Thursday, April 29, 2010

older, but better

Got up early this morning and got a jump on the daily routine, since I had to be somewhere later in the morning. I didn't rush it, but wasted no time moving through a brisk and invigorating practice.

Then it was off to observe and take notes at Tim's yoga for Parkinson's class, where I'm usually a participant. I wanted to write out his sequence because there's a lot of detail -- small variations within poses -- and the bulk of what he's doing would be excellent for any senior/chair yoga class.

I'm feeling unusually positive and upbeat right now. I saw the neurologist for the first time yesterday, and the news is nearly all good. She told me I'm in great condition for the condition I'm in, that I'm doing all the right things and my "proactive" lifestyle, especially the exercise and attention to diet, is no doubt helping me. The only borderline negative aspect of the visit was her recommendation that I add a new drug to my daily regimen which I have since found out would cost me five bucks per once-daily pill, even with insurance picking up part of the tab.

That's a little rich, and would still be even if I only took half a pill a day. But I might try that for a while.

Over all, however, I have no complaints. Now what I need is more work, which means it's time to rattle all my contacts' e-mails, and get out and beat the streets.


Friday, April 23, 2010

the chair

Chair yoga is an idea whose time has come. For older people with physical limitations it delivers most of the benefits of conven-
tional yoga with hardly any of the risks associated with the deepest bends, stretches, and twists.

It's made-to-order for people over 60 who have had joint replacements or may suffer from arthritis, high blood pressure, movement disorders such as Parkinson's Disease, or a host of other complaints and conditions.

Try sitting on a metal folding chair, crossing an ankle over a thigh, and then bending forward. Compare the hip stretch you get, the "opening" of the joint as it were, with the effect of lying on your back and assuming the same posture then pulling the free knee toward your chest. The result is virtually identical.

Chairs can help practitioners adapt strenuous standing postures as well. Forward bending, either symmetrical or asymmetrical, becomes possible for people whose flexibility and capacity for movement is limited if they stand, then bend and place their hands on the chair's seat. Even someone with moderate-to-severe spinal arthritis can experience the benefits of stretching the low back with this approach.

When I started my yoga teacher training a little over a year ago, I never imagined that I'd be specializing what seemed to me at that time to be a sort of substitute for real yoga, as opposed to the "real thing." But since then I've experienced yoga adapted to the chair both as an instructor and a student, and I've become a believer.

There are some things, of course, that simply can't be done while seated. For example, it's next to impossible to do a true back bend in a chair. However, if one's students are able to stand as well as sit, they'll be able to achieve sufficient spinal concavity by standing while leaning their chests against a wall to accomplish true back bending. And while I don't always tell them this at the beginning, one of the teacher's objectives for clients with limitations should always be to get even the most limited among them to the point where they can get themselves down to the floor and back up again unassisted.

With help from a chair, if necessary.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010


It is possible to recover from nearly anything that afflicts us, but you have to want it more than anything else.

Today's practice was near perfect, with an assist from a preliminary blast from an inhaler accompanied by a cup of hot peppermint. The movements were slow, deliberate, and mindful; the disciplined breathing a glacial 23 cycles over 11 minutes, and very deep.

The breath is the link between body and mind, the bridge by which it is possible to cross over from an energized physical to a purified mental state. In my case, that's doubly true.

I do best when recovery and doing the actions necessary for it remain the primary focus, 24/7. If I get distracted, and start running down side tracks, the focus turns to fuzz and I fall into holes. I suppose that happens to nearly everyone.

When you fall into a hole, there's nothing to do but climb out and re-establish the right road. Truly, as one of the Upanishads (I forget which one) says, "The path is straight, and narrow as a razor's edge."

Photo by Jody Bergsma.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

books and paper

Though frequently derided as holdovers from and the detritus of previous centuries, hardbound books and writing paper are poised to make a comeback.

The computer is a wonderful tool, but it has a tendency to dominate and tyrannize users' lives, like a drug habit, if it is not closely controlled. This is especially true when the machine enters and fills a life which is otherwise a vacuum.

New York Times columnist Verlyn Klinkenborg addressed this topic yesterday with his typically few choice words.

