You know how people say it’s never too late to learn something new, but we don’t quite believe them? We typically shrug our shoulders and stay put in our cozy comfort zones. Well, at 53, I’m living proof the old adage is true, not just for me, but for fellow mid-life women with aspirations, big and small. While one friend is digesting all she can about organic farming, another is learning to wallpaper her dining room. Never having had a music lesson in her life, my sister started taking piano lessons. Although my family has to endure her annual cacophonous concerts every Christmas, I say, good for her for tackling the ivories. For me, it was something else entirely. Standing on my head.
For some reason, I wanted to do it with every fiber of my being, from the crown of my head to the tips of what one girlfriend calls, my “freakishly long toes.” My obsession began shortly after I started practicing yoga several years ago. Always into fitness, I thought it would open up a whole new world of exercise for me, providing gentler cardio than running, more fluidity than peddling an elliptical, and maybe some peace of mind to boot. The very first time, I brought my daughter with me to a class at the local YMCA. I needed moral support and, at 19, she needed something wholesome to do.
Never having done a sun salutation or chanted an “om” in our lives, we were both apprehensive. About the only thing I did know was that one doesn’t wear sneakers to yoga, so I got us pedicures beforehand. We were welcomed by a serenely enthusiastic class of yogis. (How they love converts.) From the onset, the dynamic vinyasa flow of poses, the guided meditation, and the focus on breath and movement appealed to me. I related to the communal aspect of it, the combination of strength and flexibility, even the instruction sprinkled with Sanskrit, that ancient language that makes everything feel more ceremonial, more powerful.
Although my daughter never went back, I never looked back and have been practicing ever since. I discovered I was more flexible than I thought and developed a core and upper body strength I never had. This old dog was learning new tricks, from warrior postures to lizard and crow, but one pose eluded me time and time again, the formidable inversion, a.k.a. headstand. I became so consumed that I let the cardinal rules of yoga, quieting the mind and leaving one’s ego at the door, fall by the wayside. It took all the pranayama breathing I had to stay focused on my own mat without peeking at the upside down yogis in the studio all around me. Utterly un-yogalike, I’m ashamed to admit I was downright envious. In some kind of bizarro twist, this spiritual practice that espouses universal connections had turned me into a Narcissist!
On a mission, I became a thorn in my beatific instructor’s side. I studied master David Swenson’s bible, “Ashtanga Yoga Manual,” watched instructional YouTube videos, and practiced against a wall at home. Try as I might I just couldn’t do it in the middle of the room. Once I built up the core strength necessary, it was fear that got the better of me. I took solace in the fact that at least one other person on earth shared my fixation. Imagine my delight when I came upon a chapter dedicated to headstands as I was reading Anna Quindlen’s memoir. In Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, the prolific author went as far as to say, “I worked hard on this headstand, indefatigably, systematically, harder than I’ve worked on my own work, which comes fairly naturally to me.” For Ms. Quindlen, as for me, it was about transcending our age limitations, being able to will agility and ability, and overcoming our fears.
One day in class, something clicked. I aligned my hips, hugged in my elbows, tilted my pelvis just so, and up I went. Being upside down never felt so right. Exhilarated, I came home and was elated to see my 20-year-old son’s car in the driveway. He humored me as I demonstrated my soaring headstand, much like he used to proudly display his towering Lego masterpieces as a little boy.
It may seem like a piddling accomplishment to some, but I’ve got to remember there’s nothing meager about my euphoria. As Quindlen articulated, “I can do something today that I couldn’t do half a century ago. And if I can do one thing like that, perhaps there are others.” Empowered, now I’m giving golf a whirl. Attempting to persuade me to take up the sport, my husband has given me golf attire every Christmas for years. Either he really wants me to play or he figures buying me something at the golf shop saves him a trip to the jeweler. Regardless, I’m taking on the challenge and maybe “birdie” or “eagle” will become as much a part of my lexicon as “downward dog.”
Janice is a resident of Rye, New York and has been a regular contributing writer for “The Rye Record” for 13 years. She writes profiles and personal stories for various publications, including one piece in “The New York Times.” She has been married for 31 years and has three adult children.
in their 20s (yikes on both counts!)