Looking aging in the face and on the mat

Photo: Michael moves into full wheel pose, with aid from friend and Desirée
Urdhva Dhanurasana or wheel pose. My friend Glenn Buco helps move deeper into the pose. One of my better days from three years ago

I’ve been a bit swamped by my new job, to the point that I haven’t made it to many yoga classes, visited the fitness center or stepped up my home practice to make up for these shortcomings. I’ve been swept up in the new work demands, the fresh challenges, my enjoyment of accomplishing my tasks and exceeding my goals. Just because I am happy at work does not mean that there’s no stress jazzing my metabolism.

Last weekend, I went to a couple of yoga classes and it came crashing down on me at the end of class. It was hard! My jammed wrist kept me from doing any but the minimal weight-bearing on my arms.  My months-long battle with bronchitis and sinus infection has sapped by stamina and strength. The holidays had provided further distractions, with my son visiting from California and family celebrations around the dinner table. I added another five pounds, weight that was resistant to remove in a quick and painless way.

Even the old routine things that seemed to help me stay active have been eliminated: the mile or so walk to and from the Metro station, taking the walk home from the Metro instead of being picked up, climbing nine flights of stairs several times a day (my new office building doesn’t allow entry via the stairwell), and walking the dogs (not in these frigid temperatures). I drive my car into the basement parking, and then climb three flights of stairs to get into the building lobby: that’s the sole “trick” to make me work. I’ve got a job that makes me sit in front of a keyboard for most of the work day, and even put in extra hours to meet rock-hard deadlines. I sin on the side of overexerting to show my work capacity.

This past weekend, when I was cowering in child’s pose, trying to recover my breath, I had a  vision of what happens to someone who retires from work (or loses a job), and life collapses in on you—the home, the comfy armchair, and the wide-screen, high-definition TV and cable. If there is a catastrophic illness that confines you to bed for a while or impairs your body, there will be a sudden drop-off in physical skills and strength. That’s why hospitals make people get out of bed after surgery as soon as possible.

It is so easy to reduce physical activity to the minimally essential. In the past, I relished the physical glow that came after a solid yoga session. Now, on the other hand, it’s a dull ache and awareness of feebleness that seem to stick in my mind. It’s harder to build up the willpower to get to the next class.

The kicker

Cover art: Fierce Medicine by Ana T. Forrest
Fierce Medicine – I will write about this book as soon as I get around to reading it (?)

I have often cited Ana Forrest from an online interview: most recently a year ago: “What I’ve found, no mat­ter what age we are, we can build healthy mus­cle tis­sue [and neu­rons /​ MLS] or we can rot. And the choice is always ours. And I’m not into rot.” So my awareness is not new. I am not into rot either, but reversing that decay is even harder when I am over 60 years old. It’s harder to lose the extra pounds; it’s harder to regain strength and balance.  The recovery curve is not as steep.

These new circumstances mean that I have to re-calibrate my life balance. Luckily, my daily commute is 30 minutes, total, so I have more free time. I have a fitness center on the first floor of my office building that’s available to me any time I want. My yoga studio is only a few blocks off my route between office to home so I can stop there instead of going home and being diverted from my intention of exercising. I just need to pack my gym bag and yoga mat in the car every day.