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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Issue Date: June 13, 2019

Janie Thibodeau Martin

One of the things on my long list of desired post-retirement activities was to join a yoga class. Several people had recommended this to me; and I heard and read good things about yoga for both building flexibility and improving balance. Those abilities deteriorate as we age, so the potential benefits were obvious. All the same it took a bit of guts to go to the first class.

Joining an activity where most people have been participating as a group for a while is a little intimidating. There is the factor of feeling out of place, fear of not being able to learn or keep up, or becoming a laughingstock.

But all it took was one class in Tulsa for me to feel at home and know that I was going to both benefit from and enjoy participating. The group was welcoming and warm, and the instructor immediately put me at ease. I went from hiding in the furthest corner of the room to being comfortable in the first row within two weeks.

Yoga is a form of exercise, but it is also a conduit to mindfulness, relaxation and self-awareness. It has roots in Northern India, where it has been practiced for more than 5,000 years. I guess it was that connection that had Rev. John Lindell, a mega-church pastor in Missouri, warning people last year not to attend yoga, as it was a source of "demonic influences." Hmmm. Haven't encountered any yet.

There are several different types of yoga, so you might need to experiment a little to find what is best for you. There are even "chair yoga" classes for those who have balance problems or difficulty standing. I started in a "gentle yoga," but moved to yoga for osteoporosis prevention after a year. I was truly sad to leave my friendly class and excellent instructor when we came to Wisconsin.

Luckily I immediately found a similar class with an equally good instructor when we moved. And the diverse people in my new class have become friends like my old classmates were. We all have two things in common; we were able to summon the courage to try class for the first time; and we all find the activity beneficial. Other than that we are all different " some in great shape, some a bit rust-bound and some who have not done any physical activity their entire lives. Some wear old sweat pants and loose t-shirts; some have slick lycra exercise clothing. We all fit in, and we all encourage each other.

My class has about 16 interesting women " most around my age but a few quite a bit older and a couple of younger members. There are two men " one has Parkinson's Disease and the other has MS. They both have some limitations, but the instructor is good at modifying the activities so they can fully participate. Some of the women have what the instructor cheerful calls "cranky" knees or a shoulder that doesn't want to cooperate " but she continually urges us to stay in the zone of halfway between easy and hard effort " a perfect way to avoid injury but still benefit from movement.

Every class opens with a reflection from the instructor, usually around stress reduction or a positive observation from an inspirational writer. Music is soft and relaxing. A slow and gentle warmup is followed by structured postures, with a focus on some body part like shoulders or backs. A cool down preceeds final relaxation, where not falling asleep is sometimes challenging for me, I become so relaxed. We close with another reflection and the Namaste bow, which is a gesture of respect to one another. I always leave feeling better than when I walked in, and I practice at home on the days I do not have class. My classmates and my instructor uplift me and help keep me motivated between classes " they are a positive support group of people doing what they can to live a better life.

And now that my husband is retired, he too goes to a class " a class targeted for men with a male instructor in the evening called "no lycra" yoga. He too has stuck with it and finds it beneficial. Once a month I go to "cat yoga" at the Marathon County Humane Society. A $10 fee benefits the shelter with the instructor volunteering her time; and the room is full of adoptable cats and kittens leading to much hilarity and hopefully a few felines finding a new home. (Mike reminds me we have four cats already.)

Using our bodies in class, the focus is on celebrating what we CAN do, not on what our bodies won't let us do. There is no scorekeeping, no competition, and no comparisons. Chatter before class is about gardening, families, and hobbies. There is a lot of laughing, and those who miss class are warmly welcomed back after vacation or surgeries.

Recently there was a new woman in class so I put my mat next to hers, modeling the kind outreach I received when I was new. She told me she is fighting cancer, and was coming to a class for the first time after being nearly bed-ridden for a week after a chemo session. She clearly felt a little self-conscious but the instructor came to introduce herself, grasped the situation and gave her the same reassurance she gives every new person " don't do anything you aren't comfortable doing, rest as you need to, and stop if you get uncomfortable.

The woman kept up very well and at the end of class I told her I hoped to see her again in two days at the next class. She grimaced and said she had chemo the next day, and probably wouldn't be up to it, but hoped to be strong enough after five days to return again for a session before her next treatment. But she said she loved the class and hoped to return again soon. Guts, I thought to myself. She's pale and hairless, and clearly doesn't feel well, but she has the courage to try something new anyway and is determined to continue to do what she can despite her illness. Guts and courage on the mat next to me.

So here's my thoughts for you if you have ever considered yoga. If you wish you were more flexible or more relaxed, give it a try. If you are nervous about going to a class go with a friend. But if men in their mid-60's with serious diseases can participate and enjoy it; and if a cancer patient who told me she is in a battle for her life can give it a try for the first time, so can you.

Nameste!



You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.


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