The Unlikely Yoga Teacher

I am leading my yoga class in my version of “the tree” and as I balance, I look out at two dozen students at various stages of balance and imbalance. Is this a dream? Me, a yoga teacher? It doesn’t seem possible.

Three years ago I would be hard pressed to remember the last time I attempted yoga. I always hated going to a new yoga class. Why? Because inevitably the same thing would happen. At the first forward bend, the yoga teacher would come running over quite distressed at what she saw me doing, while the rest of the class – in sexy, spectacular forward bends – looked at me with pity.

You see, I have spectacularly short hamstrings. I cannot do a forward bend without bending my knees, a lot, really a lot. I discovered this in my first gym classes where I started a history of humiliations. Although quite normal for a lot of men to have short hamstrings, women usually have longer hamstrings, shorter legs and often no problem kissing their knees. Whereas I can’t even sit up straight on the floor with legs flat out in front of me without needing to lay back like a backwards jack-knife.

Yet, everything else about yoga I really enjoyed, so over the years I wandered in and out of classes and built a wall around my ego every time the forward bend, straight legs, upright back came up and the yoga teacher would come running over. If I had a few dollars every time a teacher would look at me and say, “you know, you can improve on that if you work at it.” To all those yoga teachers, I would like to say, “You were wrong.”Yoga Over 50 WE Kathrin

What happened three years ago was, I developed a “frozen shoulder.” I had never heard of this mysterious, painful condition before. My therapies were both expensive and not working, until I spotted a “Yoga for Over 50” class at my local rec centre. I had just turned 50, so technically, eligible. It was there that I started my new love affair with a gentler yoga.

First, nearly everyone in this class was, on average, 20 years my senior, so it didn’t matter what I physically did in that class, I looked great! Second, technically, there wasn’t any teacher to come running over. There was only Nan, a senior student in her 86th year with a brash Scottish brogue, who took over for the teacher “temporarily.” Lilo had left in her 90s unable to feel up to teaching twice a week. The class has been going for over three decades! I started to wonder if I had stumbled onto a fountain of youth class.

Age differences aside, I developed a great fondness for everyone in the class. Not only that, but the gentler yoga cured my frozen shoulder within a month. Yet there was a problem, the rec centre was saying they needed a teacher who was certified. So they found us one, Sandra Leigh. We gently schooled her on how we did things and she listened, compromised and she was great; we lucked out.

The trouble was, she was always in need of a substitute from time to time and particularly over summer. I found myself drawn to the idea of leading the class. The fact that I had short hamstrings no longer bothered me. The fact that I was quite dyslexic however, made me think twice. Could you get a more unlikely yoga teacher?IMG_0485

An opportunity to do a Chair Yoga certification came up for me, and with Sandra’s blessing and mentorship I did it. Of course, my husband, friends and family were as shocked as I when I started teaching yoga classes.

“Really?” They’d say when I told them what I was up to now. I still enjoy the look on their faces. Yet, here I am, the dyslexic yoga teacher who doesn’t really care if knees are straight or bent, whether you wear sweats or LuLu Lemon, or whether we are all doing the left side at the same time. Now you hear my joyous voice in the studio saying, “Now the other side!”

Who knows? Stay open and maybe you too can be an unlikely… whatever you want!

Kathrin Lake is the author of Writing with Cold Feet, and leads Writing Retreats in Mexico every January and February through the Vancouver School of Writing. She also teaches Yoga for Writers at her retreats. See http://kathrinlake.com for more information or http://vswonline.org  to sign up for Writing Retreats in Mexico and other writing and publishing classes in Canada, United States and Online Classes in writing and publishing available worldwide.

 

Granny Yoga Heals Frozen Shoulder…

A year and a half ago I was afflicted with the mysterious condition known as frozen shoulder.  It does exactly what it sounds like. It freezes a shoulder to the degree you can’t raise your arm over your head. It is painful.  This condition is commonly (but not always), found in women who are entering menopause, however replacing their hormonal loss doesn’t seem to help. Once it’s got you, it’s got you.

My doctor sadly shakes her head and says to me, “I know this is hard to take, but its going to take two years to recover.”

What! I don’t believe her. I go online and see some places where it takes three years. I also meet someone who had it for three years. Some others were quicker, a few had it in one shoulder and then once they finished that shoulder it went to the other, another common occurrence. The whole time I am thinking, wait a second here, I am no wimp, I dance swing and tango every week. This isn’t going to be me.

Then I start the process. The process that becomes familiar to every person who gets this. You start the therapies, one by one, with hope, and optimism, slowly melting to absolute pessimism. I go through physiotherapists, acupunturists, massage therapists, Bowen Therapy experts, naturopathics, craniosacral people, ostepathy, infra red therapy, on and on. I thank the lord that Jim has a great benefits plan, but nothing is working and I have spent $1000 dollars of my own money beyond the benefits plan. And these therapies cost me more than money, they take a great deal of time. Time I don’t want to give up.

I interject all these therapies with both prescribed exercises at home and with my own exercises. Some days I think it’s working and other days nada. I am thankful it is my left shoulder and not my right, being right-handed. I know I am completely at risk with my profession as a writer by being on the confounding computer so much. I have to slow down and take long rests from the computer. I get some help from volunteers I can delegate to, and I waste more time and money trying both voice-to-text software and handwriting recognition software. Nothing suffices. I have to slow down and listen to the body. It wants a break. It wants gentle unrepetitive, un computer-like movement.

