At first there was church, of course, but there had always been church, and probably always will be.  Then there was therapy, some of it encouragingly productive, though one shouldn’t dispense stars for service well rendered on such things, like online restaurant reviews.  There was always walking, more walking, no shortage of places to walk.  And drinks with friends, staunchly loyal and present, and drinks without friends, but not too many, or, at least, not too many too often, I’m pretty sure.  It all helped, some of the time, or maybe, when times were tough, it just comforted me to know I was trying.

But the motivation to keep searching remained.  So, one dark day when the joints were complaining, the back stiff, and the spirit low, I accepted the encouragement of a wise neighbor and turned up at the appointed time.  I choose a place near the back, close to an escape route (rather like church, come to think of it). I sit, watch quietly and wait.

Except you’re not really supposed to watch, intones the person at the front of the room, oozing meditative calm from every pore.  It’s not about what others are doing.  It’s about you.

That’s not something accepted easily by those of us with the overly anxious, driven nature, but it’s too soon to give up, instructs the driven voice inside.  I settle for surreptitious observation, rolling the eyes various directions to clock what is happening without noticeably turning my head.  Instructions commence and movement begins, while it remains very quiet, with little sound but the gentle beat of the low Hindu background music.

Meanwhile, it is plenty loud inside my head, where I am silently shouting frantic responses to the flow of action.  Balance on my what?  Recline like a pigeon?  I am almost positive pigeons never recline unless they are dead.  Down dog?  Will someone give me a treat if I do this correctly?  Dang, the people behind me look weird from this angle.

My doctor said this would be relaxing.  He must be insane.  I am 55 years old, and it is my first yoga class.

That scene, more than four years ago, came to mind recently when I incurred my first yoga injury, a painful pinch in the shoulder joint.  It seemed prudent to take a break while it healed up.   Away from the studio for longer than I’d been in awhile, I couldn’t help but wonder again if I’m too old, too unfit, too whatever to keep up the practice.  How many women who stroll into the average class with their long legs clad in designer tights and ponytails swinging cheerfully look like me—25 pounds overweight, short arms, short legs, a noticeably unfashionable yoga wardrobe?

The answer, it took me years to discern, is no one knows, or cares.  There’s no question the physical benefits can be profound and enduring.  My early-stage arthritis, stiff knees and back remain drastically improved as long as I practice. At first, I viewed yoga as a more rational cousin to pilates and hoped to build strength, flexibility and better breathing habits.   I told friends who inquired about progress that the stretches and movements are great, but I’m not very good at the “ohm stuff”.

It was true.  It took me two years to learn to close my eyes when instructed (afraid I would miss something), and even longer to lay still all the way through the closing pose, savasana, without sitting up prematurely.  (Savasana translates into English as corpse pose; who wouldn’t love that?) I was too busy running through my grocery list in my head to absorb the teacher’s closing chant.  Yet somewhere on the journey I realized, as wiser heads have known for many centuries, that the “ohm stuff” may change your life more than flattening your palms on the floor in a forward fold. I still can’t.  Not even close.walkway-over-dunes-fl-11-16

When I finally opened my heart to stillness of mind during practice, startling, sometimes unsettling, visions occupied the space that opened there.  One day, I surrendered to stillness in savasana more out of complete exhaustion than anything else, and behind closed eyes I suddenly saw a bright, moving series of images of my beloved father, who died three years before.  They flowed rapidly from one memory to the next, like still photos blended into a documentary video clip.  Tears rolled down the sides of my face and onto the mat.

When months turned into years and I persisted, I finally saw the gift of yoga that for me, matters most—more than flexibility and better posture, more than learning and remembering to breathe more fully.  When I opened my ears to instruction, not just in stretching or balancing or breathing, I finally heard it.

Yoga teaches self-acceptance, a state that eludes so many of us, for some strange reason, for most of our lives.  If you are looking for encouragement to do still more, to build reps, go faster, push harder, to shave seconds, those goals might be right for you, but you must go somewhere else to achieve them.  Yoga practice is the ultimate counter-pose to that mindset.

There it was again yesterday.  “Remember,” the teacher said as we extended forward in a seated fold (in my case, mere inches, the hamstrings pleading for mercy), “wherever you are in this pose is perfectly okay.  Contentment with where we are is a very important part of our practice.”  And:  “When we move to the second side of this pose, you will notice that one side of your body is more available than the other.  That is because you are human, and that’s how human bodies work.”

This foundational concept will always be a stretch goal (pardon the pun) for me, something to nurture and feed long after I get my palms on the floor, if I ever do.  Serious yogis know it is the journey of a lifetime.  Even those who begin that journey very late still can, I’ve learned, take tiny, baby-sized, forward steps.

