[By Nic Lindh on Friday, 14 February 2014]
I’ve been practicing Ashtanga yoga for a couple of years now and have come to some realizations.
First and most important is that I so suck at it: The liquid grace of a panther being run over by a garbage truck.
I am a terrible yogi, there’s no getting around it. I’m tall, fat and inflexible, equipped with muscles that resist all stretching. They want to be as tight as they always were and they are damn well going to stay as tight as they want. Period.
The second realization is, yoga is good for me.
Because I suck at it, not despite it: the suckage shows how much I need it. The damage wrought by a life sitting on chairs and couches is enormous. It’s not just that my hamstrings, quads and shoulders are tight, but the lower back, lordie, the lower back—it’s like a rotted oak tree. (Incidentally, it was lower back pain that first got me interested in yoga. And yes, yoga has helped tremendously.)
Yoga is also good for me since it forces me to be aware of my body. Since our brains are designed to notice differences, not things that remain the same, unless you stress your body you don’t notice your basic state. And if you don’t notice it, trust me, it’s bad. I now notice when my posture is crappy and try to make it better. Not subconsciously, yet, but if I keep practicing it will be.
So, yay yoga!
I’ve also noticed in class lately that more and more gray-haired guys are showing up to reduce themselves to shaking, sweaty piles and asked the instructor about it. She confirmed she’s seeing more and more men in her classes all over town. It seems word is getting out that as you age you have to start worrying about flexibility as much as whatever Rambo stuff you’re into.
It’s great from a selfish dignity point: More creaky middle-aged guys means fewer bendy twenty-year-old girls for me to compare myself to. It’s also great from a public health perspective. I’m convinced us over-the-hill guys need this. Join us, don’t be afraid, etc.
The problem, though, is how to keep doing something you’re no good at. It’s disheartening when people who are genetically gifted progress at lightning speed while my damn hammies go “nope.” Or even worse as happened this week when somebody shows up for their first class ever and are effing great at it. Just great at it. All kinds of aptitude. If this person keeps it up she’ll kick all kinds of ass at yoga. At the same time as I’m in the back of the short yoga bus eating crayons.
It can be hard.
The solution that works for me is tiny victories. Accepting that I suck and then looking for the little things that go right.
Getting the elbow that little bit closer to the outside of the thigh. Getting the hand that little bit closer to the feet. Sinking into downward dog with the shoulders that little extra bit loose that opens up the chest to where the pose starts to make sense.
Always that little bit. One tiny victory, inconsequential as it is, at a time.
Lengthen on the inhale. Fold deeper on the exhale.