Co-authored with Sasha Mahar.
Yoga and I met in Austin Texas in 1970. We made the perfect odd couple. We were exact opposites, but somehow we clicked.
I was a woman of my time – newly married, career driven, and a passionate advocate for women’s rights. Yoga was ancient, exotic and mysterious. I was alert and vivacious, with a brimming social life, exuberantly engaged in where I was. Yoga was silent, removed and transcendent. A classic Type A personality, I was always busy, planning and preparing for the next project. Yoga bid me to stop, release, and be in the moment.
It was a collision of worlds, but I was accustomed to colliding universes. My entire childhood had been a battle of wills. I loved to dive into new things, whereas my parents were in the habit of always peering around their conservative Indiana town to ask first, “What will people think?
My cautious ancestors never tried anything unless the entire neighborhood approved. As for me, I could never conform to conformity. If the majority of my Indiana neighbors disliked something, I usually liked it!
And Yoga was controversial. At least in my family.
“You’re taking yoga?” queried my skeptical mother. “I don’t know where you came from; you’re so bohemian.”
“Aren’t the clothes weird in yoga? White cloths that look like tents? You wore such cute clothes as a cheerleader. Where do you find these radical activities?”
I calmly tried to tell my relative that yoga was a 5,000 year old practice and hardly radical. As was often the case, she never bothered listening, just kept on talking.
“But yoga sounds so foreign. What will our friends think? What about golf or tennis? That’s what your chum Brenda does. Why can’t you ever be normal like the other girls in your high school class?”
Before I could catch my breath, my father joined the chorus, “Isn’t yoga from India? We don’t know anyone who has even been to India.”
I then carefully pointed out that the word India was just a shortened version of Indiana. I even hummed a few bars of the Disney favorite tune that was the hit of the world’s fair in New York City: “it’s a small world after all.”
My begetters’ disapproval just made me embrace yoga all the more.
I knew in my heart of hearts that yoga offered me exactly what I needed. My curiosity was piqued, and my practice effortlessly became habitual. Over the years, yoga has proved essential to my body’s health and quality of life, especially during times of transition. It stabilized me during major moves and career changes. And when I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, it helped me to reestablish a trust and sense of confidence in my body.
Before my diagnosis, I kept my practice contained to class once or twice a week. Now, yoga is a functional part of my day. I don’t wait for my weekly class. When I start my day with a brief yoga session, I find my body will move more easily. If I feel stiff or unsteady, I will slide into a few favorite poses. Sometimes, when I’m uncomfortable and frustrated, wrestling my body into challenging poses is the last thing I want to do. But when I have completed them, I’m always glad and relieved.
It’s a lot like writing. It’s hard to get to it but I’m always glad I made the effort. One of my mantras is, “I hate writing; I like having written,” an expression so popular that it is attributed to two authors: Dorothy Parker and Gloria Steinem.
Yoga is not always easy, but it works! Pop culture would have us believe that yoga is the exclusive domain of lithe celebrities, athletes, and luxurious socialites. We’ve come to think of yoga as a glamorous and questionably practical pursuit. But that’s a misrepresentation. Yoga is beneficial and accessible to everyone.
These are the facts:
- Yoga is not only for the flexible. It can accommodate all levels of flexibility, and with gentle repeated practice, will increase flexibility.
- Yoga is not only for the fit. All levels of fitness can be accommodated and benefit from yoga. It tones the body and can even boost weight loss!
- Yoga is not only for the physically stable. When my PD symptoms worsened, I assumed I would have to give up many challenging poses. But then yogi Connie Fisher came to the rescue and showed me how I could adapt these poses to avoid falls and slips. Most poses could be done sitting down rather than standing. Connie calls her bag of magic “yoga snacks”; I call them lifesavers.
- Yoga is not only for the calm. My racing mind meets its match in guided meditations, and I feel a distinct boost of peace and positivity after a class. In studies, yoga has been found to boost the neurotransmitter GABA, which calms anxiety and lifts mood.
- Yoga is not only for the confident. But if you are skeptical, or think, “Yoga—that’s just not for me,” I urge you to give it a try. Yoga is accepting and encouraging and gently helps you relax and expand.
- Yoga meets you where you are. I shudder to think what my life would be like if I hadn’t discovered this ancient practice. I might have been playing in the senior Olympics in the role of the world’s oldest and grumpiest volleyball player. Or worse yet, teaching cheerleading, like a real life version of that ogre of a teacher, Sue Sylvester from the TV show Glee.
When I stumbled into that studio all those years ago, I could have never known how yoga would change and transform my life.
And the journey continues.
By the way, my 96-year-old mother still thinks my yoga and most of what I do is too bohemian. I’ve never even told her my favorite opera is “La Boheme.” What would the neighbors say?