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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!)


  1. I am fascinated by your article about the value of physical activities,especially the value of Yoga Exercises.
    I practiced Hatha Yoga in my teens in addition to regular cycling.I received the Hatha Yoga Cultural Poses by Swami Jothimayananda,on my pilgrimage to Kataragama.The book is in my possession even up to today.I do more brisk walking and gardening nowadays,instead of Yoga.I fully agree Yoga exercises and meditation surely do good to your body& mind.

    Incidentally,my mind took back to years 67/68,where internees played tennis at leisure time,at the hospital tennis court.
    Srianee,I am certain about your meeting your future husband during that memorable time.I am sure,you excelled in tennis,the expectators were mostly nurse.
    Those happy memories linger in my ageing brain.I wish I could go back to the days in Medical School,where Icould excel in studies,re-sit exam,obtain distinctions.

    Good luck to all those practice Yoga.

    Fact finder.

  2. I am sure that anything that concentrates the mind on beneficial things and widens your outlook and attitude, coupled with physical exercise and discipline is good for you. Carry on with your Yoga Srianee and reap the benefits. As for me, I do enjoy chasing the pocked white ball in peaceful and natural surroundings, although at times, it is very frustrating, but how can you get angry with an inanimate ball?

  3. Srianee
    Beautifully written as always. What a fine treatise on exercise in general and yoga in particular. My exercise is just a brisk daily walk amidst the roses and the delphiniums in Regent's Park. Yours is a well timed reminder of what needs to be done to postpone the inevitable before we end up sans everything in the fullness of time.
    Although I don't meet the grizzly variety Old habits die hard and I cant keep my eyes off the well endowed pretty young things that display their equipment in the park. My heart races to 120/ minute even before I start the exercise.
    Do pardon my frivolous and flippant talk. " Naaki visay getath usey"
    Thank you for that good bit of advice to keep us alive. Even your comments are so well crafted and so very thoughtful. Keep your contributions flowing they are indeed a pleasure to read.

    1. Practice Yoga to rejuvenate your gonads.I wish I could turn ageing clock back to twenties,when I see beautiful dames of different Nationalities.There are plenty in London(white,brown,yellow and black)

      Please let us know in time about your success.

      Nihal viyove Naki kala evilla.

  4. Who are you anonymous? Nihal and Mahen thank you for your comments. I think the trick is to find exercise that is enjoyable, chasing the pocked ball for Mahen, and walks in the parks with delicious eye candy for Nihal! Keep moving as much as possible. They say sitting around is as dangerous as smoking.

  5. Sanath LamabadusuriyaJune 22, 2017 at 2:07 PM

    When I was living in Nugegoda, I used to go for a 5 km walk in the mornings with our Golden Retriever. After the wetland park was constructed very close to our house, I had to do it alone as dogs were not allowed. Sometimes I used to meet Sriyani and Ralph in the park. After I moved to Rajagiriya I gave it up. When I was visiting Anuradhapura I used to do a similar walk and have two jugs of Kola Kanda for my breakfast. Sadly for the last several months I have not done so because of the students strike. I am a daily paid worker who is paid only if I go for work!

  6. Prof
    There is no excuse for not exercising. Hold out your hand for six of the best.

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  8. Srianee
    As I see it there a few crucial muscles we need to keep active. Those used for walking, getting up from a seated position and those that manipulate the fingers to have and to hold.
    Then exercising the cells in the brain for memory and to maintain balance.
    This is of course an over simplification but seems simple and logical for a layman like myself who has spent his life in the bowels of the hospital seeing shadows and images like a medicine man of old and barking instructions.
    I hasten to add there are no guarantees but exercise most certainly improves ones chances.

    1. I agree with your review of the crucial muscles needed to keep us mobile and upright. It doesn't take much to go downhill fast. One fall or injury will set you on a downward course. Just before I quit my work as a pathologist, I noticed that every time I got up from my seat after about an hour of looking at slides and dictating reports, I was so stiff! This shocked me and I often walked up and down the hallways before going back to my office. This realization that my sedentary work was not good for my health was also a factor that helped me decide that retirement would be better. As far as excercising the brain cells, I love doing word games and continuing my quest to master the German language. My German son in law said that he was touched when I started taking German classes shortly after he got engaged to my daughter. Now that I am having so much fun he says he is suspicious of my motives!

