Wednesday, June 21, 2017
Yoga at 70+, A Personal Discovery
By Srianee (Bunter) Fernando Dias
When we met at our 50th Reunion, our good friend Mahendra Gonsalkorale spoke about the importance of exercise. His favorite activity is golf, which he seems to enjoy in various exotic locations. I have not yet been tempted to invest the time and money to chase a small ball over finely manicured grass, but who knows, I may try it sometime. The secret to regular exercise is finding an activity that is enjoyable.
I have never been very athletic, only moderately so, but I know that exercise is important, especially now. As a teenager I played some tennis and was enthusiastic enough to play in the heat and sun during our lunch breaks at school, arriving hot and sweaty to our classes after lunch. Later on as an adult, I took some lessons and played in fits and starts at different times when I found friends who were on the same level, and really enjoyed it. But, the problem with tennis is that one needs someone on the other side of the net to return the balls. My tennis buddies moved away, or developed arthritis and various other ailments, and my racket retreated to the back of the closet. A few years ago I even tried playing with my grandson, who became increasingly impatient as his tennis skills quickly overtook mine. “You have to run for the ball, Grandma,” was the refrain I kept hearing from the other side of the net. (But really kid, can’t you return the ball closer to me?)
When I finally retired from the daily grind of work, I realized that I had to have a plan to keep moving. I enjoy walking outdoors when the weather is agreeable. We have several beautiful reservoirs not too far from where I live, and there are great walking trails around them. These areas are wooded and isolated and walking alone on those trails is not something that is recommended. To make things worse, the black bear population in Connecticut has been steadily increasing, and it is not unusual for walkers to encounter bears on these trails. These are not aggressive bears, and they usually shy away when they hear people talking or making any kind of noise. The lone walker, however, could unexpectedly startle a bear. Friends have advised me to carry pebbles in a can while walking alone (they were serious!) so that the bears would hear the noise and stay away. But, unless I can find someone to walk with me, I stay away from these great trails and just walk on the sidewalks (boring!) along the streets. But, I do try to make it more enjoyable by listening to my own music.
At various times in my quest for enjoyable exercise, I’ve signed up at local gyms to use their equipment. My enthusiasm was short lived, and I stopped going after a few months. I have to admit that exercising next to other sweaty bodies was a bit of a turnoff. I also discovered that I was a bit of a germaphobe and didn’t like using equipment recently vacated by someone with a cold or who knows what else.
Several friends had been attending a yoga studio near me and kept telling me how great it was, and I decided to try it out. Besides, I felt that I needed a ‘framework’ to my retirement routine, because otherwise there was a danger of the days just frittering away. For the past year or so (except for the time spent in Sri Lanka) I have been attending ‘gentle yoga’ classes every Tuesday and Thursday mornings. The attendees are mostly women, ranging in age from 25 to 80+, but I have also noticed a few brave men among us. The classes last about an hour and 20 minutes, begin with meditation, deep breathing and end with relaxation. There is some chanting involved because some of the instructors have trained in India. I’m still learning the correct names for the poses: Warrior, Downward Dog, Child Pose, Rag Doll, Tree Pose, etc. Most of the exercises we do focus on stretching, improving flexibility and balance.
Coincidentally, when I was thinking about writing this article, the April/May issue of the AARP magazine published an article which listed “21 Reasons for Doing Yoga After 70.” The reasons given in the article are: Improves flexibility, increases balance, fends off weight gain, supercharges brain, soothes stress, reduces depression, protects your heart (reduces blood pressure and LDL), promotes more zzz’s, eases back pain, boosts body confidence, relieves headaches, lessens inflammation, helps breathing, slows aging, encourages exercise (getting involved in other forms of activity), increases aerobic capacity, eases cancer recovery, fights incontinence, improves your day (I can attest to that, the mood is improved!), curbs neck pain and controls diabetes (decreases blood glucose levels).
I have a long way to go before I can hold the poses in a respectable fashion. I seem to stretch certain muscles, the existence of which I have forgotten about, although I’m sure at some point in our first two years of Medical School I knew their origins and insertions! I still stand very close to the wall when instructed to stand on one leg (Tree Pose) in case I teeter and totter (which I always do). Some of the exercises we do are designed to ‘lubricate’ the joints. It is a whole body and mind endeavor, something which I think I will be able to continue doing way into the next decade.
I know that some of our Blog readers are practicing yoga already, but I encourage those who haven’t tried it to give it a shot. I recommend starting with the gentle version and if something appears to be too difficult, don’t do it. You will feel the benefits very quickly. My goal is to be able to do a headstand before I am eighty. (Just kidding!)