One of my favorite classes is led by a teacher** who tells jokes deep into the vinyasa flow.  Probably sacrilege to some, but I adore it.  Once when we students were on our backs, extending a leg straight to the ceiling and stabilizing it with clasped hands behind the calf, he came by and saw me struggling to reach higher on the back of my leg, silently cursing my short arms and stiff hamstrings.  I’m not very good at this one, I whispered as he gently nudged my leg higher.  I need arm extensions.footprints-in-sand-10-16

“No, you don’t,” he insisted, kindly.  “You can do this.”  That tiny spark of encouragement somehow bestowed additional breath, which in turn relaxed me and magically increased my range.  Just for that treasured second, he was right.  My arms, my effort were just fine.

And that’s what keeps me going back.


**It’s time to share my deep gratitude for the folks at Sanctuary Yoga in Nashville, Tennessee, for fostering an environment that is both enlightening and inclusive.  Special thanks to teachers Tom Larkin, Liz Stewart, and Melissa Eltringham for bringing such positive spirit and good humor to class, every single time.

Children change so quickly, don’t they?  It’s an amazing thing to watch.  And, of course, it’s so much easier to discern these charming progress points when they aren’t your immediate progeny.  Kind of like watching a new house going up as you drive by occasionally:  Oh, Look!  The chimney is up!  Gosh, that was fast!  While the poor owners are staring at each brick being added, wondering if moving day will ever come.

As she approaches her fourth birthday, our Sis has had a big year.  She learned to sing “Where is Thumbkin?,” complete with hand motions, and developed an interest in kitchen activity and cooking.  She carries on a fairly complex conversation with enthusiasm and is gaining on her life’s aim to keep up with her older brother.  She grew more than an inch.

But there’s one thing about Sis that remains a steady fixture in our lives, rooted as deeply as her unwavering insistence that it matters not if you wear your shoes on the wrong feet.

Sis is an Eating Machine.  A Ravenous Ravager of (almost) all things eminently edible.  She is the top-rated Hoover of plate cleaners.  In our family, there are no other contenders.lj-muffin-date-tbd

This rather striking quality tends to surprise those who aren’t around her regularly.  They first notice the crystal blue eyes, long blonde curls, or precocious exuberance.  But join her at table, and it’s hard to stop the eyes from popping.  You may feel like a balletomane who sneaks into the dressing room to discover the prima ballerina stuffing her face with Twinkies.

But let me get at that Twinkies thing immediately, before I get in trouble here.  The really remarkable thing about many of her menu preferences is their healthy nature.  She never asks for junk food at my house.  When this volume trend began to escalate a year or so ago, the first shocker was cooked carrots.  I mean, who knew?  When I was her age, I wouldn’t eat them on a bribe.  Last time I served carrots with pot roast on a cold winter day, Sis ate her portion, her brother’s, a small heap of seconds from the pot, and was still pining when her father bridged the shortage by forking over his, too.

Fruit is another favorite, and oranges currently rank quite high.  On her last visit, Sis risked life and limb to get close to a bowl of the alluring, bright orbs, clambering up from a stool, to a chair, to a box on the chair, before I could leap to secure her on perch.  Alas, she still couldn’t reach, so was forced to ask, politely but pointedly, if she could please have one with expedited delivery.  I cut it in half, and by the time I reached to peel the second half, the first sections had vanished.


Sis loves kombucha, which many of us would have to be paid to drink.

The next morning, we moved on to surprising success with the larger citrus cousin, grapefruit.  Watching me spooning out the pink sections, Sis requested a taste test.  I cut her a very small portion and hesitated before handing it over.  This is much more tart than an orange, I warned.  Try this small piece first.  It’s OK if you don’t like it.  (Note to self:  wasted breath.)  “I love that!”  Sis exclaimed, adding her personal anthem: “Could I have some more?”

What creates such an appetite, I have pondered occasionally, in between efforts to stock the larder before the children arrive and scrambling to proffer seconds and thirds during meals. An extended growth spurt, I suppose.  One does wonder if takes extra calories to fund a campaign of regular screaming—whether in exuberance, or just a forceful bid to be heard, one never knows.  (This is yet another phase we seem to be stuck in.)  Sis is blessed with good health and no weight concerns, thank goodness, and her parents work hard to select and offer quality food to the children. They certainly converted me to the notion that children will learn from example and context when it comes to healthy food.

Meanwhile, my favorite evidence of the Hoover plate-cleaning action occurred at Christmas dinner just a few weeks back.  We have a family tradition of serving homemade applesauce with the holiday meal.  Our family product is a thick, somewhat tart variety that we make with the best apples when they ripen every June, then we hoard it in the freezer for special occasions. mom-stirring-applesauce-june-2016

What fun to see the children excited to get their portion, which I served in tiny, delicate, gold-rimmed bowls passed down from my great-grandmother.  No doubt the original owner of the bowls turned in her grave if she noticed Sis about a minute later with her bowl upended near her face, so she could lick it clean.  Hey! I remonstrated weakly, stifling an empathetic guffaw.  Use your spoon, please!

“But the spoon won’t get it all, and it’s so good,” she replied, pausing just long enough to answer.  What’s a grandmother to do?  I wish I had a picture of that little episode.  It would be fun to taunt her with when she is older, when it comes time, if we are lucky, to teach her to make the applesauce herself.