Years ago I remember watching a woman in a yoga class at the Y who seemed to be just doing her own thing.
The instructor would tell us what to do and sometimes free spirit lady followed along and at other times not. I was puzzled. Why even come to class if you’re not going to do the thing the instructor is doing? What’s that even about?
Zoom ahead twenty years and OMG I’ve become that woman in yoga class. I was at bike-yoga at the university. The instructor kept demonstrating postures I can’t manage. Some are ones I’m positively told not to do. Instead whenever the pose was one of the forbidden/impossible ones I did my own thing.
My knees were happy. I was having a good workout. But some of the university students looked at me in a funny way. I think they thought I didn’t hear or see what I was supposed to be doing. And then it dawned on. I was free spirit yoga lady.
I’m okay with that. I’m with Cate that knowing your body and what it needs and doing that is one of the joys of aging.
How about you? In group fitness classes do you ever do your own thing? How does it feel?
Last week was my spring break. I wasn’t traveling anywhere warm, so I decided to create my own heat through some new physical activities. I blogged about parkour class already, and am here to testify that you can work up a serious head of steam in a one hour class.
Another class I’ve had my eye on has been aerial silks yoga. It’s basically yoga done with or in a silky nylon hammock that’s suspended from the ceiling. There are also loop handholds for more acrobatic moves.
I went to a
beginner class, required before attempting serious flipping around. I was the
oldest person in the room by at least 25 years, I think. I was also the
heaviest. I checked out the weight limits for the hammocks— they can hold 1000
pounds. Yay engineers!
There seem to be two ways the silks function in these classes:
1) as a hammock. There’s helpful instruction for getting in and out of it (including backflipping with legs going over the head, feet landing on the ground. I tried it and it actually worked). You sit or lie down, with legs in many different configurations. For restorative classes the hammock turns into a cocoon, which may or may not feel soothing (I didn’t particularly enjoy being closed inside, but many people love it).
2) twisted or bunched up, serving as a seat or swing or bind. We did downward dog this way, swinging forward and backward , then sat on the silk swing and lifted our legs to hang upside down. The instructor gave clear and very specific step by step instructions, demoed the more complicated-looking moves, and came by to help us, making adjustments.
the novelty of using the hammock
Hanging upside down
The intense core exercises (at
least in principle…)
Flipping around generally
I didn’t like:
The swaying motion of the
hammock—I tend towards queasiness and sometimes felt vaguely so. This is common
in their classes, and they have Altoid mints strategically placed all over the
studio. Popping one took care of it for me. Again YMMV.
The lack of yoga-ness in the
experience. Of course, it was my first time, so I was more preoccupied with
getting this leg over there or making sure my hands were properly positioned on
the silks than cultivating mindfulness. But, it just didn’t seem geared toward
the body awareness I get in yoga classes.
In the ropes yoga classes I’ve taken at Artemis, my local beloved studio, there’s a lot of instruction and demo to help you use the ropes to get in position. But once you are in position, the focus turns to the body— where you are in space, how you can choose to shift in small ways to feel differently, and how you might respond internally to the physical state you’re in. This is really why I love ropes yoga— it takes over some of the work my body usually does so I can shift my awareness and explore gravity, weight, weightlessness and the feelings those things provoke.
I bought a
two-class pass for aerial silks yoga, so next time I’ll try out their deep
stretching class. Will report back.
have you tried aerial silks yoga? Ropes
yoga? What do you think? I’m feeling
more than meh but less than whee. I’d
love to hear about your experiences.
The idea of yoga as a strategy for managing what ails you is far from new. Before yoga was the trendy lifestyle package it has become today, I had B.K.S. Iyengar’s book, Yoga: the path to holistic health. It was an illustrated book that laid out sequences of asanas (poses) recommended for different health conditions. It addressed physical and mental health, with an entire section devoted to stress. Back then, there was no YouTube. As a student of Iyengar yoga, I attended one class a week with the goal (as was the goal for most followers of Iyengar) of developing a strong home practice.
On occasion, if I was experiencing particular issues, I might flip to the section of the book that recommended a practice for those issues. But mostly I didn’t really take seriously the idea of yoga as a go-to for dealing with specific mental or physical health issues.
Fast forward 20 years. On Sunday, when my outer knee started to bother me at about the 7K mark of my 12K run, I knew my IT band was the culprit. I hate icing, but I know ice is recommended for the first 24 hours of any injury or flare-up. Besides that, though, it seemed obvious to me that there must be a sequence of yoga postures that would stretch that tight IT band and provide me with relief.
And I was right. I did an internet search for “yoga for IT band” and up came articles and videos for preventive and therapeutic yoga for runners with IT band issues. I zeroed in on one from Do Yoga with Me, specifically titled as a stretch class for runners for the IT band. I set up my mat and hit play.
Though I wouldn’t call the instructor the most engaging yogi I’ve ever taken a class with, I did get a lot out of the sequence. It was a half an hour of basic yet effective yoga postures with holdings that took some effort yet weren’t too terribly long.
I’ve also had some great luck lately with a neck and shoulder sequence from Yoga with Adriene (whom I just love doing yoga with because she is good and yet not overly earnest). I happened upon it by chance sort of because Christine sent me the link by mistake, thinking it was a link to a much shorter session. I did it anyway (it’s only 18 minutes long) and of all the things I’ve done for my neck since I injured it in a car accident nine winters ago, it’s offered me the most release and relief. It’s also great for general neck and shoulder tension, the kind that kicks in when we spend too long at our desk working at the computer. Check it out:
With all of the online content available these days, it’s easy to find what you need if you need a yogic solution. I know that at some level, all yoga is therapeutic and that regular practice can keep the body in tune.
