GETTING OLD SUCKS — EXERCISE!
You didn’t know yet that getting old sucks? I do, getting old sucks in more than one way. Not even that the effects on my own body are that earth shattering, but my friends are getting older too, manifested in signs of physical ailments.
My buddies have shrunk this last year, not so much in size, as in the number that can still join me regularly in some moderate physical activity. Not even enough people can join me in a foursome for a game of leisurely golf. Others that used to go for a bit of a hike with me cannot join me anymore.
What is keeping them from being physical? Well, could be a number of things, such as stiff knees, or a broken leg, a back problem, or a foot problem.
What was I to do, with less and less activity and a need to use my body, because as they say: use it or loose it? I wanted to do more, so much so, that I signed up for a
gym membership for the first time in my life–at age 63!
Who knew it would come to that?
I always said about the treadmill that I don’t see any use in walking for kilometers
and not going anywhere. I would rather go for a walk in Mission Creek Park, or climb up to Paul’s tomb. But that hasn’t happened much either, nor going to the ladies’ day with a few friends at Big White Ski Resort.
The most I ever did close to working out was at CURVES that is a little circuit for women with appropriate sized equipment for a 30 minute workout. It got boring and when a change of ownership also changed the atmosphere, I quit.
So, with dread in my heart and a few too many pounds on my rather short body I stepped into the club this week with my gym buddy who introduced me to the club. I had been shown once before what the building offered: squash courts that intimidated the heck out of me, where sweaty men paddled a tiny ball against a wall in a plexiglass enclosed cage, a place I most likely would never set foot in. Two floors with grotesk-looking mechanical torture machines with large weights on either side, needing large muscles to change even the weights on them: not for me either.
For the last two years I was enrolled in yoga at a small studio that offers classes based on Kripalu yoga, which means practice with compassion. I worked my way from beginner to intermediate levels and felt a substantial benefit from it in more flexibility and greater inner focus. It helped me sleep as well, if taking a class in the evening, and it gave me much energy for the rest of the day when I took my class in the morning.
How does yoga do that? The breathing techniques give the body a thorough oxygenation and together with the poses that involve all of the muscle groups in slow succession (and at higher levels in quicker follow-up, called flow), the body gets an allout work-up. No muscle, ligament, or tendon injuries will result, if not forcing oneself into positions while fully focusing on the feelings in the body.
The trick as I discovered, is in the complete focus on something completely different, much like going fishing. That always did the trick for me when I felt angry or lost when I was younger.
By focusing on a special breathing technique (pranayama), and continuing breathing throughout the 90 minute practice, and by trying to sense the physical feelings the body generate in the poses (asanas), our mind becomes empty. Closing the eyes strengthens the focus on bodily sensations, as distractions in your environment, such as your neighbour’s poses, or the goings-on outside, are shut out.
After 90 minutes of this practice, five minutes of complete relaxation follows, so-called shavasanah: the body is prone on the floor in a relaxed pose (corpse pose), possibly with a bolster underneath the knees to relax the lower back, and a blanket on top to prevent a chill while cooling off, and complete stillness in the body–no movements at all–and eyes closed. This is with the purpose to integrate the movements and rest, and to experience the full impact and the benefit of the session. And let me tell you, if you have trouble getting rid of tension and anxiety, this is the natural medicine that might help you. The health benefits of yoga are further explained on this site: http://www.stylishandtrendy.com/health/yoga-can-help-remove-hypertension/
The professional yogis can tell you how it works, and its background in meditation and buddhism, but this is how it worked for me. I think that after having seen a few different teachers and three different schools, it would be essential that the teachers are well trained and have a background in the culture behind the practice. They should not hurry through the poses and their voice and demeanor needs to be congruent with the gentle art. More info at http://www.kripalu.org/about_us/479/
The very first class of yoga I took without having oriented myself on the various types and schools, was a mistake. I took an offer of two classes for a low introductory fee at a “hot yoga” (Bikram) class from a coupon in the mailbox. I did not know but found out that in hot yoga, poses are instructed in a fast pace and class are held in a hot room, so the participants sweat profusely; one is supposed to ignore the stream of prickly salt pouring out of your body and not start wiping. The class resembled a torture chamber to me and my vertigo problem was triggered by the quick positional changes. I left dizzy and exhausted, not what I had anticipated. To get value out of my fee, I went twice and the second time was a bit easier, because I knew what to expect. I slowed down didn’t try to keep up with the class and stopped when I got into trouble at certain poses; it was not pleasurable.
I did not pursue yoga until a year later when a friend recommended a particular school and teacher, and suggested I start with beginner classes. That was the start of a beautiful relationship. Since then I have been a faithful Sunday worshipper at the gentle class. I have gone through all classes, am familiar with the options and can now pick and choose what suits me.
Back to my club membership. I have started to use the treadmill: shame on me for saying I never would. I even traded my real bike for the stationary bike in the gym, as the weather is not that great for biking to work at the moment and I need warm weather so my arthritic fingers won’t bother me. That’s my excuse.
And the boon to all this is, that there are yoga classes, and a number of other classes, and a personal trainer that can advise me on what would be best for my preferences and abilities. And, there are a lot more men working out here than in my little yoga studio with the “token” man; maybe some might even be my age and single….
When I bumped into a friend of a friend today with whom I occasionally spent time socially, she turned out to be one of the personal trainers at the gym, so that made the threshold a lot lower as well.
With a corporate membership though my employment, the fee is low. I am beginning to see some advantages. Now if only I could trade in my grumpy mood about getting old for a more optimistic one….
Did you ever have similar experiences, or did you give up on the gym club idea? I would love to hear from you.