I spend an afternoon each week sitting with indiviuals who are receiving chemotherapy. We talk about yoga, about the simplicity of breath.
I offer a moment of softening.
I spend an afternoon each week sitting with indiviuals who are receiving chemotherapy. We talk about yoga, about the simplicity of breath.
I offer a moment of softening.
Is a practice that is called "yoga", always yoga?
Who gets to say?
Who gets to be right?
For yoga, I say breathe.
In practice, let go of the big questions for the time being, just for now. And then come back. The world will most certainly be waiting. And you will bring your breath to it.
It is December and fires are burning again in California.
This past summer, I traveled to Northwest Washington, in the U.S. and then I ventured further North to Canada to see Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia. These are beautiful places.
As I arrived in B.C., fires were burning in the interior of the province. It was described as the worst wildfire season in the history of the province. Over just a few days, though I was some many hundreds of miles away from the fires themselves, I experienced the effects smoke and haze spreading to the ocean and beyond. The views of the nearby mountains were blotted out.
The fires burned and burned.
As I often write of the celebration of breath, I think now about inhalations full of smoke. I try to understand natural fires versus fires that occur from the misuse of land and the manipulation of climate.
I think about the need to seek space where breath can be clean. Is this our plight?
I send hope for clearing in the air in the skies and the forests and the cities, everywhere.
In Vancouver, the mountains are usually a very prominent feature of the vistas. I knew the mountains were there but I could not see them. I could not see them at all. it was eery and frightening. I hoped the air would clear, for the sake of the land and the trees, the homes.
News of the devastation of the fires to the land and to people's homes was ongoing and terrible.
I teach a number of yoga classes each week in a number of sorts of settings.
My students range in age from youngish to oldish.
For one, I teach a weekly class in a community center. Participants join me from the nearby neighborhood. It is a yoga class where much of the practice is done while sitting in a chair. We also stand. We use the stability of the chair or the wall's vertical presence for information and support. These props are part of our practice. This is yoga.
Additionally, I have taught in a number of corporate settings. I bring a yoga class to those who may spend hours seated at a desk staring at a computer screen. I offer those who join my class a break, a respite from their usual seated posture. We do yoga with a chair and we stand. In parting, I suggest bits of yoga that can be done for just a few moments, pushed away from the desk at any time during the work day. Good for the body, good for the mind. This is yoga.
I also teach in assisted living facilities and at a Senior Day Program. Some of my students have physical and cognitive challenges. In these classes, most often for the entirety, we stay seated in the chair. We breathe and we move. Each time I see these yoga practioners, I introduce myself. As I do in all my classes, I talk about yoga, about the possibility of coming to a practice that can help in leaving distractions, worries, concerns; the chatter of the world--all of that, outside of the room. Some people may not recall my name. Some may not remember me at all. Often however, I observe that the movements are recalled. The breath brings back the yoga. Often we find calm. This is yoga.
It's not about the chair.
By COREY KILGANNON MAY 5, 2017 New York Times
“Its not a basement; it’s a sanctum sanctorum,” said Ronnie Arond, 93, as a half-dozen yoga students convened in the basement of her modest house in Bellerose, Queens.
She and her husband, Hank Arond, also 93, had greeted the students in their living room and made small talk and introductions as if this were a weekly mah-jongg game.
But then Ms. Arond slipped away into her kitchen and began ringing chimes to summon her students to the basement stairs leading to her version of an ashram.
“We’re here to do yoga from the best instructor in the world,” she told her students one recent weeknight as she lit a candle to begin the class. “Which is really yourself.”
The basement has changed little since the Aronds first moved to their home in 1950. There is an antiquated television set built into a brown paneled wall. There is wall-to-wall carpeting and a dropped tile ceiling above, as well as a cocktail bar and the requisite bowling trophy on a shelf.
“It’s a time capsule from the ’50s, but at least it’s real,” Ms. Arond said. “We once had 36 people down here for Passover.”