  9. Nice write up Srianee. The feeling of wellness that comes after exercise itself is a reward.

    1. Thanks Indra. I agree with the feeling of wellness. If I get my exercise out of the way in the morning, I feel it is OK to indulge in a bit of chocolate sometime during the day!

  10. Srianee,thank you for a very persuasive write up about the importance of excercise in maintaining good health.
    You appear to have found the correct balance on all things.
    It is interesting you played tennis at school in the lunch interval.Having lived 2 mins walk from school there were several of us,the Selvadurais,the Amerasinghes, Thiruchits, who played tennis after school.
    My mum, having been a good tennis player,organized tennis coaching for me after school with Ms. Sanzoni who you'd remember. So I played tennis after school, and in addition, Suniti G. would knock on my door at 6am to go for a game of tennis prior to school! After the game,we'd go home, shower, eat a huge breakfast of stringhoppers, hoppers etc and return to school at 8 or 8.30, then I probably dreamt during school hours!! Suniti took tennis seriously though none of the others did,except ofcourse the truly serious players like the Kodagodas, Wimala Peiris, Yogaranee etc who excelled in the game.
    I never put my name down for any of the tournaments in school,but one year Suniti had entered my name to play doubles with her, and I played only as I didnt want to let her down, and we ended up the doubles champions!!
    Now to a story you propbably already know - my maternal grandparents had their own tennis courts behind their home,and had a circle of colleagues and friends with whom they played and socialized regularly.Routinely, my mum and her sister had to be ready to play a game of tennis when my grand-dad returned home from work. Sadly,one evening he collapsed during a game and passed away shortly after.He was around 50 yrs of age.
    This- to illustrate that as important as exercise and mental relaxation are for good health, they have to go hand in hand with screening for, and dealing with other cardiovascular risk factors such as hyperlipidaemia, hypertension, diabetes etc which everyone knows about these days.
    One other thought-it is said that doing puzzles alone is not as beneficial as learning something new for brain health. Though puzzles will help with recall,learning anything new will promote new neuronal connections which are more beneficial.I cant quote chapter and verse on this right now,
    but that is my understanding at present. Srianee, you seem to have got it right with your puzzles and German- Good Luck !

    1. Hi,Rohini,
      Long time,not seen.
      You were pleasant,with a sweet face,nice pony tail.
      Physical activities would have done a great deal for those characters.
      You must be enjoying healthy food,fresh air& beautiful scenery of New Zealand.
      Are you enjoying the current Rugby tournament(British-Irish Lions &All-Blacks)?.

      Have you been in contact with your long lost clinical group mate Virginia?.

    2. Hi Anonymous!I wish you'd divulge your identity!
      Do write your name after your message so we know who you are !
      Yes New Zealand is a beautiful place to live in-clean green and fresh.
      I did enjoy the All Blacks vs Lions -couldn't have been better!
      I am more wrapped up with The America's Cup at the moment - NZ is doing so well- it is lovely to watch.I hope NZ brings The Cup home this time. Virginia and I have been in touch regularly by email and at times on the phone- Her home is in Melbourne, and I've met her, or at least called her whenever I have been to Melbourne.I could let her know you inquired if you'd let me know who you are!!

  11. Thank you Rohini, for your encouraging words. I hope I have "got it right" as you said. I am generally a contented person, and although I enjoy reminiscing as we all do, I don't wish to go go back in time. Your story of your tennis playing days brought back many memories. I was also one of the "back gate crowd" when we lived on 5th Lane until I was about 11 years old. Then my family moved to Wellawatte, and I joined the girls and teachers on the school bus. Once I signed up for a table tennis competition at school, not realizing that the senior students who organized it were very serious about it. I had only played occasionally for fun, and was terrified when I had to play against Susan J., who was an all-round athlete. I went through with it and unlike you, lost the match. Thankfully, I don't remember how badly!
    Your story of your grand father's sudden death, brought back a painful memory of my own. My father also died suddenly, at age 52, about two weeks after we all started Medical College. It was probably the most devastating, life
    changing event for my family, because he was an exceptional and loving husband and father. Thanks to the strength, faith and courage of my mother, we survived. But those were the days before any form of emergency care was available. My siblings and I do get regular health screenings and hope to be healthy until we hit our 10 th decade like our mother.

