Imagine That – Yoga Is Good For You

“Surely if God had meant us to do yoga, he would have put our heads behind our knees.” -Rod Stewart

Even after much encouragement from enthusiasts, it took me a very long time to embrace yoga, a practice that is clearly so good for you that Navy SEALs and pro football players are adding it to their training regimens. Of course, Jennifer Aniston, Lady Gaga and most of Hollywood do yoga, which is why the cynic in me has held a grudge against it.

But my real resistance to yoga is related to the fact that my body is much more a “tree” than it is a “cat” or a “monkey” or any other yoga animal that requires flexibility. In the dictionary, beside the word “stiff,” there is a picture of my neck.

My remarkable lack of body elasticity has less to do with age than with genetics. I come from a long line of trees: redwoods, not palms. We don’t gently bend with the breeze in the Logan family tree.

I became aware of this inherent rigidity all the way back in elementary school, a time when preteen girls inevitably begin to show off their cartwheels and splits. It didn’t take long for me to realize that not all children were trees like me. Some were rubber bands and shoelaces and felines. Some could splay their legs out wide in east/west directions, bend all the way over and touch their heads to the ground, then go right into a handstand.

I wanted desperately to do the splits and a well-arched back bend and stand on my head for five minutes. Hours on the living room floor groaning and stretching and upside down getting red-faced and dizzy did little to make me a limber creature.

Where I lived as a child during the 1950s, most folks had never heard of yoga. Heck, we had never heard of yogurt either. I think a few people back there still don’t know the difference.

Thankfully, I later discovered that trees can play soccer, jog, cycle, climb and swim, perform in theater, dance, sing and do many things other than gymnastics and contortionist acts.

Fast forward to sometime in my 20s when my lower back became a big problem, actually during pregnancy (another thing I can hold over my children). Since then, I’ve been searching for a way to fix it – without surgery. Here’s what I’ve tried: chiropractic, physical therapy, massage, a steroid injection, acupuncture, the Tens unit, the gravity chair, ice, heat, rub-on analgesics, sauna, Jacuzzi, weight training, stretching, and margaritas (the best by far).

The money I’ve spent on back remedies could’ve paid for 10 trips to India to consult a yogi, which brings me back to yoga. It’s clear my inner fifth-grader failing at splits has prevented me all these years from embracing the one thing that has helped: yoga. Any past attempts at yoga class always left me feeling self-conscious about my unlimber body. Add to that the yoga snobs, those fifth-grade girls all grown up still showing off their splits.

But these days yoga has become so mainstream that even “trees” feel accepted. My yoga instructor, Karen, always says, “You can do whatever level you want, it doesn’t matter, nobody cares.” Nobody-cares-yoga. That’s for me.

And the really good news is that after my fifth week of two classes per week, I can actually bend over at the waist and touch the floor – no, not with my head, just with my hands. My downward dog no longer barks at me and my back has indeed improved. The best part is that there is actually a yoga pose named for me: the tree pose.

Yoga originated as a Hindu intellectual and philosophical practice. It’s intended to be meditative and contemplative. But for me it’s a catharsis.

My name is Susan, and I am a tree. And nobody cares.