If the setting hardly exudes an Eastern spiritual vibe, with dim lighting from an ordinary table lamp stuck in the corner, a serene aura still somehow descends, perhaps emanating from Ms. Arond herself.
She runs classes more in the manner of a zany Gracie Allen-type ingénue than some New Age guru affectation. She instructs with folksy patter sprinkled with wisecracking, delivered in a New Yawkese chirp. For her comedic groaners, Ms. Arond blames formative summers spent at Catskills resorts.
“If I don’t tell a joke, call an ambulance because something’s wrong,” she said.
“You can’t have yoga without humor,” she said while teaching the class. “Now lower the shoulders, breathe and enjoy.”
Ms. Arond began taking yoga classes 40 years ago at the Cross Island Y.M.C.A. in Queens, where she was teaching synchronized swimming. She began teaching yoga using an approach “made up of all things I borrowed from other teachers.” She taught both at home and at the Y.M.C.A., where she has a sizable following, even after taking time off to recover from a broken hip after a fall last year.
“The sidewalk attacked my hip,” she said, still wisecracking. “The pain was so bad, I was afraid I was going to live.”
When Ms. Arond returned to teaching at the Y.M.C.A. this spring, fliers were posted bearing her photo and a simple message: “She Is Back.”
The basement where Ms. Arond teaches yoga has changed little since the Aronds first moved to their home, in 1950. CreditCeleste Sloman for The New York Times
Both she and her husband are World War II veterans. Mr. Arond was in the Army Signal Corps, and Ms. Arond was an Army nurse. They began dating in 1943, and married a year later.
“We’re married 73 years, but it’s more like 36 and a half,” she said, “because half the time, I don’t listen to him.”
Ms. Arond said she grew up in the Bronx, then Queens, then Manhattan, as her family struggled during the Great Depression. After a friend joined the Army and was killed in Okinawa, she signed up at 17 for training as an Army nurse, she said.
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“I served in the Army, but we won the war anyway,” she cracked, adding that she served at Halloran Hospital, caring for wounded soldiers. “I was stationed overseas, on Staten Island — there was no Verrazano Bridge then,” she said.
“Me and my two sisters, we all became nurses,” she said. “With our white uniforms, my mother called us her three milk bottles.”
Halfway through the recent class, Ms. Around pressed play on an aging cassette player, which whirred to life with serene Indian flute music. Her teaching style is a mix of spiritual patter, pragmatic instruction and shtick. As she drones on, she manages to convey a Zen-like calm, guiding the class through asana poses and stretches.
“Think about the spaces between your toes — who ever talks about that?” she said. “Tighten your seat. Oh, squeeze it like never before.”
Then she led the class into a flamingo pose.
“After we’re done, we always say, ‘Oh we should have done the flamingo,’ so we’re doing it now,” she said, adding moments later: “Let’s do one more. Every time I say one more, something else comes to my head.”
She guided the students into a cat pose.
“Oh, feel that in your seat — no flabby bottoms here,” she said. “Let’s wag that left leg like it was a puppy dog’s tail.”
She directed the students into a rowing pose to strengthen the back muscles, because, she said, “For some of us, somebody sneezes in Chicago and your back goes out.”
After class, the students left $10 bills on an end table and headed up to the dining room, where tea and dessert were served.
It would not be a gathering without the Aronds being coaxed into their vaudeville-style comedy duet, in which they trade barbs and flirtations, with Mr. Arond supplying quick interludes on his violin and finishing by singing, “How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away?”
Around the table, Ms. Arond revealed the real truth.
“The yoga,” she said, “is just an excuse for the refreshments afterward.”
We close ours eyes in a blink, an instant of quiet.
We close our eyes in sleep.
In yoga we can close our eyes to turn our attention inward, to the sensations inside, to the breath. Breath takes us on a quiet ride, a natural cycle with the constancy of ocean tides. In classes I lead, with eyes closed, I suggest the image of the beach. The ocean, with the waters rolling up and back on the sand, offers a notion of the rhythms of the earth.
In the privilege of leading class, I see the quiet come to one who is agitated. That is the yoga.
