by Cathy Beres
When people ask me “what’s the secret to your energy and vitality?” my answer is simple: yoga. Research has shown that many aspects of yoga from the physical to the spiritual can help contribute to a longer, healthier life. It keeps us focused, flexible, strong, and openhearted as we journey forward beyond middle age. But did you know yoga might relate to aging in other, less expected ways? I was recently struck by this thought while visiting my 88 year-old Mother in Cincinnati. If you’re a baby boomer like me, you might find yourself navigating new territory with an aging parent. Let yoga be your guide!
My visits to mom have changed over these last few years. Not so long ago, we were doing chair yoga together at the retirement housing complex she lives in. We shopped for bargains for hours, had ladies lunches out, saw movies, visited museums and cheered at baseball games. Now when I visit Mom, a big day means eating lunch together in the community dining room followed by Bingo, then visiting in her apartment and back to the dining room for dinner. The most I can hope for is a trip to the grocery store which can easily take two hours or longer to allow for her slowing gait and getting the walker in and out of the car. Conversations have grown limited; her hearing is not good and she refuses to wear her hearing aids. What she doesn’t hear, she forgets.
I used to get cross with her for giving up on chair yoga. At 10:45 in the morning, it’s too early for her she says. I used to get upset at her disorganized cabinets and expanding clutter. I often grew impatient with her forgetfulness. “Mother, try, think!” I would admonish as she stared blankly into space, searching for answers to simple questions like the day or date. I thought I could force her to remember somehow, I thought I could will her to continue the physical activities she once enjoyed. I thought I could wave a magic wand and return her to her younger, more vibrant self. The Mom I used to have so much fun with.
On my most recent visit with my Mom, I had an epiphany. Seeing her navigate the halls of her apartment building with her walker, beaming at each and every person she passed, I realized I wasn’t approaching my mom’s aging in a yogic manner. Doesn’t yoga teach us to be mindful and to live in the moment? Yet here I was, trying so hard to push my Mom beyond the moment to places she could no longer grasp. Doesn’t yoga teach us to start where we are? Yet I was trying so hard to change wherever I found my Mom to be with each visit. Doesn’t yoga teach us to let life unfold on it’s own? Yet I kept trying to control what I could in my Mom’s life.
What occurred to me is that I need to accept the intricacies of my Mom’s aging. She can’t do chair yoga anymore but she still knits. She won’t go on outings to museums, but she will go grocery shopping, to church, and to visit my brother who lives nearby. She won’t bargain shop for spiffy new clothes, but she still puts on her make up and cares about her appearance. She doesn’t remember what we did yesterday but she stops to chat with every person she comes in contact with. I have to meet her where she is. And she’s still here. I have to be grateful for that.
As I write this, I’m riding the Mega Bus home from Cincinnati. Kissing her good bye as she stands in the lobby hanging on to her walker always makes me sad. Yet this time I felt a little more at peace. I’ll be back soon and we’ll do and talk about the same things all over again. I’ll take a deep breath and meet her in the moment. When it comes to the elderly, maybe that’s all we really can do.
Now it’s back to the mat where I’ll stretch out the kinks from the long ride home and try to fight that aging process!