Friday, February 28, 2020

Taking up yoga; sucking at it

It will be nice writing about something other than tea or the end of the world.  I think there are general lessons to be found in my latest health venture, taking up yoga, which relate most to someone at my age maintaining health or starting something new (I'm 51).

My wife had asked me to join her in getting into yoga before, and I had always declined.  She asked a couple of weeks ago if I would go to a class that day (here), and I said no, before I realized that it was February 14th, Valentine's day.  If that's what she really wanted instead of some dinner outing what could I do; I went.  Oddly I had practiced yoga a little when I was younger, used for stretching and getting focused before snowboarding.  Not in a class, just doing positions from a book.

my hair is on the way out too

It felt strange, being in that studio environment, with mostly women, all wearing the typical sort of uniform, stretchy tights and a functional athletic-tech material top.  So far so good though.

The instructor, an Indian guy I had met once before (who is really nice--that helps a lot), came in and mentioned that it was an advanced class--not ideal.  I was there already, ready to pose and stretch; it was a bit late to kill the planning.

It didn't go well.  Half of the positions I could do no problem, even for them being called out relatively quickly.  Most of the other half I wasn't even close to being able to do.  If it was just similar to not being able to touch my toes--one form of limitation that came up--that would be fine, but in lots of cases the basic starting point was beyond me, or I would just get lost in the pace of following along.  An example of the first:  one pose involved grabbing your big toe and pulling your leg up to something like a standing split.  Not happening.

those two in the bottom right are my kids

I thought that would be it for my yoga practice, but over the next couple of days I noticed that I was really sore in some odd places.  Not only did that session highlight unconventional limits to my flexibility, it also turned up that yoga would "work out" supporting muscles that weren't accustomed to being used at all.  Both were probably exactly what I needed, to turn back the process of my posture resembling a question mark due to sitting at a desk for a work-week (I work in IT), and to regain a higher level use of controlling muscle function.  I signed up for more classes, and went back the next week.

I just saw this, captioned "When you become a living golden ratio"

Maybe I never mentioned here that I took up running a bit over a year ago.  I'm not exactly fit, but I can run about 5 miles / 7.5 kilometers in around 40 minutes.  That's not helping my flexibility though.  And the learning curve process seemed a lot more comfortable, if a bit physically unpleasant.

The next week I attended an intermediate class instead, this time relating to "deep stretching."  Again I could do justice to half of what came up, and again severe limits came up.  It's hard to place what it's like experiencing a failing effort in a class setting like that.  My "classmates" were almost all tiny Asian women, who were much more flexible than an average person.  It almost seemed like cheating, them being so thin.  The idea is not to score yourself based on what the people around you are capable of, to focus on your own progress and experience, but it's still a bit frustrating.  It has to cross your mind:  what am I doing here?

tree pose, I think

I'm reminded of the idea that we don't chose sports based on a match to our likes, but rather to our aptitudes (which would naturally match up).  Tall and lanky people might tend to like running; short and heavy built people lifting weights.  Snowboarding was the sport that clicked best for me, and my body size, mechanics aptitude, and mental approach seemed to click for that.  I'm not a naturally gifted runner; I ran track and cross-country in high school and I was never going to do well in running sports, even with better than average training.  It would help to be thin framed and lean to do yoga but in general physical aptitudes would seem to matter less.

Exercising after 50 is nothing like starting those pursuits back at age 35 or so.  I noticed in taking up running that recovery time was really slow, and being prone to injury came up.  I was only ever injured once in nearly a decade of fairly intense snowboarding, in a crash, which my shoulder took a few years to self-repair.  I never had a calf strain, anything like shin splints, sore quadriceps or hamstrings (beyond normal conditioning issues).  I never took 2 or 3 days off any activity to heal in order to do it again.

Living in Hawaii in grad school I took up biking for transportation and never really even thought of that as conditioning, even though I spent an hour a day in transit on a bike.  Contrasting that with now, the last time I was injured was from crawling around a play area with my kids, hyper-extending my knee and experiencing what a doctor informed is called a "Baker's cyst," a minor joint fluid leak.  It's not as bad as it sounds.

I can kind of fit in those crawl spaces but it's a different experience than for my kids

The "lessons" parts here seem obvious enough; things get harder as we get older, and starting something new can involve a learning curve and acceptance of being terrible at an activity in a public setting.  Somehow people walking then running slowly, putting that lack of conditioning out there, doesn't seem quite as pronounced as a limitation.  I'd probably fare better in an actual "beginner level" yoga class, but in the center I've been attending that particular class instructor is Thai, so I'd be "training" via instruction in a language I'm not fluent in (to say the least).

My wife has some weight issues, and knee problems that make my own really seem like nothing, and she's regained a lot of body function, starting out in a more appropriate lower level and building up, as one would.  It's nice that she gets to assume the role of the better athlete between the two of us, for now.

I intend all of this as a warning to those who read it who are around my age, and getting out of shape (or better yet only around 40 instead).  Your body is going to degrade a bit, but there is time to counter that.  Just walking can help a lot, if it's down to doing that or doing nothing.  When I took up walking quite a bit more about 2 years ago I never expected it to lead to running, and then yoga, it was just a measure to see if I could resolve knee joint stiffness.  It worked, although that same knee isn't exactly 100% right now, slightly tweaked in two different ways.  I checked if it can support running nearly 4 km / 2 1/2 miles doing a short loop this morning; it can.

Related to the running, and one rare clear measure of progress, my resting heart rate dropped from the 70s to the 60s in the past year; maybe I'll live longer.  My cholesterol level, another main reason I took up the running, never did drop, still at the upper borderline.

One might wonder, how does any of this relate to tea?  I think it doesn't.  Maybe I'm holding up better for drinking lots of tea or maybe I'm not, but I kind of doubt it.  It's definitely not granting me joint flexibility, and drinking really significant quantities of sheng for two years also hasn't resolved that cholesterol level issue.  Maybe it's not "green" enough?

I still have faith that drinking tea is probably quite healthy, but one has to be practical about these sorts of issues, and take a broader approach than relying on just a beverage choice input.  Being in relatively poor health is definitely an option, but what that means in terms of limitations tends to change at different ages.

About the yoga theme conclusions, maybe I'll check back in after a few months and write from a different perspective than that of an absolute beginner.  It would make for a nicer story to talk about how it was all really working out.

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