Sensual, Slow and Unsupple…

At the beginning of this year, 2015, I took up an activity I never in my entire life intended or expected to dabble in; yoga. I’d always been dismissive in my fit, running and aerobics years, feeling that static activity such as Yoga or Pilates was both boring and pointless.

Nobody was more surprised than I. But there were a number of reasons for placing a tentative toe on the yoga mat, which were as follows:

1] I’d been diagnosed with a chronic disease during the latter stages of 2014, resulting in two months of exercise stagnation. I needed to make a start on some kind of return to fitness. Yoga, I thought might provide a slow way in.

2] During my enforced incarceration due to illness the gym I’d been attending closed down-an event that seemed grossly unfair. It shut when I wasn’t looking! I had to find somewhere new and something new to do.

3] I was also curious. Yoga began to develop over five thousand years ago in Northern India and since then has never gone away. Today more than thirty million people practice it, so I figured there must be a benefit to contorting your limbs into a tangle or placing your feet behind your ears.

The ideas I’d formed, as you can see were stereotypical and skewed. I’d considered that since I found it uncomfortable even to sit on the floor with my legs crossed I’d never accomplish that pose with feet on either knee-and I was correct! I haven’t.

But I have discovered benefits. For a start, it seems indulgent to lie down on the floor and think of nothing except your breathing and ‘how you feel today’. [This is how we start]. Many of the slow movements and the poses concentrate on flexibility. Others are designed to improve balance and stability-much like Pilates. Flexibility and balance are two abilities that have a tendency to deteriorate with age, so to me it makes sense to try and maintain them.

In the class we are all ages, sizes and levels of fitness. There is no element of competition. The teacher is a slim, supple sprite who is able to contort herself into any imaginable shape; but she has no expectations of her pupils. We follow as best we can and if our limbs fail us there are alternative ways we can arrange them. That very lack of rivalry, the slow, undemanding moves from one position to another is what provides the satisfaction and sense of wellbeing.

There must be something in it. At the very least, if I am walking on the beach and need to stop and empty my shoe of sand I am able to remove it, tip out the sand and replace it on to my foot while standing still unaided on the other foot. [Fit ex-footballer and rugby player and cycle-freak, Husband cannot do this!]. It is the result of practising numerous ‘tree’ poses.

‘Guler sharsener’ says the teacher, or ‘namastay’ or some such exotic sounding phrase. Who knows what it all means? And does it matter?

Where is Your Threshold?

At a party last January a fellow guest, on asking if I was retired wanted to know how I ‘filled my days’. Fill my days? I found this question startling, for my concern is not ‘filling days’ but rather, how to cling on to each day ‘Carpe Diem’ fashion when there are to be less and less of them.

But it is true that many fear retirement for the boredom that may ensue. Most ‘take up’ activities, golf, good works or learning something. You hear stories of failing marriages as couples get under each other’s feet when precipitated into close proximity for so much of the time.

The Offspring are fond of recalling well-known phrases and sayings from their childhood that seem to have been uttered by their mother with monotonous regularity. Among these is ‘I wish I had time to be bored’-my retort to any complaints regarding ennui they may have had. And I did wish it. With a full-time teaching post, two small children and a house to renovate I did fantasise about having the time to play solitaire, file my nails or watch the gloss drying on the skirting boards.

The fact is, as a generation I think we were taught as children to tolerate boredom. I have early memories of rising on Sunday mornings, polishing my shoes and traipsing down through the village with my brothers to Sunday School. I realise now, of course that this was no more than a cunning ruse on the part of my parents, who felt no need to accompany us, to snatch a sneaky child-free hour or two. Sunday School was deadly dull and set the bar for Church, which ensued when we became too old for Bible stories in the vestry.

Church services were a masterclass in boredom. What was there to do, once you’d scrutinised your fellow worshippers, found the hymns in the book, fiddled with the tassels on the hassock, shredded the sweet wrapper in your pocket?

School assemblies came close and were exacerbated by the excruciating discomfort of sitting for aeons on a cold, hard floor. But the boredom they provided amounted to a theme park ride compared to the crushing tedium that was ‘Speech Day’-thankfully only once a year, but a feast for connoisseurs of monotony.

School lessons themselves seemed to have been planned with boredom in mind. A gowned teacher would appear in the room, at which we would stand up; they would mount a small podium and sit, at which we would sit. They would open a file and read ‘notes’ from it, demanding that we, the unhappy, captive addressees would write it all down in our ‘rough’ books. What an impressive frittering of time it all was! Compare this method to teaching strategies of today, where teachers must compete with screens, swing from chandeliers, use fancy dress or formulate elaborate scenes to grab children’s attention!

That today’s preoccupation with saving children from boredom is laudable is in no doubt-nevertheless I, personally have never found the occupation of time to be a problem, so maybe it was all that early training?

Part 2…Grace’s Guide to Happy Old Age

                …So much for the experts’ guide to ageing. I am no expert, but I may be moving towards knowing what makes for a happy, healthy old age. For the majority it must be a desirable state. Who would plump for the alternative? You would have to be in a miserable condition to choose to be either unhealthy or the ultimate in ill health.

Exercise

                Some of the experts’ ideas are on the right track, but to me they seem too narrow, too prescriptive. For instance, why weight lifting, particularly? There can be few people left on the planet who don’t realise by now that exercise is good for you, but any kind of activity will surely suffice? I’d opt for something you enjoy-swimming, walking, dancing, gardening, cycling-even housework [perhaps not so enjoyable]. Experience has demonstrated to me that activities which are not fun or enjoyable will not be sustained. I never got any fun from weight machines. On the other hand I love Zumba.

Eating

                Again, you would have to have lived on a desert island not to know that overweight is bad [in which case-you would be unlikely to have become fat, due to having to hunt for food]. Food intake is closely linked to the above [exercise]. It’s not difficult. Fuel in-expend fuel. Too much fuel without enough expenditure=surplus. I can’t see the need to fast, and in any case it is unpleasant.

Brain

                I agree it is best to keep the grey matter in good order. If learning a language is what you enjoy, go ahead and learn one. Learn lots of languages! But I’d say there are plenty of ways to maintain the cells. Reading, discussing, learning, writing [of course!], observing, crosswords [if difficult enough], those number things with a Japanese name. In the future I’d guess more old people will be accustomed to computer game playing. I confess ignorance as to the value of these.

Others

                This is a tricky one. According to the ‘expert’ marriage and/or a strong social network were crucial to staying healthy. But I’d place the emphasis on the ‘happy’ part where marriage is concerned. For some, once the world of work and bringing up children comes to an end there is little left in a marriage and it could be more stressful to continue as a couple than as individuals. In retirement you spend much more time together as a couple. Similarly, the company of friends can sometimes provide more problems than it solves. But I do agree that loneliness can be a stressful emotion.

                The experts were all agreed that stress should be avoided in order to live into advanced years. I’m with them on that. This is not to say a little excitement should be avoided however. But how you do it, I reckon is not rocket science at all. Enjoy life and live it to the full!