“The body is your temple. Keep it pure and clean for the soul to reside in.” ~B.K.S. Iyengar, Yoga: The Path To Holistic Health
When I was first diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis I was 26 years old and in good physical shape. I worked in Manhattan and walked 16 blocks from the Port Authority Bus Terminal to my office – in rain or snow or sunshine.
I lived in Weehawken, N.J., a township located along the Hudson River that overlooked Manhattan. It was a ten-minute car ride into New York City – if by some miracle there was no traffic.
Each day after work, when I returned home to my apartment, I would slip into my workout clothes (no leg warmers or head band!) and pop my new Jane Fonda Workout video into my VCR (for those of you too young to know what a VCR is, it is a video cassette recorder.) The workout kept me in shape, feeling limber and balanced.
I moved to the suburbs after I got married in 1988 and had my son in 1992. When my son was in middle school I decided to take a yoga class. I was beginning to feel like my entire body was one tight knot, and the pounds were slowly creeping up on me.
I asked my friends for recommendations for a good yoga class, and finally found a wonderful teacher at a local yoga studio. She taught an intermediate class (you know – handstands and all) but assured me she could adapt the more difficult moves to my disability (by then my MS caused my right leg to be totally numb and weakened).
In the beginning my version of the Downward Dog (hands and knees on the floor pushing your hips up toward the ceiling with a straight back – it looks like your body is forming the letter “V”) was standing parallel to their full-length mirror with my hands pressed against it, my feet a few feet behind me, feeling the stretch in my calves and feet.
My teacher had great patience with me, and weeks later I finally did a true Downward Dog with the rest of my class! Once again I began to feel more limber and balanced.
Somehow life got away from me, as it always seems to, with daily responsibilities as wife and mother. I stopped taking yoga. Months turned into years without any yoga classes. I went to a few Restorative Yoga classes at a different yoga studio, but it never felt as comfortable or rewarding.
Now that I am in my fifties, my muscles feel tight and achy all of the time, and getting out of bed in the morning is a daily treat because my legs won’t work the way I want them to – they stiffen up overnight.
I finally – finally – thought to myself that enough is enough. If I feel like this now how will I feel in ten, twenty or thirty years? It was time to take care of my body again. It was time to get back to yoga.
A few weeks ago I signed up for a Gentle Yoga class taught by a lovely woman whose class I’d taken a few years ago at my local library. I nervously walked into the studio with my yoga mat and blanket (dusted off!) and chose my place on the floor.
I began my warm-up by stretching my legs straight up in the air while pressed against the studio full-length mirror, my arms stretched out behind my head on the floor. After the teacher began class we heard three gentle yoga chimes slowly ring in the air until their sound faded. We were ready to begin.
I followed my teacher’s instruction for each pose, paying more attention to my breath with every move. We meditated with each pose, stretched every part of our body and balanced ourselves through deeper breathing. I immediately felt spiritually renewed.
I knew in my heart I was in the right place doing exactly what I was meant to be doing. Again.
As we age we need to keep our bodies and our minds toned, limber and active. We need to consider the quality of life we want to have as we grow older.
Three of my grandparents died in their sixties from heart attacks. My mother, like her mother, has arthritis. Everyone reading this has his or her own set of family genes to contend with. It may be heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes – whatever it may be, we need to think about what we can do right now to try to live a better quality of life. (Of course the reality is that life doesn’t always go according to how we’d like it to, but shouldn’t we try our best to have the best possible life?)
You can consider yoga as I did, or perhaps you’d prefer t’ai chi, or another complementary therapy. Take a complimentary class first to see if the class you choose is right for you.
Talk to the instructor beforehand if you need answers to any questions you may have – make a list of questions if you need to. A good instructor should be more than happy to help make you feel more comfortable with their class no matter what your physical needs are.
(Of course please consult with your doctor before taking any class.)
Remember, you are taking an important step forward for yourself. This is a gift you are giving to yourself – the gift of good health.
Cathy Chester blogs at anempoweredspirit