How yoga transformed one woman’s life, and tips for starting yoga midlife
By Cathy Beres
I am a walking cliché and proud of it. I’m one of those yoga-changed-my-life people you might try to escape at a party. No party here; just an open invitation to keep reading. Maybe you’ll find a bit of yourself in my story. Maybe you, too, at some point in your life, will find yourself transformed by yoga — or at least, just a bit better off for having come to the practice.
I dragged myself into my first yoga class six years ago, at age 54. De-conditioned, depleted and depressed, it seemed like the only physical activity I could muster. I had spent the prior three years caring for my terminally ill husband, while helping to keep his business afloat and my family on track. I had no idea what I would find. I thought yoga was pretty much just sitting cross-legged or resting in what I now know is Savasana (Corpse pose).
I started in an all-level vinyasa class at a studio a few blocks from my apartment, so there would be no excuse for not making it to class. The late afternoon time frame suited me, too. I was still in my sleeping-in phase after my husband’s death. I loved my bed then, and imagined the yoga mat would be an extension of my bed.
In the beginning, I felt completely lost. Before my husband’s illness, I had enjoyed Pilates, weights and lap swimming. Although I couldn’t imagine returning to the frenzy of a health club, the yoga studio still felt foreign to me.
The studio was so quiet, which I found a bit unnerving. Did I really want to hear my inner thoughts? I wanted to get away from them. An altar in the front of the room showcased a bronze bust of Buddha. The only altar I had ever bowed to was in church. And there were no mirrors. I didn’t mind this so much (I had put on 20 pounds over those few years), but I thought a mirror might help me learn. And what were the stacks of blocks and piles of straps for? Then I noticed the blankets. Things might be looking up. I grabbed two for what I was sure must be naptime at the end of class.
I was intimidated from the first forward fold. Everybody else knew what they were doing. I was down in Up Dog and up in Down Dog. My Warriors wobbled and my Tree toppled. My Bridge collapsed and my Boat sank. Mild hearing loss made it difficult for me to understand the Sanskrit terms. I disintegrated into tears at Savasana. At the end of class, I thought for sure we were wishing each other a “nice day,” instead of “Namaste.” As I left class, I tried not to look at anyone. I dragged my mat behind me, Linus-like.
What was I thinking? Yoga seemed complicated and much more work than I had imagined. But something drew me back the next week. It helped that the studio was nearby and the time, convenient. It helped that the studio wasn’t a gym, and the teacher was welcoming and kind. But none made yoga any easier. I still left dazed and confused.
I knew I had to do something physical for myself, so I decided to give it two months. I vowed to be consistent and if I did not feel any different at that point, I’d move on.
Over the next two months, I struggled through every class. Compared to my former exercise regimen, yoga seemed too gentle. I didn’t quite understand how the stretching and asana would whip me into shape, which is what I was looking for. It wasn’t aerobic and didn’t seem as musclebuilding as lifting free weights. I didn’t feel that I was “doing enough,” yet I couldn’t actually execute most of the poses. I often felt frustrated. During heart-opening, I needed a box of Kleenex by my mat at all times.
On my way to class at the two-month mark, I thought, “This is it. If I don’t feel better at the end of class today, I quit. I will move on, back to a gym perhaps or possibly back to my bed.”
Well, it wasn’t a lightning bolt, but something did strike me that day. On my way home from class, I noticed the bright blue sky, the brisk autumn breeze, the warmth of the late afternoon sun on my cheek. For the first time since my husband had died 14 months prior, I felt slightly better. I felt lighter. A shade was lifting.
I kept going to class.
Six years later, I am a 200-hour certified yoga instructor. Along the way, I’ve mastered some inversions, though I still struggle in Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon pose). I’ve danced, laughed, chanted and sobbed with amazing new friends. I’ve naulied and netied. My physical core is stronger, but the core you can’t see has benefited the most. I’ve dropped the 20 pounds but more importantly, I’ve gained an inner strength that has propelled me forward into a new world I never would have imagined for myself. I’ve been stretched beyond what I thought was possible — in every way.
Today, I am a graduate student in creative writing and a yoga teacher. I survived the unraveling of my 30-year advertising career during the recent economic downturn. I’m no longer on antidepressants, I’ve hiked in the High Arctic, dumped my big old car, emptied my nest and adopted two kitties.
All because of yoga? Well, yoga has been the only constant in my life over these last several years. How can it not be the yoga?
I never thought of myself as a lucky girl after what I’d been through, but now I do. I’m lucky to have stumbled into that first yoga class. Yogis would say it was karma.
Whatever. I am forever grateful. I hope you’ll find your way to a yoga class soon. You might just find yourself feeling lucky too.
For further inspiration, check out grand yoga diva Tao Porchon-Lynch, the oldest living yoga teacher. She is going strong at age 95.