    1. Hi Bunter,
      I am sorry to hear about untimely death of your Dad.
      YOU very well remember the Biochemistry lectures by Prof Hoover.Topic on lipids was fascinated,but not well understood.I,still remember about chylomicrons,been large particles floating in the circulation.We never heard about the enormous damage done to medium and small sized arteries,atheroma formation.We new about coronary thrombosis,but the pathophysiology was not well known.Now,we know about coronary syndrome,stable and unstable angina.Previously,we though, heart attack were caused by blood clot only.Now we know that it is a ruptured lipid plaques that cause immense damage to cardiac muscle.We,now have new ways of detecting early Cardiac muscle damage,enzyme troponins,before ECG changes.You remember looking for Q waves for damage to Cardiac muscles.
      Please correct me if my facts are wrong.
      moge Gottes Segan auf euch ruhen

  12. Dear Srianee, Iam very sorry my comment rekindled such a painful memory. I well remember this event and was at your home following this,though I would not expect you to remember- I understand how painful this could be and I am truly sorry.Warm Regards

    1. Rohini, don't feel bad, you did nothing wrong, but it one of those memories that is etched in my brain. I do remember that many of my friends showed up including some who didn't even know me when it happened, and only got to know me later. Thinking of our parents from time to time, and what they meant to us is one way of keeping them "alive." My daughters often repeat bits of advice that my mother had given them! So, Rohini, there is no need to apologize!

    2. Thanks Srianee

  13. Glad to follow all above, and I can reiterate Srianee, all the above words of appreciation from our batch mates. Yours is a superb contribution which speaks to our mental, spiritual and physical selves and can be just the answer to many of our old age problems, although I fear I may have left it a bit late, physically. And thank you for speaking up for meditation, deep breathing and relaxation. I have had limited exposure to these and your words have inspired me to give it another go. The problem is we are lazy, me anyway but you have certainly talked me into it. Thank you! from Zita

    1. Zita, if I have motivated you and others to get off the couch and "give it another go" it will be so gratifying. Good Luck!

    2. Hope Srianee has delivered you from the "arms of the lazy" to the "fold of the inspired"

  14. Hi Bunter,
    I posted a comment which seems to gone a wry!!.
    Firstly my twin daughters are great followers of this Art.They began when doing there Gold Award of the Duke of Edin. Award Scheme having completed Bronze & Silver Awards. They were so good that the Instructress took them to the Police Academy to instruct the incoming 'Rookkies'.
    One of the twins is a real exponent in this Art and has taken her all over the world to learn more. Now she is one of the highest qualified & certified instructors in this great Art....
    .. very soon she will be LEVITATING all over the place!!!. She has been nagging me for years to take it up!!!
    Response was poor!!

    Now for 'the spanner into the works'!!
    Today there is an article in 'The Times' that " yoga has caused MORE INJURIES that ALL others sports put together--- including Motor racing, Hill Climbing, Horse Racing,, etc..etc..!!
    So now take your pick!!
    Just as well I suppose I was reluctant to heed her 'nagging'.!!!!!

  15. Hi Razaque, I found your comment about your daughter's accomplishments in the comments following your email! I am impressed at her skills. Good Luck to her. Regarding injuries, one has to know one's limits as in any sport. I'm sticking to the gentle version for now.

    1. I practice,Yoga
      To enter the realm of Moksha,
      What about,you,Bunter,
      Do you look any younger,
      By virtue of doing,Your,Yoga

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  17. I am glad to here many comments on death and Heart attacks. I was lucky to participate in the 30 million us study to find why men between the ages of 35-59 die of one cause and one cause only heart attacks. In this study I did a double blind crossover study to support the use of Aspirin in the prevention of heart attacks and strokes. This was done when I was at Washington University school of medicine in St,Louis. Today use of aspirin 81 mg at bed time is a norm
    Some of my colleagues have mention yoga and some stated about taking a walk. These are all proven by the study. One has to add a vegetarian diet to complete the picture
    Ananda De Silva