Charles: The art of letting go

I’m fairly new to the practice of yoga. A few months ago, after more than a year of only using my YMCA membership for the occasional hour-long walk on a treadmill, I decided it was time to try some of the classes that came with the price of that membership.

I first commandeered my teenage daughter to join me in my inaugural “Gentle Yoga” class. She, after 15-plus years of all forms of dance and gymnastics, was easily more flexible than I. She gamely went through that first class, but it was too gentle for her, as she moved through the class with the ease of your average rubber band. She urged me to continue, however.

So I have. As we trudge through middle age and toward bonafide senior status, we grudgingly acknowledge that we’re not nearly as flexible as we were in our younger, thinner, more youthful days. Sometimes we joke that every day is an adventure, a new pain in a different body part.

But those pains become less amusing and more annoying, and eventually debilitating over time. Finally, after the modern dance classes and gentle yoga stretches refused to alleviate the pain, I visited my primary care doctor, and then an orthopedist. I was devastated to get the diagnosis of arthritis. The doctors usually dismiss this condition with, there’s nothing they can do, unless I want to think about a hip replacement down the line.

That’s a little drastic for someone who has just admitted to being middle-aged (assuming my life expectancy is around 120 years old of course).

So I’m working on more yoga, gentle, Vinyasa, and restorative, a few mornings a week. There are fewer days of pain that veer between really awful and thoroughly excruciating. But I can pull on my socks without crying out, and with the addition of Pilates to my weekly diet of tap, modern and Zumba dance classes, I’m more flexible than I was nine months ago. The changes are incremental, but they are there.

I remember a dance teacher I had when I was in my 20s, who talked about “letting go” when one is stretching. I’m learning to revisit that concept during certain poses, breathing through the aches, and making adjustments.

The reality is, many of us just aren’t as flexible as we used to be. Now if you’re one of the ones in my classes of like-aged people who sit comfortably cross-legged in a way I absolutely can not, you may dispute this.

But as we age, for the most part, we become less flexible — in body, mind, sensibilities, and sometimes in spirit. Some long for the way things were in the “good old days,” looking back with rose-colored glasses when no one we knew ever talked back to their parents, got in trouble with the law, got pregnant out of wedlock, had race riots, was homosexual, or transgender, or of a different race, or religion, ethnicity, or from another country.

We are increasingly less flexible in welcoming strangers into our circle of friends and neighbors. We have become more rigid in our thinking, as surely as some of us are in our bodies. We have decided that “the other,” those people, aren’t deserving of a hand up, a kind word, a friendly smile. We have decided to go back to the good old days that never really were.

Some cling to the television fantasy lives of Leave it to Beaver, Ozzie and Harriet, and Happy Days. And in that same breath, just as stubbornly forget the real-world televised images of dogs and fire hoses turned on people who demand to be treated as American citizens with full rights and privileges. Those are the same ’50s and ’60s. It’s just a matter of where you are in the color scheme of America which truth you choose to remember.

We can all use a little more flexibility. We can all stand to let go of the fantasy images of everything being wonderful in America before “those people,” whoever they are, showed up to change “our” country. We can stretch out our arms to people who are different from us, in gender, race, nationality, religion, and sexual orientation.

We can breathe through, and then deal with, the aches and pains of old wounds that come back to haunt us. We don’t have to turn back the clock, looking for the flexibility and fantasy of our youth. But if we are willing and able, we can still stretch, grow, and let go the imaginary past so we can embrace the real future.

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