My daughter is 22. She is finding that what her body once used to do—Gumby bend on a dime—is growing more difficult.
Her toe, which used to nonchalantly loop around her ear while she inhaled a bowl of cereal, now stubbornly refuses to go beyond her cheek. The young woman is startled by this shocking reveal, her eyes staring at me in horror, while I try not to smirk with knowing superiority.
By the time I notice that my own bendy-ness had been limited by the hardening of age, my toes struggle to rest on an opposite knee while I put on a pair of socks. I am at the very-nearly-seeming-dead age of 40.
By the time I am told to try yoga, I have creaked up another two notches, and the idea sounds ludicrous. This suggestion is made by Mark, my teacher at massage school. His notion is a response to the sight of me sweating a torrential downpour as I massage a marathon on someone’s back.
Not able to see him from beneath the waterfall of my body liquid, I gasp between piglet breaths and nod my consent. It is easy to say yes to Mark. Young, handsome, kind, he is the fantasy of most of the older segment of our class.
It seems weird to lust after someone young enough to be my son, but the creepy desire gets me to do something I don’t want to do. Which is how I enter yoga when I’m too old, too stiff and far too aware of my mindful limitations.
Having grown up in California, I have now lived most of my adult life in the Midwest. Which means my sun-streaked hair has gone by way of the same drain as any youthful California dreams. This is evident when my cranky mind-talk far exceeds the, “this is new and cool” quotient my first day on a mat.
Yoga is going to kill me.
Straight out of the gate, our class is instructed to lie back in corpse pose, which at this point sounds appropriate. The intention is to become aware of our bodies.
Considering what it takes for me to get down on my knees one at a time, then sort of lean-to-topple over to the ground, I am hyper-aware of my body.
Sweet Jesus I’m out of shape. I’m gonna die or break something important.
It’s a good thing we stay on our backs for several of the next poses, otherwise my mat-mates would be enlisted to group leverage me up. Pointed into what is considered the “easy” Down Dog, I crab crawl into position. My belly sways left, then right, finally jello-settling into place.
This is bad. Very, very bad.
My hamstrings twang in protest, having not been forewarned of the travesty they were to endure. Thoughtfully, my right quad muscle spasms, making my Down Dog roll over.
Keeping my scream to a moaning wail, I try to maneuver my legs into position for Warrior One. They both let me know they will not be manhandled. Instead, my legs and I perform something similar to the Hokey Pokey. The instructor is trying not to stare, probably noting that I’m close enough to the door to limp an escape.
In a cult-like maneuver the teacher begins to tailor the class to my brick and mortar form, while piling on the compliments.
“Oh that’s a good tree pose, Deb,” (both of my feet are firmly rooted into the floor),
“Nicely done,” (she is referring to the lasso maneuver I utilize with a strap to rope a wayward toe) and
“Congratulations! You made it through your first class.”
Always a sucker for getting my a** kissed, I buy a six-month package.
Over the next several weeks, I drag myself to humiliation school for Mark. Not because I will leave my husband—even if an old lady body intrigues the young man—but because he believes I can do it.
Someone has to think it’s possible; I certainly don’t.
The endless sigh I emit standing in front of the yoga studio becomes a weekly tradition. I have no idea what madness is about to ensue, only that it will involve me in a pose that has no relationship with how it is intended.
I begin to enjoy my role as the “don’t” part of the class, making jokes—or rather, sharing what my snarky inner-self is jabbering nonstop:
“Will someone help me move my boobs out of the way?”
“I think this pose is going to end badly for me.”
“Is being able to touch your toes important?”
Nearly at the end of the six-month package, yoga finally gives me a gift. I’m still not any better at getting down on the ground or back up—my bendy quotient still ranges in the negative—but a long-term issue with shoulder pain has disappeared.
This spontaneous absence causes me to become aware of my body, not in the negative but in the positive way. I can now hold my awkward rendition of a pose, minus sweat rivulets running through my butt crease, and lie in Savasana in a peaceful state, without snarky commentary.
That’s not entirely true—but I do manage to keep it to myself.
At the finish of a class when we’re asked to emit a single OM, my breath doesn’t snuffle out with a piglet gasp; it lengthens well beyond my expectations. Perhaps the weekly endless sighs have assisted in strengthening my lungs.
Off the mat, my version of hydro-massage dries up, my neck swivels with swan like grace and I find that with a wobbly tree pose, I am able to put on my socks. Yoga has killed the old non-bendy me, giving birth to something new and adaptable.
On the final day of massage school, I am selected to give Mark a neck massage. Letting go of my girlish crush long enough to remember how old I am, I give back to my teacher.
As Mark lays on the table, I note his slow, even breath and ability to accept this moment. Throughout his treatment, Mark represents a centered yoga pose, one that I decide to master.
How to simply “be.”
I learned that taking yoga after 40 will kill you. It demolishes what used to be, leaving behind an opening for what can be. There is breathful possibility in an endless sigh, a reminder that a California girl is still under the ever-changing woman I am becoming.
Author: Deb Lecos
Assistant Editor: Jaimee Guenther / Editor: Toby Israel