Some people start to say swimming works, others say yoga. Of course, the health plan doesn’t cover these (which I have always thought of as very short-sighted towards health). Though I love swimming, I can no longer stand getting into cold pools, especially in a cold climate (they say they are heated but it’s never enough). The only swimming I ever do now is in Mexico.  Having done yoga on and off for years I know that there is a variety to choose from but with the shoulder, my downward facing dog is going to look like a downward falling three-legged dog.

I try a course given by Kyra, a woman who teaches what she calls Yoga Therapy. The participants in this class have their own afflictions which make my frozen shoulder look like Tai Chi in the park.  Comparatively speaking, I can consider myself lucky.  There are many people struggling through many kinds of physical challenges and recoveries and my heart goes out to them. I am tickled with Yoga Therapy but after the four sessions I get in on, Kyra is going away for several months. Now what?

With little progress, less money, and less energy, I feel like a shut in and get into a mental funk that yo-yos until I spot an ad in the Spring Guide for our local rec centre. Yoga Over 50. It promises gentle yoga two days a week in the a.m. and the drop-in cost is $1… wait, am I seeing that right. One dollar!  As it turns out, it is $1 for over 60 and $2.50 for over 50. Didn’t I just turn 50?  Well then I guess I can just squeak in. I try it.

Thus starts my dedication to a very unexpected and amazing group that I have come to call Granny Yoga.  I call it this because the women (although a few men come and go), are twenty years my senior.  The one who leads the exercises is Nan. She is 86. We can’t properly call her a leader since she is not trained in Yoga, she just took over for Lilo, the original teacher, who is now well into her 90’s and no longer able to come to class, though a number of the grannies still visit her at home. I get the idea it is her mind more than her body that took Lilo out of the picture. However, you perhaps get what I’m thinking here. Is this a fountain of youth class or what. Well, perhaps, though true Yoga aficionados have been saying this for years haven’t they.

Nan, who has a wonderfully loud Scottish brogue, is also a little deaf and that’s why she talks loudly and everyone can hear her directions clearly. And I’m thinking how wonderful a world is it when you can take Yoga instructions in a Scottish accent from a feisty octogenarian.

The Yoga is perfectly gentle for my injured shoulder. Enough to stretch it but not too much, meanwhile the rest of the body is really enjoying getting its fair share of movement, and I realize that I used to do this a lot, and got out of it somehow. My favourite exercises are for the areas we forget, like the eyes (I later find out Paul McCartney is all over Yoga eye exercises See here). Your whole body needs movement and benefits from a regime. After all, all of it is going to have to get you through this life. All around the room I have a testament to this. But these grannies dish up Yoga class their style. There is a walk and sing segment and they stop in the middle for “comments” better known as yack.

During the comment time, we hear from Rebel Granny who is making us aware of the evils of the new proposal to let more oil tankers into our harbour that destroy the Indian Arm and the bay area (see petition here).  There is Canucks Granny who reminds us to cheer on our boys on the ice trying fo the Stanley Cup (sorry boys). There is the Singing Grannies who lead us in a chorus of “When the Saints Come Marching In.” There is Nature Granny who tells us about the birds and flowers to watch for, “Doesn’t our parks board do a great job!”

There is also Eastern European Granny who talks about her grandkids and all the Easter eggs they painted, over 100. And of course there was the Easter egg hunt itself. “They found one from last year,” she tells us.  She is always the one to know the holidays and bring in treats. To instill on me the importance of coming regularly to Yoga she tells me, “If I miss one day, I am stiff.”

Then a familiar male face comes in, a man I know. It is Micheal who I met years ago at Toastmasters and we had bonded as fellow writers.  Michael had written a fabulous memoir of his time in India he spent working with Mother Theresa.

“Did you practice Yoga in India?” I ask him.

“Heavens, no,” he says, “I could never do that.” I’m not sure if that was because they were too good or it was too authentic, but I do know that Michael likes to come to yoga to socialize with the gals.

I am starting to become self-conscious in this class. They start to call me the purple lady because I continually come in my favourite purple exercise suit, but that’s not why.  I know they are all wondering why “the kid” (I’m only 50), is coming to this class during the day.  So I take a chance and on the next comment time and decide to pipe up. I try to explain that I am in menopause and experiencing the phenomenon of a frozen shoulder and ask if any of them have had it. I get interrupted early with, “Speak up dear, we can’t hear you.”

“What’s she saying?”

“She says she’s going through menopause!” Nan’s buddy yells loudly into her ear and across the room and down the hall. “She says she has a frozen shoulder!”

“Oooh.”

During this comment session none of them seem familiar with my condition, but afterward a few of them, including Nan, comes up to me with stories of others and what they did.

Four weeks after I have told them why I am there, my arm starts to unlock by itself, so after a year and a half I can raise my arm over my head. You can’t imagine how nice that feels.  It’s not perfectly okay yet, but it is really a relief to see great progress

I start to believe that I owe a lot of it to Granny Yoga, and perhaps some diet shifts I made as well, but mostly Yoga. I am now a Yoga believer in a way I never have been before. Yoga will keep me young.  I decide to drop into another yoga class on the weekend where I can actually practice a downward facing dog. So I do and it’s nice and certainly more challenging, but they don’t give me eye exercises. And, even if they did, there ain’t no way I am giving up my Granny Yoga classes.

For more writing and teaching by Kathrin Lake go to kathrinlake.com or Vancouver School of Writing.com

Try this Video for further Yoga inspiration.  Thanks to Matt:

YOGA HELPS 47  YEAR OLD MAN WALK UNASSISTED AGAIN – CLICK PHOTO FOR VIDEO LINK

 

FINALLY, FINALLY I have the VIDEO of Lilo Pederman – the original instructor –  showing her Yoga routine!

(Sorry for the poor quality)

avideoofliloperderman