By Michele Mahoney
This title may imply that I am becoming a pilot in my sixties. Not true. What I am becoming in my sixties is a Yoga arm balance junkie. In fact, my goal is to learn a minimum of one new arm balance a year until I drop dead or become incapacitated in some other manner. I would like to be in the Guinness Book of World Records for the oldest woman alive with the ability to balance on her arms.
My Yoga journey has not been that long. In fact, it started in my late 50’s when I was going through a somewhat dark period in my life. After the economic downturn did a major hit to our existing business of 30 years, my husband and I with friends, decided to open a garden center on land we mutually owned. My romantic image of sweeping the garden path while communing with hummingbirds and butterflies amongst the petunias and pansies came crashing down with a serious reality check. Garden centers are seriously never-ending hard work! Manual labor hard work no less. I hated it and I was getting more depressed by the day.
Looking back, however, the universe put me in that spot for a reason. One day a woman walked in with a flyer about the Yoga studio she had opened across the street. If I had not been in such a low spot, looking for something to divert me, I probably would have pitched the flyer in the trash. There was something about the woman, her serenity or calm demeanor, that made we want to try a class.
My first Yoga class I chose was a hot candlelight Yoga class. I chose that one in particular because I felt that if I was in the dark no one could tell I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. It was hot and it was hard for me but the instructor, the woman from the garden center, had a voice that totally resonated inside of me. I felt different after the class, though at the time I could not have told you how.
I continued to play at Yoga, never really taking it too seriously, just knowing that my spirit was elevated after taking a class. The transformational point came when this studio offered a three-week Yoga boot camp at 6:30 every morning for $150. Now I know $150 does not seem like a lot of money to most people but because of the woman I was, and let me stress was, spending $150 on just myself seemed totally selfish. There are a lot of things that entered into that mindset, part of which was being a single mother for a period in my life, but there are a lot of women out there who don’t think they deserve to focus their resources – time and money – on the things that make them happy. Women tend to take care of everyone else and not themselves.
Anyway, I mentioned the boot camp to my husband, fully expecting him to poo-poo it but much to my surprise, he was one hundred percent supportive. And so it began….
The “before” picture taken at my first boot camp tells it all! My whole demeanor screamed I was not comfortable in my own skin. My posture was bad, my smile was weak, the whole picture makes me wince. But I keep that picture on my make-up counter to remind me how far I have come in such a relatively short period time. I went into that first boot camp with so many doubts about my ability to do it at all and most of all doubts about whether I could keep up with all the younger people in the class. The “after” picture taken after the first three weeks also speaks volumes. My face is totally beet red from the exertion but I am feeling more powerful. I succeeded and literally stomped out all those doubting voices in my head.
I continued on with those Yoga boot camps until they were cancelled and then I found a replacement with an outdoor boot camp. So, for the past four years I have been doing boot camp three days a week and Yoga two days a week and it has become a lifestyle. I love it!! I don’t always love the alarm going off so early in the morning but I always, always feel better about myself when the class is over.
The boot camp portion of my workout took my Yoga classes to the next level. I was so much stronger that I was not fearful of trying all kinds of new things. Regardless of your strength, the thing that holds us back from testing our edge in life is fear.
Speaking of fear, for my sixtieth birthday, I announced to my husband I wanted to go to Zion and do a Scorpion pose on top of a mountain overlooking a cliff, I wanted him to photograph it and call it “sixty is the new adventure”. I was feeling fearless and empowered, something I truly had never felt before in my life. My husband looked at it differently, however, he thought I was becoming slightly insane at my advanced age. Nonetheless, he emailed most of our friends and asked if anyone wanted to come to Zion with us. Much to our surprise we had about 25 people accompany us to kick off my new sixty adventure.
I did manage to pull off that Scorpion pose – it wasn’t perfect and it wasn’t pretty and I was petrified at the edge of that cliff – but I did it! I will never forget that moment as my daughter hugged me afterwards with tears streaming down her cheeks.
All I can say, is you are never too old to try something new. If you are thinking of giving Yoga a try, I have a few recommendations:
- Buy a mat – I know, duh! But seriously most Yoga studios have mats you can use but once you buy your own mat, you are officially a Yogi. You can also use them for other things such as a knee cushion when you’re gardening or if you need some attention from your cat. My cat totally ignores me unless I get out my Yoga mat and then she is all over me and the mat.
- Find a studio that makes you feel welcome, safe and serene. It may not be the first one you go into.
- Find an instructor that gets past all the monkey chatter in your brain. There are a lot of instructors that are just going through the motions and then there are those that “feel” what they are teaching. As an aside, Yoga tapes you can do at home are great, but there is nothing like doing a practice with a good instructor. Trying different instructors and different styles of Yoga can also expand your practice.
- Keep in mind two pieces of advice I received early on:
- Leave your ego at the door – there will always be someone better than you and not as good as you. You don’t need to feel intimidated or superior, just pay attention to your own mat.
- Yoga meets you where you are – you don’t have to know what you are doing or be at a certain level to start. Just start!
- Learn the breathing techniques. It will serve you well in so many other areas off your mat. Having a sleepless night? Start focusing on your breathing and you will bore yourself into falling back to sleep.
My Yoga journey has brought so much benefit to my life. I don’t know what my medical condition would be without it, but I do know this. I am 63 years old and I do not have high blood pressure, I do not have high cholesterol, and I am stronger and more aware of my body and what it is capable of than I have ever been in my life.
Another positive, which should not be taken as medical advice or opinion, in 2011 I was diagnosed with osteoporosis in my right hip and sent to a specialist. After doing my bloodwork and seeing it was perfect, my doctor advised me he was not going to prescribe any medication at the time, said not to change anything I was currently doing and to come back in two years. In 2015 when I went back to see him, he did another bone scan and my diagnosis was osteopenia in my right hip which is the stage between healthy bones and osteoporosis. The only thing I had changed in my life was boot camp. Coincidence? Fluke? I think not. My doctor, however, thinks I was misdiagnosed the first time but my research shows me that weight-bearing exercises can increase bone density, so you decide.
Having reached my age, I really have nothing left to prove to the world, I just have a choice to grow old kicking and screaming all the way or to carve out a life I enjoy living for as much time as I am blessed with. In my carved-out world my blessings are a wonderful husband, two happy and independent daughters, truly amazing friends, good wine, good health (wine before health, hmmmmm) and an immense feeling of contentment and serenity. Oh, and I can fly! Namaste!