Yes, I should try yoga. Yes, I know I should try yoga. And yes, I was telling myself it was time to try yoga even before I saw this story in today’s Boston Globe. In fact, it’s a bit of a coincidence: among the many possibilities for self-improvement that I contemplated last weekend while I was away on a two-day retreat was that I should take up yoga.
What happened over the weekend was typical for me. Twenty women gathered in the spacious living room of the retreat house at 8 AM. I passed them as I headed out the door for my daily run. An hour later, we met up again: they’d done a long and well-focused yoga sequence; I’d run five miles. We all felt rejuvenated and well-exercised.
At the time, the idea of yoga provoked its usual reaction from me. Many of my friends practice yoga regularly; my mother has taught it for nearly forty years, “way before everyone else was doing it!”, as a long-time acquaintance remarked recently. One of my closest friends studied it so seriously for a while that she almost became what her family referred to as a “yoga nun” (apparently there really is such a thing). So it’s a question I’m faced with fairly frequently.
“Runners don’t like yoga,” I always say dismissively. “There’s nothing wrong with it; I just can’t sit still long enough. Why devote an hour to exercise if you’re not going to reach your target heart rate?” Or, put more bluntly, I can’t be bothered to work out if I’m not going to burn measurable amounts of fat in the process. And although I know there are some forms of yoga in which an aerobic heart rate is the goal, these are generally not the kinds my friends are practicing. In the past, I just haven’t been able to get past the fact that for my exercise value – by which I really mean the time I devote to it – I want the effects of running: the pounding heart, the invigorating fresh air, the justification to eat a few cookies afterwards.
Plus I just know I’d be really bad at yoga. I’m not a very graceful person and I’m remarkably inflexible. (I mean that literally, not just where decisions about breaking up my regular running routine to give yoga a chance are concerned.) I have short, tight muscles that don’t like to stretch. I’m absolutely certain I’ll look clumsy and ridiculous and I won’t be able to achieve any of the poses.
But all it took was one overheard conversation recently to make me think a little bit differently. My mother was explaining to someone who had just taken her yoga class why it remained so important to her. She described how she’d seen firsthand the importance of flexibility in aging bodies. Her own mother, who lived to 93, had inclinations similar to my own: she loved fitness activities but lacked the patience for slow stretching. As my mother put it in the conversation I dropped in on, her mother had played tennis and skied into her 80’s and never carried an ounce of fat on her lean, athletic frame – but in the end, she still paid for her lack of suppleness and muscle resilience. As she grew very old, as my mother put it, “she just sort of shrank away.”
Since I saw my grandmother regularly during those years and could picture exactly what my mother meant – my grandmother really did seem to melt away to nothing in her final years, even though she was never in particularly bad health – it was a wakeup call. I may care more right now about burning fat than developing long sinewy muscles or graceful balance , but if my grandmother is any indication, I might regret those priorities if I live long enough. Right then, I resolved to give yoga another chance.
So now it’s just a matter of making it enough of a priority. A friend who heard me talk about this on the retreat offered to lend me her yoga Wii program, which strikes me as a great way to try it out but ultimately not exactly the right way to go about it: I know that for my friends who practice yoga, being at the studio with an instructor and other students is a significant part of the overall experience for them. And yet at the same time, I know how often my primary reason for not doing something I should do – from picking up the dry cleaning to buying a book I want – is the odious suburban reality of getting into the car and driving. Do I want to add another hour or more of driving every week for the sake of yoga?
It’s been only a few days, but so far I still haven’t done anything about it other than admit to my mother that she’s right. (Of course, that in itself can be a big step for a daughter to take. But it still doesn’t have too much to do with reaping the benefits of yoga.) I read the Globe story this morning and agreed with everything the author said. I know I need to put my priority into action and get myself off to a yoga class. I need to give it the three-week chance that any new pursuit deserves.
Slow down. Start at the beginning. Take a chance. Try it out. Not an easy message for a veteran runner, but clearly one I need to take more seriously.