Early in the morning, while the tea water is coming to a boil, and while it steeps in my thermos, I kick over the stove rugs end to end and roll my yoga mat out on top of them. Even though I never thought I could stretch so early in the day, I begin with sun salutation, knees bent the first few times leaning over to touch toes, with the voice of my yoga teacher echoing back through time, “Easy, Tiger!”
And it turns out that all the floor work, from the warrior pose series to the hip stretches are exactly what physical therapists say to do for stretching the piriformis, which I need to do to avoid reactivating the plantar nastiness in my feet when I walk. (Yes, foot problems can originate in the hips.)
But there was something about this morning’s unhurried (because it’s Sunday) run through my yoga routine that made me think I want to write about yoga. I returned to this practice to support my morning meditation, as well as keep my feet healthy, and I’ve been doing it most mornings since the New Year. Which means that it is getting easier and is more effective. I can sit comfortably in meditation for 15 minutes on a low pillow, which I could not do at the outset.
But there’s something more. Yoga has meant a great deal to me. I am suspecting that some of my aches and pains of aging were coming simply from the fact that my body has long been accustomed to stretching and balancing it with yoga. Some strengthening, too. So recent practice has been a bit like taking vitamin supplements I know help.
But there’s something more. That quiet, deep awareness that happens when I follow my breath and move, bend, or stretch has history. Muscle memory and recollection of many good times.
I was in my early twenties, just married, when I bought a book in NYC on Hatha Yoga. I studied it and did the poses on my own, usually early in the morning. Funny how later I came to believe it was better to do yoga later in the day. There was an intense yogananda pictured in poses that were beyond me, but I got into doing the ones I could will full intensity. Besides I was taking ballet and modern dance and the stretching was perfect. I did not consciously practice meditation then.
I returned to yoga practice in my mid fifties. It was like coming home in a way, but also brand new. Edwin’s classes were bilingual. I loved hearing the Sanskrit names for asanas in Spanish. Edwin was a gifted, dedicated teacher, too. He was not doing the yoga thing for making the cover of yoga magazine. He disliked anything that would reduce rajas yoga from the spiritual significance it held for him.
Sometimes we would do breathing exercises and then meditate after our solar yoga classes. I preferred this pattern of doing psycho-physical moves to warm up, then lying down for deep relaxation (the dead man’s pose usually relegated to the end of a typical iyengar yoga class, in which the sweaty bodies have defied gravity over and over from the mats, through the abs and arms). In raja, or solar yoga, the relaxation is to prepare for the asanas. So, after doing standing or twisting poses that were sustained, at the end of class we would be seated facing the teacher and meditate.
I had no instruction in the purpose of it and I will admit that sometimes the teaching that Edwin offered for the meditation did not make sense to me. But I valued the stillness and the calm. I began to joke back then that I’d gladly pay anyone to make me sit still on a mat. But yoga was much more. We had classes MWF and Sunday morning as an option. It was a practice.
So, now, years later, having picked it up again, for the purposes of stretching and supporting early a.m. meditation, I am feeling glad. I realize that on holidays, or days off, I can linger a bit longer and do some other poses not on my weekday workday routine. I have reconnected with something I value, that I enjoy, and which benefits include bypassing some of those negative thoughts and creaks around the “aging process.” In fact, I am feeling so much better that I don’t think the concept of aging should figure in quite yet.
Friends have asked me what I want to do to celebrate my upcoming birthday. My first thoughts, which I did not share with anyone, included “hide under a blanket until this thing passes,” which was not very social. In other words, hang out in denial. Then after a few failed attempts to do the dinner thing, I admitted to one bff, “I’d really like to join you Sunday a.m. for contemplation and then connect by taking a walk somewhere that may end in lunch.”
Yoga connects me with the part of myself that doesn’t have an age. Yes, I know the limits my body offers nowadays, but in stretching, being aware, balancing, and then going into meditation I feel like I’m being my essential self. The part of me that really doesn’t change over time.
And enjoying this new ritual.