The Universal Notebook: On balance, I have a lot of work to do

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Old, stiff, out of shape and grumpy. I’ve been meaning to do something about one or two of these conditions for a long time, so the first of the year I decided to stop aging.

Well, actually, I decided to start taking a yoga class.

I’m sure gyms, health clubs and studios all over the state are filled with the newly resolved, eager to lose weight, get in shape, improve mental acuity and get into last year’s jeans. My family seems amazed that I bought a pair of baggy gym pants and signed up for a yoga class, but it’s not like I finally got religion. It’s just once a week. Nothing strenuous. No hot yoga for me. Just an hour or so of gentle stretching and breathing exercises.

Even that’s not easy for a grumpy old man.

Looking back I can see the signposts of the aging process. There was the summer at 40 when catching a fly ball, routine until then, became an adventure, and then a misadventure. There was the winter at about 45 when I broke my clavicle playing basketball and never got it fixed. Throwing a baseball or a snowball, one of my few athletic skills, has been an awkward endeavor ever since. Then there was the fall day at 50 when I started to vault over a 4-foot chain-link fence, balked and walked around. It’s been all downhill since then.

At 67, I find myself grunting to get my socks on in the morning, something about the spare tire in the way and the stiffness in the joints.

The thing that bothers me the most, however, is the loss of balance. I get dizzy bending over and reaching above my head and I can’t stand on one foot anymore. Very few occasions require one to stand on one foot, but I bet I couldn’t walk a straight line stone cold sober these days. You know you’re unstable when you can’t even do mountain pose without wobbling.

Mountain pose is essentially just standing erect with your hands at your sides, but even the most rudimentary postures are a challenge for someone who has neglected his body for several decades. When did just sitting or lying on the floor become such a chore? I have to think about how to get down there and how to get back up and, once I’m there, my hips and lower back seize up from tiptoeing on ice and slouching at the computer all day.

Here I am just lying on the floor in corpse pose. Flat on my back on the yoga mat. Restful, right? Wrong. My shoulders are stiff and misaligned, a compensation for that floating collarbone perhaps, and my left knee is complaining about the torn meniscus I’ve been trying to ignore for two years. My lower back hurts and there’s a pain in my neck, which is where I tend to carry tension.

I know I’m supposed to be getting into the moment and observing without judging, but that’s just not the way I’m wired. There’s an argument going on in my head most of the time, and when I am supposed to be concentrating on myself I am often looking around, envying the flexibility and balance of others.

Warrior pose, bow pose, hero pose. These I can only approximate, fighting cramps in the balls of my feet. Tree pose is not happening at all. As I fail repeatedly to stand on one foot and bring the other up to my thigh, I’m thinking this should be called the flamingo pose. Even using my toes as a kickstand I’m no closer to standing on one foot than I am to dunking a basketball, a feat that once seemed within reach even if all I was doing was clanking the ball off the front rim.

The balance issue bothers me because I have become afraid of falling. This winter has been a misery of slush and ice, thawing and freezing, rain and sleet. You know you’re old when you don’t trust the earth beneath your feet, when you take the dog for a walk and have to turn back for fear of falling. The effort to remain upright can leave your body as tight as a clenched fist.

I have, in fact, taken a few falls this winter. When you’re young, lithe and limber, you can catch yourself when you lose your balance. When you’re old, stiff and a bit overweight, one second you’re walking the dog, the next the dog is standing over you wondering why you’re lying flat on your back on the ground.

“Don’t worry, buddy,” I tell him. “Just doing a little yoga.”

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

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  • funfundvierzig

    For this week, Mr. Beem has supplied readers with a most pleasant and entertaining column. The writer is uncharacteristically congenial and far from confrontational.

    That said, given his extreme leftist leaning, the unbalanced Mr. Beem is unlikely ever to achieve the tree position. He will always topple to the floor on one side of his body…gauche.

    …funfun..

  • Chew H Bird

    I am not that far behind you and completely understand the physical barriers that creep up beyond the 40s. That said, I have re-taken up downhill skiing as a way to regain some balance and stamina. What I notice is instead of speeding up and looking for jumps I now slow down and figure out how to go around them with minimal “air”. What used to be easy with feet tight together at high speed now becomes feet slightly apart at a slower speed.

    However, the process of re-engaging in physical activity is slowly giving rewards as repetitive trips to local mountains is slowly rebuilding what used to be automatic.