Some people believe that running marathons will keep them young. Others think that abstaining from eating animal products will do the trick. Others join societies whose members eat almost nothing at all, in the hopes that this will enable them to live forever.
Me, I believe in yoga. Despite considerable evidence to the contrary, my gut tells me that as long as I can do a forward bend and place my hands flat on the floor, I will not be truly old. As long as I can sit in a half lotus, lean forward and touch my face to the mat, there is still hope. As long as I can pick up one foot and touch my nose with my toe, I\’m o.k. If I could stand on my head–which I can\’t–that would guarantee immortality, but I\’m not aiming for that.
I don\’t want to climb mountains or swim across straits or lift huge weights. All I want is for my arms and legs and hips and neck to continue making most of the gestures they made when they were three years old. All I want is to be able to control my limbs within the space of my yoga mat. This strikes me as a self-contained, reasonable, even humble goal.*
The fact that I have CFS imposes certain limits on my yoga practice–which is o.k., because if it didn\’t I\’d be doing nothing but yoga all the time. The disease lets me do just about anything I want in class, but takes its revenge afterwards. If I indulge in one sun salutation too many, I can be nailed to the bed for a week.
Yoga has done some very good things for me. It was my flexibility going into hip-replacement surgery that allowed me to recover in record time and regain complete range of motion in the new hip (having a great surgeon helped, too). When I developed severe neck pains that traveled down my arm, doctors took x-rays and mumbled about pinched nerves, NSAIDs and physical therapy. But I remembered the yoga dictum to hold your head as if you were hanging from a golden chain attached to the top of your skull, chin tucked in and back of the neck extended, and behold, the pain went away.
Best of all, yoga has enabled me to have a conversation with my body, every part of it. Before yoga my feet were vague appendages flapping at the end of my legs. With yoga I have gotten to know them personally–heel and arch and all ten toes. After several years of practice, the weird things my teachers said about the breath finally began to make sense. Now if I\’m told to breathe into my hip, I know exactly what to do. And I have learned, both literally and metaphorically, to listen to my gut, whose small, quiet voice had gone unheeded for my entire life.
*Buddhist Note: I realize that this wanting to control my body within the space of my yoga mat, etc. is a sign of attachment to outcomes, but I can\’t help it.