as an Olympic and competitive sport—not my idea of the spiritual bonding with my inner self that I imagined yoga to be. That was the last time for that game; I went back to running.
The last few weeks have been stressful for both RG and myself. My dad died in early February, our beloved dog Cassidy had a brush with death a few weeks ago, and we got a call last Sunday night that RG’s mom had died. She’d been quite sick for sometime, but it was still rather unexpected. I knew I needed something to help me, and several glasses of wine every night was not the solution. Before I went down to Florida to be with my dad in his final days, I had bought a yoga mat. It stood wrapped in plastic next to my bed. After Cassidy’s difficulties, I signed up for a Hatha Yoga class that I could walk to after work. It was for all levels.
Last night was wet, cold, and dreary. I unwrapped my mat and headed off to yoga class. The teacher was wonderful. I loved her immediately. She was almost my age, looked fantastic, and I was probably the oldest one in the class. Her voice was like velvet. Her pace was soothing and gentle and reassuring, and she seemed to care about the health and state of mind each one of us as she introduced the different stretches, movements, and the purpose of them. I felt I used muscles that had not been asked to do much in a long time. One of the final things she had us attempt was standing on our heads.
Oh my god, I hadn’t tried that since I was five or six years old. But the balancing method she taught us was vaguely familiar, and she said there were real benefits, not the least of which is feeding blood to your brain. I tried it several times and suddenly I found myself balanced on my head, my feet off the floor, resting on my elbows. “Look, look!” I shouted with joy. “I’m doing it!” The class laughed with me, as I was the first to manage this balancing act.
The class ended with us all spread out comfortably on our mats in total darkness, with the smooth velvet voice of our teacher rhythmically helping us to put our mind and muscles at rest. As the lights came back up and we got our socks and shoes on to leave, I felt I had come to the place were I needed to be. What a joy I felt. I knew yoga was for me. I thanked my teacher and she said I could come to the Saturday classes too if I wanted. I’m planning on it.