I also know it’s not a cure-all, but it sure does provide tried and true relief from mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual and has been known to do so for ages (literally for millenia).
Do you ever use yoga therapeutically to help you work through minor injuries, health issues, or other ailments? Do you have any particular internet sources that you’d like to recommend? If so, please chime in in the comments.
I’m in yoga looking at my naked toes. It’s not a pretty sight and distracts me from my breath, flow and alignment. Running has thickened several of the toenails, so wearing nail polish feels like a favour to anyone who has to look at my toes. The long-term, non-stop polish practice has yellowed the nails and left white deposits of I-don’t-know-what and, yes, aging is having its way.
It’s the new year and for the second year in a row I’ve decided to give my toenails a breather, literally. I’ll leave the polish off my toes until it’s sandals season again. The first days of my naked toes depress me unreasonably. Last year was more traumatic than this year. I hadn’t bared my toenails for well over five years. Their gnarly nudity makes me feel like I’m accelerating down the cliché slope of letting myself go.
Fortunately, after a few days of toe blues, I remember several important things. First, the whole concept of a woman letting herself go is sexist and obnoxious ageism, as this article in Flaunt points out (As I Am Now, So You Will Be: Your Ageism is Hypocrisy). Why would I turn that flawed idea against myself (or anyone else!)? Second, the reason I have so long to study my naked toes is because I’m in aerial yoga class. Instead of having a toe-vanity crisis, I should be high-fiving myself for getting to class.
By the third yoga class of the year, my head clears and I’m able to notice that in fact my toes are happy and enjoying their toe-pranayama (that’s the cleansing yogic breathing). How do I know? Because they start to look better. And this year, being the second year, they are perking up faster. They will never be ready for their close-up and I don’t have a future as a foot model; still, their evident improvement makes me feel kind to my body and is a comforting reminder of my body’s capacity to repair itself.
I’m not giving up polish on my toes. The sight of my toes’ shiny candy-tips jazzes me. They add zing to all my sandals and inspired me to breakdown and buy open toe ankle boots, which seemed like a ridiculous and impractical fashion, until I bought a pair and realized I could wear them long past sandals season and continue to enjoy the polished insouciance of my toes. My favourite colour is a dark night sky blue with a tiny bit of twinkle. But that’s just my default, I enjoy the ritual of choosing a hue that suits my vision of the weeks I’ll be wearing the colour. I have a bit of a colour obsession—I choose yoga mats, blankets and aerial hammocks depending on my mood. The woman’s dark red yoga pants and polished toes in the picture above, paired with the dark grey yoga hammock, satisfy my appetite for colour harmony.
I also love a pedicure. My hardworking feet earn the pleasures of a pedicure with all the miles they run and hike and walk and bike and cross-country ski and get wrapped up in yoga hammocks.
After all, if we are going to ask our bodies to work hard for us, they deserve a reward, don’t they?
I’m laying face down on my mat in Sleeping Pigeon with tears streaming down my face. I’ve been there for 3 minutes or so as the tendons unfurl in the heated yoga studio and I cry.
I’ve learned I carry tension about work in my neck and shoulders but worries and stress about my family are in my hips. I joke sometimes that my family is literally the pain in my ass.
I’m in a yin yoga class thanks to my friend & neighbour Kim. We visit on the walk to and from class. The Sunday afternoon routine has become our touch point and my moment to reflect on my wellbeing.
The slow pace of the 90 minute class promotes patience and acceptance. Pigeon is a challenge for my round body, it takes a couple minutes to find the right configuration of meaty thigh, Buddha belly and boobs and then the real work starts.
At first I feel a burning in my hip, a band of lava wraps around my socket then radiates out over my whole body. It’s very uncomfortable but rarely drifts into pain.
My mind wanders as the hip fibers unfurl and I come back, breathing, and watching my body react to the pose. The burning passes, like so many annoyances in my life, and the pleasant settling against the mat begins.
I start to get bored, more waves of heat and pressure move around my hips, glutes, hip flexors and thighs. Each release triggers thoughts and feelings about how I’m challenged in my roles as parent and partner. It has been a very rough go and each band of fibers releasing brings those tensions top of mind.
The tears well up as I imagine enduring through these tough times. Resilience hardens to resolve. Not the flippant, tied to a time of year resolution, but the grim determination of leaning in to my problems.
The time comes to leave the posture and I hesitate. Here, on the mat, in this vulnerability, no one is asking more, there are no other needs to fill, just me, my body, and my heartache.
I’m that fat middle aged woman who cries in Sleeping Pigeon now and I don’t see that stopping any time soon.
My partner recently went on a Vipasana meditation retreat and has shared many great tips on living in the moment and not avoiding the negative sensations in my body. I’m someone who has a complicated relationship with my physicality and my mental health. I often work out to care for both.
My feminism has grown to be a place where I honour my body and don’t worry about my appearance. I work out in resistance to a world that tells me women my age should be invisible, wear loose clothes and not bother anyone.
In a small way, splayed out on a floor, in Lycra, taking up public space and crying are about being visible and existing for my own sake. I like to think other women are encouraged by my messy self and do things that work for them too.
My fitness activities aren’t a punishment or about achieving a specific appearance, they are for me and my well being alone.
I hope you are discovering and doing those activities that meet your needs this year too.