I'm not proud of it: I make grunting noises whenever I bend over to pick something up. The same kinds of noises made by people 25 years my senior. For someone who once took ballet, who was fluid and quiet as a mouse while dancing -- let's just say I'm somewhat surprised. Age, it seems, really does catch up to us. If I were a door, I'd spray myself with WD40.
Last month, I decided to do something about my inability to bend quietly -- and that yoga was the cure. My doctor has been encouraging me to give it a try, but I've been hesitant to be part of a class setting. What if I can't do something? How embarrassing would that be? And what if I make those awful noises while doing it?
Several years ago I'd tried two informal yoga sessions led by a friend, and then moved on to teaching myself the basics while watching a yoga DVD (which my husband also watched, while sitting on the couch, eating popcorn and correcting my form). But that experiment lasted about two days.
It was clear that I needed to try harder, and to step out of my comfort zone to take a class with actual people, in an actual classroom. I told myself that if I can't strike a pose, I can just modify it; we're not all Gumby, right?
So I looked through the brochure from my local recreation center for a beginner's course and discovered that yoga is no longer just yoga. Yoga is: Ashtanga Yoga, Fluid Motion Yoga, Power Yoga, Prenatal Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Iyengar Yoga, Vinyasa Flow Yoga, Yoga for Fitness, Yoga Stretch, Yoga Mixed and YogaBody Express.
I settled on Hatha Yoga, which was noted as being "smart and safe yoga." Call me Goldilocks, but that sounded just right. I convinced a friend of mine, who also makes noises when she bends over, to take it as well. Then she convinced her friend to join us. A yoga posse we were.
Off we went with our mats, blankets, stretchy pants, and a fair amount of anxiety. Between us we had bad shoulders, knees, backs, and necks -- as it turns out, just like everyone else in the class.
The students range in age from maybe 30 to 70. Some people have taken the same beginners class for years. Others are new, like us. Of the 16 people in the class, three are guys. I've learned a lot about some of the people, not because I've actually spoken with them, but because yoga, it seems, inspires a whole host of noises, none of them being a groan while bending over.
During the last few minutes of each class the teacher turns the lights down and the new-age music up. We lie on our mats and follow her instructions to be still and mindful. One woman in the class falls asleep within a minute of starting this. I know she falls asleep because when she does, she snores. Not a gentle snore, mind you, but more of a deviated septum sort of snore. At one point, I wondered if I should wake her up -- could wake her up. Then the music ended and a teeny tiny barely audible chime sounded, and just like that, the snoring stopped and she was alert.
Yoga is all about the breathing, and I've found that some people take the "deep" part of the instructor's deep-breathing reminders quite literally. They very loudly and purposefully suck in all the air around them for a few counts, and then release it for a few counts, all around them -- onto their yoga-class neighbors.
Last but not least, there are the students who clearly registered for Hatha Yoga by mistake, thinking perhaps they were actually signing up for Breakwinda Yoga, which wasn't on the list but probably should be. Because, well, you can probably guess. They get VERY relaxed. Especially when their knees are bent, or they are doing Downward Dog.
Last week, I was sandwiched between the woman with the septum issue and one of the Breakwinda Yoga students. The 12-year-old in me covered my nose with my blanket, and got a wicked case of the giggles. I dared not let my eyes meet my friend's. Or her friend's. Let's just say that, had my sons been with me, things could have deteriorated rapidly.
So if you've been afraid of taking a yoga class because you're worried you can't do something right, or might make noises trying it, I'm here to tell you -- that's not a good enough excuse. I do recommend you bring something to cover your face, however, just in case you too find yourself in a class with students who have registered for the wrong type of yoga.
Yoga offers a myriad of wellness benefits: flexibility, balance, centeredness, strength, mindfulness and others. Yoga is a great option for aging bodies, as it promotes working within your own comfort zone. Postures and sequences range from gentle and relaxing to more intensive for advanced yogis.
Another way to promote flexibility and overall health is incorporating some simple stretches into your daily routine, be it at home, at the gym or even outdoors. Stretching prevents injury, can relieve back pain and boosts energy. Note: It's important to stretch properly to avoid injury. Check out some good examples of stretches here and these common stretching mistakes.
Biking is a great low-impact, cardiovascular workout, not to mention it's a lot of fun. There are a few ways to incorporate biking into your routine. Joy rides in your free time are always a good option -- alone or with a group. You could consider joining a local bike group or riding to nearby destinations instead of taking the car. Stationary bikes also have great health benefits. Already a cycler? Here's how to get more benefit from your bike ride.
One of the most beneficial exercises is something humans have been doing for centuries: walking. Simple modifications to your routine, like parking further away and walking the extra distance or taking the stairs instead of the elevator, can really add up to boost your overall health. For an even greater benefit, take brisk walks that get your heart rate up.
Pilates is another low-impact exercise that's ideal for aging bodies. It's similar to yoga but puts more emphasis on gaining control and balance of the body by strengthening the core muscles. Pilates can be done in a class or at home with a video or other guide. This piece offers a great run-down of the activity, along with images of some classic pilates stretches and workouts.
Tennis is a classic sport, well-loved for being fun and great for you. It's a strong aerobic workout and helps keep you agile, especially important as you get older. Tennis is also a very social activity -- great for the body, mind and spirit!
Swimming is easy on the body and is also one of the most comprehensive workouts, hitting all the major muscle groups: shoulders, back, abdominals, legs, hips and glutes. If you're getting serious about swimming, it's important to learn proper techniques, but even free-styling in the local pool or outdoors in the summer is a great way to exercise.
Dancing is one of those activities that doesn't feel like working out, but is an incredible aerobic exercise. It's a good option for those that want more physical activity but don't like the gym or in the winter when it's harder to get outdoors. There are a bunch of styles to choose from: ballroom dancing, contra dancing, salsa, ballet, tap, country and others.
As the body ages, running and jogging can take a toll on the joints, knees or back and potentially cause injury. An elliptical cross-training machine is an alternative to running, which still gets your heart rate up but at a lower impact.
You can take a simple walk to the next level by bringing weights along to build strength in your arms and boost the cardio benefits. Strength-building techniques like pushups, squats and lunges are easy to do at home or can be squeezed into buckets of free time throughout the day.
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