To those of us who have spent our athletic lives straining, lifting, grunting, running, jumping, or chasing a ball, this is very strange. Not that we aren't envious.
When I see someone sitting on their heels or bending over and palming the floor I am as impressed as I am by that guy “Rubberman” who stuffs himself into a suitcase at Grizzlies games. Flexibility is a distant memory. My joints went into semi-retirement 15 years ago.
I also envy anyone with mental discipline. My mind still turns to moussaka sometimes when I have a crisis of confidence, no matter how much I practice or how many times I reread Tim Gallwey’s “Inner Game” books about Self One and Self Two.
The trick is finding the mental discipline to achieve mental discipline. And I think this is where yoga comes into the picture. Roy Bell, one of my squash partners, has been doing yoga for five years. At 52, he is the leanest and most flexible player in our group and is rarely injured.
He was introduced to yoga 17 years ago when he was engaged and planning a honeymoon in Nepal.
“I wanted to get in the frame of mind,” he says. “In Nepal we sat up on a mountaintop but didn’t do any yoga.”
Five years ago he started doing a form of yoga called vinyasa twice a week for 90 minutes at a time with instructor Arline Jernigan. He started with stretching and progressed to more aerobic exercise.
“My knees still fly up when I sit cross-legged but I’m definitely more flexible and leaner than when I started,” says Bell, who, I have to say, was admirably fit and athletic even before he started doing yoga. “I’m able to play with players who are on the court more frequently than I am.”
Karen Moss is the founder of Better Bodies Yoga. A distance runner, biker and personal trainer for several years, she got interested in yoga after she turned 40, attracted by the mental as well as the physical benefits. Both of her parents died of cancer, and she offers free classes for cancer patients.
I asked her about yoga’s popularity.
Flyer: There seem to be more yoga classes in Memphis than ever.
Moss: I think it’s turning more mainstream. More western medicine is recognizing the benefits of this eastern philosophy. In stressed times people are looking to become calmer and they are not spending as much money on luxury or traveling. There’s no equipment besides a mat and your body.
Flyer: Do people feel funny the first time they do yoga?
Moss: Yes. It’s hard for people to get out of their ego and realize it’s noncompetitive. I have done it all, and it’s the only form of movement and lifetime exercise that regenerates the body. I see myself standing on my head when I check out of here.
Flyer: Is yoga a girly thing?
Moss: No. But in Memphis I think it is about 75 percent women. I do a lot of private lessons and most of them are men. It’s not a quick fix and it’s not an overnight thing even if you athletic and fit.
Flyer: Does your husband do yoga?
Moss: He tries, a little.
Flyer: Can yoga help you lose weight?
Moss: Yes, if you practice regularly. You have to mix a bit of hard and soft yoga together. If you want to do a more vigorous type of yoga it takes a while to acclimate your body. I actually eat more than I used to. It makes you much leaner instead of bulky.
Flyer: How many times a week should a person do yoga?
Moss: A minimum of two, and three is better, for at least an hour each session, even if it is just breathing.
Flyer: If you’re over 50 is there any point?
Moss: Absolutely. I just turned 50 and have three kids.