Monday, October 13, 2014

My Yoga Baseline

Let’s be clear. I ain’t skinny. At 5’8”, 185 pounds, all the charts say I’m overweight. And, though I’ve got a fair amount of muscle from years of bike riding and cutting and hauling firewood in my younger days, and though I lost 25 pounds (well, 30, but got 5 back, read back over the last year of posts to read about losing the weight), I’m carrying at least 30 pounds of extra fat around the middle. At 62 years old, it’s unlikely I’m going to become a yogi, a person who is proficient in yoga. And by proficient, I guess in my mind, I would have to be able to do a full lotus and maybe some other complicated, twisty poses.

Of course, by some definitions, a Yogi is simply someone “on the journey,” which reminds me very much of psychotherapy, Zen Buddhism, or nearly any “discipline.” At any rate, let me tell you some of the things I can’t do, so that, if over time I can do them, we can agree that Yoga has had an effect on my body. The possible mental/spiritual benefits I may report on, but I don’t know how I can objectively report a baseline short of asking people to write down their impressions of my personality now and some time in the future to see if it’s changed.

I cannot do a full or even a half lotus. In those poses you start cross-legged, bring one foot on top of the other thigh for half lotus and the other foot on top for full. Your knees should be touching or almost touching the floor. When I bring either foot on top of my thigh my knee sticks almost straight up in the air. And with one foot on a thigh the other won’t come anywhere near the other.

I cannot hang one arm behind my head, put the other behind my waist, and grasp hands, in fact my arms stay at least 6 inches apart (I’ll have my wife measure the gap before my next post).

I cannot do a full squat where my butt touches the back of my calves. I can almost get there, but my knees or thigh muscles protest. Same thing when I’m kneeling: can't sit on my heels.

I can touch my toes, hold my ankles, but can’t put my put my hands flat on the floor with my knees locked. I’ve got about 4 inches to go. I can’t come near folding my body in half and putting my head on the floor when I’m sitting on my butt no matter where my legs are. When doing “the clam” I get the closest. That’s where your legs are out in front of you with the soles of your feet together, you hold your feet and pull yourself forward and drop your head. Honestly, I can’t begin to do it. Maybe I’ll have Rita take a picture.

There are a million other things I probably can’t do or do right, but these are some of the important ones. So I have a long way to go. If you read my post last week, you know that one of the issues I have is a history of back pain. I’ve been pushing myself pretty hard this week, practicing yoga at least an hour each day using “Priscilla’s Yoga Stretches” a series of 15 minute programs which shows on WVPBS-2 in the Charleston, WV and online at She runs through her lessons pretty fast, so I take at least 30 minutes to complete a fifteen program because I’ll pause it to spend more time doing what I can do to approximate what she’d doing and maintaining and stretch more deeply into my facsimile of the pose.

In the course of my stretching, I have had cause to well remember back problems which plagued me between the ages of 25 and 45. I’ve come to realize that I never fully healed, or perhaps more accurately never fully strengthened myself after those episodes of severe back spasms and pain. And that is one of the reasons I am so tight.

The physical therapist who worked with me taught me that it was not really through stretching that I would heal my back, but through strengthening exercises. She taught me some, but after the pain receded I stopped doing them. The bike riding I do works some of those muscles as do a couple of the machines I use sometimes at the YWCA Nautilus, but I have to confess that actually strengthening my back and stomach muscles more than has been needed to keep pain at bay has not been something I’ve felt motivated to do…until now.

As I do the yoga stretches I feel the old ball of tightness down in my lower back on the left side and know that is what is keeping that left knee high in the air when I attempt half lotus and what is stopping me from bending far at the waist.

So, while I say I’ve been practicing yoga an hour or so a day, I’ve also been spending additional time as I sit and watch TV or even use the computer working those back and stomach muscles, stretching this way and that, tensing my “core”, even getting down on the floor sometimes to work on something. And as I walk around the house or take a walk outside, I’m trying to keep my stomach and lower back muscles tightened, which results in what I think of as the Denzel Washington walk (or the George W. Bush walk, but I really don’t want to compare myself to him)—a military walk: stomach in, back straight, butt tucked.

Okay, enough about me. How about posting your story about your back or your experience with back pain, yoga, or exercise? 

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