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Yoga by Deborah Nolan

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In my latest release with Desert Breeze Publishing, HELLO AGAIN, the heroine, Cassie McBride, is new in town and trying to meet people and make friends. A colleague suggests she take a yoga class. Cassie is new to yoga and intimidated. In class, she puts her mat at the edge of the room where the other self-conscious and slightly older folks are and lies in wait for the inevitable much-dreaded first Downward Dog.

I wrote that chapter when I was still new to yoga and it’s based upon my own experience. After retiring from working full time nearly ten years ago, I was determined to try yoga. For some reason, I was sure that yoga would be the perfect exercise for me if I gave it a try. But even in hip Hudson, NY or sophisticated NYC, where I split my time, it took me a while to find the right place. The yoga classes at the nearby fitness center were populated by mostly twenty-somethings. They made me feel bad about myself, reminding me that I was not athletic and confirming that I was as inflexible as I feared.

I’ve since learned that although the instructors at gyms may be competent they’re not necessarily good teachers, in fact they’re often lacking that “zen” personality which makes all the difference in the world. I eventually realized what I really was looking for was a yoga studio.

I was lucky to find one in my neighborhood on the Upper Westside and then another in Hudson. I can’t say I’ve mastered every Vinyasa flow sequence since, or that I’m even ready to leave level one classes, but I now manage to get through a series of Downward Dogs without expiring or even perspiring too heavily and have come to truly appreciate yoga. I even have fantasies that I may, some day, for an instant, manage a headstand.

So what was it about yoga that initially appealed and why have I kept at it even in the face of unsympathetic teachers? It’s not about getting thin which had initially been one of my goals. Unfortunately, yoga is not the answer. Although a class can be aerobic, that’s not what it’s about and many classes aren’t aerobic at all, but involve stretching and meditation, which are wonderful.

Although yoga is not about losing weight, it is about being fit. As most of us age, our posture suffers. And especially as writers, we habitually slump over when we’re at our desks on the computer. A session of yoga is a constant reminder to sit up straight, with shoulders back and down, head centered, not leaning forward. Done right, that position alleviates back pain and makes most of us look ten years younger, certainly a good thing.

Then there’s the flexibility issue. My biggest fear with yoga was that I would have to contort my body into a pretzel-like shape. That hasn’t happened yet and at my age, never will. But I have stretched in every direction at just about every class. All that stretching has pretty much eliminated my sciatica problems. It also proved helpful this past winter when I was hiking in the Caribbean. Half way through the hike, when there was no turning back, we found out that to continue we’d have to crouch down and slide through rock formations in order to get to the other side. I’m sure I’d still be there, on the other side of the boulder, if it hadn’t been the last few years of regular yoga. Yoga has helped me to be more flexible, but more importantly it’s taught me to forge ahead and not be afraid because there’s always a way.

Which brings me to the heart of the matter. Yoga is not a competitive sport. It’s about one’s own experience in the class and focusing on one’s own needs and goals.

This is very different than how we Westerners approach an exercise class or most any other experience. Simply put, we’re not to compare ourselves to anyone else in the class and instead need to think and feel how we’re doing. Right from the beginning of class when we sit in silence, with good posture, we explore what’s going on in our own bodies. As we’re taken through the day’s exercises, it’s the same, checking in with our selves and determining what’s working and what’s not. And, if we do manage to balance in tree poise, that’s good! And if we don’t, it’s simply not our day. Some days our balance is better than other days. Which also applies to the headstand I someday might achieve. Even if I get there and can do one, I’ll still be me. I will just be able to do a headstand.

So ultimately, for this retired New York lawyer, it’s fair to say that the most important lesson yoga has taught me is not flexibility or even fearlessness, but to try and achieve mindfulness and awareness that life is not about winning or losing but about figuring out what is really important. I’m working on it. As for Cassie McBride? I like to think yoga helped her move forward in her life after her divorce, and ultimately find happiness.

Deborah Nolan

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