Sunday, July 20, 2008

Down dog

A couple of years ago, my daughter talked me into joining her in a yoga class at the gym. I'd heard others exclaiming about how relaxing yoga is, and despite misgivings about being able to arrange myself into the requisite poses, I figured it would be good mother-daughter time, and even if I wasn't very good at it, it couldn't hurt.

Well, I was two-thirds right. It was good time spent with my far more flexible offspring. I wasn't at all good at it. But it hurt plenty.

Plus, the language was mystifying. The one-legged "tree pose" made some sense, as did "warrior", in the same general way that the ancients saw huntsmen, queens and dippers big and little in the patterns of stars. But "down dog" was all the more difficult for the struggle I had understanding how being on all fours with my butt in the air represented a dog being down. Seemed pretty much "up" to me, until of course my trembling arms could hold my weight no more and I literally went down.

Eventually my daughter explained that down dog was short for the pose's real name, "downward facing dog." Ahhh. Context is everything.

I never did get to the place where yoga was better than sex, as one of my friends described it, but I did make my peace with it. Pose adaptations suggested for the stiffer students helped, and I felt the thrill of victory the first time I was actually able to hold the down dog pose as long as the the rest of the class without crashing into an agony-of-defeat heap on the yoga mat. On Sundays, my daughter and I followed yoga class with lunch, and that conversation time was worth every bit of muscle ache.

Then this past winter, I slipped on a patch of ice while taking Mr. James for a morning walk and broke two bones in my wrist. Several x-rays, splints and hours of occupational therapy later, the bones are generally healed and my hand movement is mostly back to normal - not what it was, but as good as it's likely to get. Not good enough to do everything I used to do, but good enough to do what I need to do.

I thought about all of this today as I watched the yoga class from another part of the gym, where I pedaled away on the elliptical machine. I'd forgotten to bring a magazine to read, the batteries were dead on my portable radio and I refuse to watch the trivia that is Sunday cable news programming on the gym's tv.

So I had plenty of time (30 minutes plus cool down, to be exact) to watch my former yoga classmates contort themselves into plows and trees and cobras, and think about the compromises we inevitably must make as change and time have their way with us.

One of the things my hand doesn't do like it used to is flex back, which means I can no longer do push-ups (aw, shucks) nor dogs up or down. Plus, I don't want to tempt fate with the balance poses - I've had the broken bone experience, I don't need to fall over and do that again. So yoga is now in my past.

I kind of miss it. It was both a literal and figurative stretch for me. I definitely miss the excuse for scheduled mother-daughter bonding. But I can stretch in other ways, and my firstborn and I can find other occasions to connect.

I'm living that old saying about windows opening when doors close, and I know it's just one of many such examples to come as the years pass.

The thing is, I know that over time, there will be more doors closing than there are windows to open, and someday the consequences will likely be more severe than giving up yoga.

All the more reason to appreciate what I've got as long as I've got it. Up, down or straight ahead.

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