"I love the typefaces and the bindings and the feel of well-made paper," he says. "But what I really love is their inertness. No matter how I shake “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” mushrooms don’t tumble out of the upper margin, unlike the “Alice” for the iPad. I never have the lingering sense that there is another window open behind page 133 of “the lives and times of archy and mehitabel."

And he concludes that "The truth is that I need that help to keep reading, especially as much as I always have. The question isn’t what will books become in a world of electronic reading. The question is what will become of the readers we’ve been — quiet, thoughtful, patient, abstracted — in a world where interactive can be too tempting to ignore."

I have any number of hardbound volumes I haven't read, and quite a few that are calling me to read them again. Like Mr. Klinkenborg, I love the look and feel of high-quality paper, especially if it's the long-lived kind, made with rags, that's kept it's integrity for over 100 years. For example, the pages in my five-voume set of "The Library of Wit and Humor," published by Gebbey and Company in Philadelphia in the 1880's, are still white, as are the pages of a History of England by David Hume I once handled and looked over, published in the mid-eighteenth century.

Also, I love the look and feel of inscribing black letters on white pages by hand, with liquid ink, and plan to return to maintaining a primitive "blog, "i.e., keeping a real, handwritten diary one day, if it's in the cards for me to ever get my handwriting under control again.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

inner space

Here's a shot of the north half of my living room. Finding the space for a daily yoga practice can be a challenge in an urban, one-bedroom apartment, but I managed.

Approximately half of the big room is devoted to the yoga space and my computer work station. When it's time for yoga practice, I simply move the chair out of the way and there's plenty of room.

My current ambition is to find space in the apartment to put up a set of drums. They're an electronic kit, so I'll be able to plug in headphones for silent practice -- or at least silent for everyone but me -- so as not to disturb the building's other residents. I'm thinking there might be room at the foot of my bed, if the drums don't block access to the bedroom closet. We'll see.


Monday, April 12, 2010

the healing spirit

No, that pretty, green herb is not marijuana; it's peppermint, and it has begun to replace coffee as my constant drink.

I don't plan to quit drinking coffee, but henceforth it will be more of a treat than a staple. The advantages of drinking peppermint, known in Spanish-speaking lands as "yerba buena," make it too beneficial to pass up.

This cheap and common herb is a well-known remedy for anxiety, a treatment for both the common cold and bronchitis, is a heart tonic as well as a treatment for digestive disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease and chronic flatulence. When applied externally, can serve as an insect repellent or a deodorant. It helps in the treatment of migraine.

All these benefits derive from peppermint's high concentration of volatile oils, of which menthol and menthone are most prevalent.

Try waking up with a hot cup of peppermint instead of coffee. Despite the absence of caffeine, I believe you'll find it gives you the same a.m. lift as cup of high-octane java, but without the side effects of caffeine. Peppermint will render you alert, but calm, as opposed to nervous and excited.


Friday, April 09, 2010

age of mud

Aging is not easy. "Getting old is not for sissies," expresses the thought a little more emphatically. Advertisers selling golf-course condos and resort vacations may try to tell you that the latter days of our lives are "golden," but even they know better.

There are two naturally stressful and difficult times in every person's life: adolescence and the onset of old age. In both, all of us experience dramatic and rapid physical and hormonal changes. The main event of the teen years is the genesis of a dragon-like lust whose fiery breath consumes the adolescent mind. But as the body begins to deteriorate and is invaded by disease, the dragon mostly sleeps, only occasionally raising its head with a feeble roar which sounds more like a bleat.

The oddest coincidence of my life is that my decline parallels the decay of the nation and society I live in. When I was a baby, Americans were confident and hopeful. It was an article of faith that the next generation would "do better" than the last. America made tangible goods of lasting value. The town where I spent my small kidhood made steel.

Now weeds sprout from the floors of the abandoned steel factories, and birds nest in their rafters. Our immediate ancestors lived in split-level three-bedroom ranch houses. Our children will soon be inhabiting hobbit houses made of mud.

I'm witnessing the ending of the industrial age. I hope I'm not making that sound like a bad thing.

Grass grows on the master's grave, Ben Bolt,
The Spring of the brook is dry;
And of all the boys who were schoolmates then
There are only you and I.