It's flattering when people comment on the photos of my yoga practice on Instagram. You see, I'm 52-years-old and took up daily yoga in August. But I don't want people who look at my pictures to think I achieved this flexibility, strength and focus in just a few months. Yoga is a long trek, and it's not about twisting into a convoluted pose in which you miraculously feel eternally blissful. It is a path you tread for many years to achieve physical balance and inner peace. It's about working with the body and mind you have on any given day. No more, no less. My real yoga journey started 40 years ago when someone gave me this now yellowed and tattered copy of Richard Hittleman's Yoga: 28 Day Exercise plan.
A lifetime of bodywork
When I was 12-years-old I started running. But I found that although I enjoyed running, it often translated into shin splints and other painful injuries. I needed something else that would help me stay flexible and be more relaxed. That something was yoga. Every day as a tween and teen I would pull out a towel (I do not remember ever having a mat) and do my yoga.
As I grew older, I set aside that discipline because I was attracted by the aerobics craze of the 80s. In my early 20s I became a fitness instructor. Those were the days of Reebok hi-tops and leg-warmers. As I grew older, I found other forms of exercise I also enjoyed: modern dance, ballroom, salsa, swimming ...
In my 30s I once again dabbled in yoga, this time during pregnancy. My body welcomed the hip openers that would be so useful during childbirth. My mind needed the respite.
Fast forward to 41. I was the mom of a 1-year-old and a 4-year-old when I suffered a slipped disk after moving a heavy couch. The pain was so excruciating I had to get weekly cortisone shots. The doctor told me I needed surgery. Instead, I went to physical therapy and healed my back with backbends and Cobra-like yoga moves.
All through the years I continued running. When I was 48 I was prompted by a good friend to enter a half-marathon. Despite suffering a hip injury during my training, I still ran the 13.1 miles. I must say, finishing the race was one of the most exhilarating experiences in my life. I will never forget the waves of gratitude, of reflection, of awe, that I felt during that run. I pushed myself and went the distance because I knew it might be my one and only long race.
After the half-marathon, the pain in my hip became a constant. The doctors told me I should go to physical therapy. But I was so busy with life and work I just couldn't make time for it. I continued walking and running for enjoyment. I knew my long-distance runs were over.
Finding my way to Yoga again
They say that when the student is ready, the master appears. This past summer my husband was invited to teach photography at a retreat in the mountains in North Carolina. I tagged along with him and signed up to the morning yoga classes and figure drawing sessions. That's when things came full circle for me and I fell in love with yoga all over again. I'm not an early riser, but I set the alarm for 6.30 every morning so I could attend those classes. I felt rejuvenated, energized and best of all, the pain in my hip started to subside.
When I returned home, I started reading about the different types of yoga. Things had changed a lot from my Richard Hittleman days. Now I could choose between Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Yin and Restorative yoga, to name a few. Or I could mix them up. I watched YouTube videos of all levels and then got on the mat to follow those that spoke to me.
I have a background in fitness and a lifetime of different disciplines behind me. The body remembers, and it was very kind to me as I dipped my toes in the yoga waters again. So if you're considering taking up yoga no matter what your age, and are not already physically conditioned, I encourage you to start out with an instructor by your side.
That said, I can tell you that yoga at 52 makes me feel like my body is once again a well-oiled machine. Every day I practice some form of yoga, but I don't push myself like I used to when I was younger. I'm way more in tune with my body now than I was in my 20s.
Yoga in my 50s has been the answer to my relentless hip pain. It has also helped me alleviate the unpleasant symptoms of menopause. It calms my mind and tones my body. It's exactly what I need right now. I still run once in a while. I lift weights from time to time. I love to dance -- always will. I don't know what I'll be doing tomorrow. But today, #yogaeverydamnday is my favorite hashtag to use when I share my yoga pictures on Instagram.