Sunday, January 29, 2012

Assuming Any Pose You Wish; Or Not - Day 22

Walk: Presidio Golf Course - Best Buy - Trader Joes - Home Distance: 3 miles

I had a friend in the newspaper business and used to visit him at work. His desk was right next to the headline writer for his section of the paper. That's the first I knew that some people specialized in headlines, and now I can only imagine that the person who wrote the (recent and infamous) New York Times headline "How Yoga Wrecks Your Body" must have received tenure or a raise or another cigar or whatever reward you get at the NYT.

One of my students sent me a WSJ column about the NYT article so the topic is up for me again. (See my January 10, 2012 post). The WSJ column was written by one of the gentler 'pro wreck' supporters, Joe Queenan. I guess it's sort of cute, but - even though part of me can understand why yoga gets so much media attention -I still find all this talk, hype, newspaper article-writing about yoga to be odd. I've done sports my Entire life, and absolutely never did I have to defend myself for playing tennis, or golf or riding my bike or horses, nor for skiing (water and snow), or for my school gym sports or for any of the other sports I've participated in over a life time. These were all non-issues which I sincerely hope yoga settles into being as well.

No, its not a sport per se, although it is becoming more and more athletic as it is westernized. But it should be immediately clear even to the most non-athletic that it is in that realm if they come to just about any yoga class. And if it isn't an activity that appeals or calls to them, they can choose to leave or never come back. I did that with bowling, high jump, broad jump, snowboarding, and many other physical activities that didn't interest me for whatever reason. I never mentioned I wasn't doing these things - and certainly didn't feel a need to write a column about my reasons. Nobody would have read it anyway. 'Why I Don't Wrestle' just wouldn't have been published or read.

As I said, I've responded to the NYT article in at least one of my blogs (January 10, 2012 for instance), but one of Joe Queenan's comments particularly got my attention: Yoga also lacks the passion and intensity of basketball and football and all the other forms of exercise that have wrecked my body, but done so gradually in a very positive, life-affirming fashion.

In the illustration that accompanies his column , Mr. Queenan looks to be around 60, so I wonder if he is still playing basketball and football. I'd guess the key word in the quoted sentence is 'gradually' because he probably hasn't done any of those positive, life-affirming activities in years.

Nor have I skied for years, even though it was my personal favorite sport. To say this is a gross understatement; I'm a bit like Vince Lombardi about skiing - it wasn't just everything to me, it was and is the only thing. Skiing is glorious, it skips the bounds of earth, it is the fountain of youth, 'better than sex', etc.

I lived at the base of a world-renowned ski mountain for years. The first winter I probably skied 70% of the days the mountain was open (December to early April). Certain days were just too forbidding in terms of blinding snow, howling winds, shut down lifts, ice - or maybe I wasn't feeling up to it. The second winter I skied a little less, and gradually I became like most residents - a fair weather skier just out for the beauty of the mountain, the clarity of the air and to maybe 'touch the face of god' (John Mcgee, The High Flight). Over those winters I saw or heard of people on the mountain being injured even killed; I myself had some very scarey encounters with rocks, trees and ice - and went from 'being' young and invincible to being someone for whom the bells tolls.

Gradually I came to acknowledge that between my aging body and demands on my time, I could not ski or play tennis or even run every day. Even if my body didn't age or my time was totally free, weather dictates much of when you can ski or play tennis or do most sports. Maybe you join a club with the right indoor facilities for your sport, but, even if you have the money and ease of access, driving a golf ball into a net or working a rowing machine is never quite the same as the real sport.

Meanwhile, the very best thing you can do for your body is move it every day - optimally in a fashion that agrees with you and retains a certain interest and newness. That's where yoga and walking rose to the top of my personal list. I don't have to schedule a tennis game or any outdoor activity with a weather dependent provision. Frankly, I don't even have to schedule those things at all or be dependent on an opponent or partner. If the weather is so terrible that even stepping outside is forbidding, I can unroll my mat on my living room floor, turn on a cd and do yoga. In so doing I can release tightnesses and tensions which will allow blood to flow more freely thereby bringing nourishment to cells throughout my body and fluidity to ligaments, tendons, breathing, mind. That works for me. Gradually yes. Gradually, for sure, but it works every day, every weather condition no matter how old I grow.

Many days as I do yoga I miss skiing. Today for instance: it is a beautiful, clear, crisp sunny day at the end of January when the slopes are quite open before the February holiday crowds. My absolute favorite skiing conditions. Sadly, there are things we all need to leave on the shelf. But mercifully life is full, and there are many new and positive activities to turn to. For some people, yoga is one of them, and they just practice quietly, unheralded and find it to be life-affirming.
Here is a comment exchange about the above article that make me smile:

- Yoga is important because a yoga class is THE place to meet women.
- I hear the views can be spectacular.

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