Starting Yoga at 66

Starting Yoga at 66

Various limbs are shaking violently. In such a contorted state, I could be posing for Picasso. Body parts are arranged in abnormal and unsettling configurations.

Human beings assume the position that is causing me to quiver on but two occasions: during enhanced interrogation by intelligence operatives or in yoga class.

Anna, our instructor, announces the incomprehensible foreign name for this particular torment, adding that we should all be mindful of (what sounds to me like) “piranha.”

This seems unduly cruel and unusual, combining yoga with flesh-eating fish. But at this point nothing surprises me.

Anna (in English this time) reminds me to breath (“Prana” in yoga-speak). It has come to this. I go to a class where someone has to prod me to keep breathing. Clearly the end is near.

I am rising 67 and way over my head – often quite literally, as in downward-facing dog (one pose I know the name of). I have been doing yoga for weeks – Anna for decades, on several continents. Her shoulders are more flexible than my opposable thumbs.

Born and raised in Russia, Anna is a splendid person and teacher, but midway through class I start to view her as Queen of the Gulag. She is no nonsense, at least during class. I am all nonsense most of the time.

It doesn’t help matters that my fellow victims have been at it for years. They don’t appear to quiver as they impersonate modern sculpture through their improbable gyrations, which may be illegal in some states. They can twist their torsos like Twizzlers and snake their arms around their bodies while breathing evenly and keeping their eyes closed. They almost seem to be enjoying themselves.

I am in this advanced class because I used to work with Anna, whom I used to like (I’m kidding, Anna), and it’s free. Having retired recently, I have too much time on my hands and live on a proverbial fixed income. What’s not to like about free yoga?

For all of that, I was skeptical initially. My exercise routine is decidedly old school. I play senior hockey once a week, the benefits of which are canceled out by post-game libations and fast food. I work out when inspiration strikes – I qualify for “golden sneakers,” which means my gym membership is paid for by my health insurance. I could go three times a day if I wanted, as opposed to three times a month. I pedal my Schwinn around the neighborhood now and again.

I knew yoga would present challenges. I can’t touch my toes even though I am closer to the ground than I used to be. I still have an old college football program where I am listed at five-foot-nine inches tall, which was a stretch. Now I’m five-seven, also a stretch: maybe on a good day, first thing in the morning (before gravity kicks in).

Yoga, friends told me, would have a “lengthening effect.” That sounded promising.

I haven’t measured myself lately, but I do feel better. My posture is improved and I am more flexible. I can spread my toes – I’m positively prehensile. When Anna first instructed us to widen our toes and press them into the mat, I thought she was joking. What next: wriggle our ears?

For all the pain and humiliation, I show up every week. I am getting better at some things, for example, standing on one foot like a stork. I can’t do it with my eyes closed yet, or with arms straining overhead while staring into space and being in the moment. I’m afraid if I get too far in the moment I won’t be able to get out again before the next moment comes along.

At the end of class we assume a pose that is almost comfortable and thank somebody for something – who and for what remains unclear at this writing: perhaps for continuing to inhale and exhale.

There is, I must confess, a keen sense of accomplishment after an hour of doing something that is hard, even if you are not (and never will be) good at it. But the abnormal is becoming quasi-normal.

I am proud to report that, despite being under duress, I have not revealed any state secrets.