Referring to this study:
J Am Geriatr Soc. 2017 Mar;65(3):592-597. doi: 10.1111/jgs.14717. Epub 2016 Dec 23.
A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial of the Effects of Chair Yoga on Pain and Physical Function Among Community-Dwelling Older Adults With Lower Extremity Osteoarthritis.
Park J1, McCaffrey R2, Newman D3, Liehr P3, Ouslander JG4.
I read this article recently published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society. The title is quite a mouthful.
Click the title above to go to the article.
And click HERE to see the conclusions summarized.
The study demonstrates that older adults in a chair yoga class led by an instructor, had physical improvements not reported in the control group. However, the benefits were largely not sustained after the end of the eight week study. Most participants did not continue to practice on their own.
My conclusion, community matters. Networks sustain us. Social interaction is beneficial for all, and especially for folks who may be more isolated. The practice of yoga can be a solitary experience. The practice does encourage turning inward, becoming mindful of your self. But yoga class is an opportunity to meet friends and share experiences Classes are very helpful. A teacher provides instruction and support and students work together. The instruction in class frames the experience and encourages the experience.
Practice yoga anywhere, any time. Practice as you wait for the traffic light to change (but keep your eyes open!) Practice as you push away, for a moment, from the computer. Practice on your mat, in your kitchen. But also, find others with whom to practice.
Find support in community.
I teach a yoga practice that fits the practitioner.
Sometimes the practitioner is in a wheelchair.
Sometimes a student is not quite sure he knows me. He may not remember our last class.
A student may not be sure that she has practiced yoga before.
We begin. The body remembers. The muscles embrace a familiar shape.
As we finish, we bring our hands to the center of our chests, to our hearts.
The light within me salutes the light within you. We say it together.
"Tree pose grows confidence." In reading about the tree pose, I found this precise phrase in many yoga conversations. It was repeated over and over again.
"Tree Pose' or in sanskrit, "Vrksasana” (vrik-SHAH-suh-nuh) is a lovely, beautiful pose that offers a chance to contemplate balance and concentration, to establish a sense of rooting down while also reaching up--like a tree.
As with many yoga postures, the tree pose can be modified with the assistance of a chair.
This video demonstrates. Click HERE to view. (UW Health)
Many of the folks I work with are "boomers."
Teenage angst is long gone and mid-life crisis is fading in the rearview mirror.
With the wisdom of experience--look ahead!
I follow Margaret Manning and her great website, "Sixty and Me." This is a wonderful, upbeat site offering all kinds of tips and thoughts and lots of encouragement for folks of all ages.
Check out the sixty and me website by clicking here.
In a recent post, Margaret Manning asks, "Can breathing exercises give you a healthy aging boost?" And she answers, "You bet!"
Click here to see the recent piece and video POSTED, about BREATH, the essential basis of yoga.
"Breathing is free. You can do it anywhere, anytime. It is a truly essential activity that can reduce stress and improve your health, energy level and mood. Start your journey to happiness today by clicking here: VIDEO." (http://sixtyandme.com)
In a blog piece published online by the US News and World Report entitled, "Yoga: A Surprising Solution to Your Political Stress," Jake Panasevich presents valuable thougths on the far reaching benefits of a yoga practice.
Click HERE to go to the piece.
We are living in a turbulent social and politcal time; a confusing time.
With yoga, we can take a break to turn our attention inward, away from the strife of the day. Yoga helps us find some quiet. We can embrace this quiet and then bring it with us into the confusion and the turbulance.
This is not to say that we will turn our backs on the world. I mean, it is a method to help be in the world. It is to say that a yoga practice helps us strengthen our bodies and our spirits. It gives us tools to go forward.
The very earliest writings about yoga describe it as a means to help quiet the "chatter' or the "fluctuations" of the mind.
We can pave a way through.
We raise our arms.
This is something we often do in my yoga classes. We hold our upper arms at shoulder height, we bend our elbows, we turn our palms to face forward and we breathe.
We hold this pose, aknowledging the weight of our arms, celebrating our strength, and embracing the power of a goddess. We are building strength.
Raise your arms. Raise your spirits.
Once again, I bring notice to the "Well" page of the New York Times.
On December 6, 2016, Nicholas Bakalar reports:
"A handful of nuts a day may be enough to reduce the risk for death from heart disease and other ills."
There is science behind this story.
I don't believe in panaceas, but I believe in possibilities.
I found myself grabbing an extra bag or two of nuts on a recent trip to the store. Why not?
Today's "Well" page in the New York Times includes an article presenting the benefits of breath. The author, Lesley Alderman offers evidence that, "Controlled breathing, an ancient practice, can reduce stress and soothe your body."
We are invited to: "Breathe. Exhale. Repeat." Click HERE to go to the article. Read about studies in the works. Celebrate scientific study that supports the healing, soothing powers of breath.
I always say. "Don't forget to breathe." In my classes, I say this with regularity. I know that often, even in the gentlest physical exertion, the breath tends to be held.
"Breath is the most important thing." As we practice yoga, this is something else I say with predictable regularity. My understanding of the long history of yoga has included this value since the time of Buddha.
Enter a classroom.
Often, but not always, the lights are low. Often, but not always, it is quiet.
Find space. Preparation for practice begins.
Often, but not always, there is a solemnity associated with the soft light and the quiet in the yoga room. This setting can help us start to turn inward. We are beginning, opening, letting go.
But what about laughter?
What about a yoga practice that embraces laughter, encourages laughter, even forces laughter?
Today in the New York Times, I read about the healing powers of "laughter yoga." The piece presents wonderful photos of this practice in process.
Celebrating the power of laughter.
See the article here.
In classes I teach, we often pause and practice lions' breaths together. I describe the experience as a moment to take a break, a moment to clear our breathing, to strtetch. We widen the muscles of our faces. And, with encouragement, we laugh.
We roar. It feels great.
In yoga, as in life, you bring all the pieces and parts of your story to the experience.
It is uniquely yours.
Paint your picture.
In today's New York Times, the "Well" page offers a lovely tid-bit. On aging, the report is entitled, "Growing Older, and Happier."
According to Nicholas Bakalar reporting on a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, "Older people tend to be happier than younger people,..." Click HERE to read his short article.
Bakalar quotes Dr. Dilip V. Jeste of the University of California, San Diego suggesting, "We become wise. Peer pressure loses its sting. Better decision-making, more control of emotions, doing things that are not just for yourself, knowing oneself better, being studious and yet more decisive."
Have you seen something for just an instant?
You turn to look again.
Others taunt me with having knelt at well-curbs
Always wrong to the light, so never seeing
Deeper down in the well than where the water
Gives me back in a shining surface picture
Me myself in the summer heaven godlike
Looking out of a wreath of fern and cloud puffs.
Once, when trying with chin against a well-curb,
I discerned, as I thought, beyond the picture,
Through the picture, a something white, uncertain,
Something more of the depths—and then I lost it.
Water came to rebuke the too clear water.
One drop fell from a fern, and lo, a ripple
Shook whatever it was lay there at bottom,
Blurred it, blotted it out. What was that whiteness?
Truth? A pebble of quartz? For once, then, something.
In a recent article published in the New York Times, Gretchen Reynolds reports that,
"A weekly routine of yoga and meditation may strengthen thinking skills and help to stave off aging-related mental decline, according to a new study of older adults with early signs of memory problems."
The article, entitled "Yoga May Be Good for the Brain", can be found here.
I support a regular practice of yoga and I celebrate studies exploring any and all possible benefits.
But I also remember, the benefit of yoga is strongest in the moment that you practice. It is best in each individual *now.*
The photo shows me leading a class. We have our arms lifted, elbows bent, palms forward. There are many names for this position.
"I Surrender", "Cactus", "Goal Post" or "Goddess."
By any other name, we are lifting our arms up and holding them. We are sitting tall and breathing into the subtle exertion of raising the weight of our arms. Building strength.