Aging well: Misao Ihara

Old age. Why do we dread it? A common fear is ill health, which is probably why 95-year-old Olga Kotelko, the first in my Aging Well series, is so impressive. Another concern is loneliness. There will come a point when we lose friends and our closest companions. That’s why I’m now featuring Misao Ihara, whom I discovered in The Daily Life of a Grandma and Her Odd-Eyed Cat in Demilked, a design blog. Misao Ihara found this stray cat with mismatched eyes and called it Fukumaru, so that “the god of fuku (good fortune) would come and everything will be smoothed over like … Continue reading Aging well: Misao Ihara

Aging well: Olga Kotelko

Nowadays it’s no surprise to see super fit and active 70- and 80-somethings. But beyond 90? I recently (and belatedly) read “The Incredible Flying Nonagenarian” by Bruce Grierson (New York Times, November 25, 2010) about Olga Kotelko, almost 95, world champion in track and field. Born in 1919, she grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan, the seventh of eleven children. After moving to British Columbia with her two daughters in 1957, she had no time for sports until she retired from teaching in 1984. She first played softball and then, at age 77, tried track and field. Olga enthusiastically pushed … Continue reading Aging well: Olga Kotelko

Do a pose, change your mood

Ask those new to yoga why they’re doing it. Chances are, they’ll cite physical fitness: I’m so tight. I can’t touch my toes. I need to stretch. I’m rehabbing my back. Etc. Certainly yoga improves flexibility, strength, balance, and coordination. But what about mood? Can asana–the “mere” act of doing a pose–affect your mental state? Iyengar yogis would say, “Of course.” In Light on Yoga, BKS Iyengar describes poses not only in terms of technique, but also in their effects on body and mind. Further, the realm of yoga therapy addresses not only physical but mental conditions, such as depression and … Continue reading Do a pose, change your mood

Aches and pains: My favorite home remedies (Part II)

Here are my favorite home remedies for routine tweaks and twinges–and a word on the psychosomatic factor. RICE (Rest Ice Compression Elevation) Rest. The best and simplest remedy is hardest for me to comply with. When I notice a twinge or tweak, what do I do? I might ratchet down, but short of full R&R. When I attend class and the teacher says, “Does anyone have anything to report?” I tend to underreport. Then, instead of forgoing the class sequence, I adjust my intensity accordingly; there’s a big difference in doing a pose at 75% versus 85% versus 95% capacity. I admit … Continue reading Aches and pains: My favorite home remedies (Part II)

Aches and pains: Are you “injury prone”? (Part I)

Last month, eight colleagues and I faced our Intro II assessment for certification as Iyengar yoga teachers. Before commencing, the assessors asked us about injuries or health issues: “Do you have anything new to report?” When my turn came, I said, “Nothing new to report.” I entered the exam “healthy.” Secretly, however, I knew my real answer: “Nothing new, except the usual stuff.” In other words, even 100%, I’m always aware of my potential trouble spots. In the past decade, I’ve sustained one major injury (rotator cuff tear) and a bunch of little tweaks and twinges. I tell myself that … Continue reading Aches and pains: Are you “injury prone”? (Part I)

From the “It’s never too late” files: the centenarian marathoner

Are there “windows of time” for some things in life? One of my yoga students, a runner/marathoner, hypothesized  that most people’s bodies can tolerate long-distance running only for two or three decades. Those who run hard from teens to 40s often aren’t running past 50. Those who start later often continue later, but within similar extents. I recalled our chat when I read “The Runner,” by Jordan Conn, ESPN. Fauja Singh began running upon moving to London at age 84. Born in northwestern India on April 1, 1911, he had lived simply, as a farmer in his home village, for … Continue reading From the “It’s never too late” files: the centenarian marathoner

Are men really less flexible than women?

I recently read two articles on that apparently rare specimen: the male yoga student. In an undated Yoga Journal article, “Where Are All the Men?” Andrew Tilin, considers why men aren’t naturally inclined toward yoga. In a December 22, 2012, New York Times article, “Wounded Warrior Pose,” William Broad investigates whether men risk injury doing asana. The takeaway from both articles (whether true or not) is nothing startling: Men are naturally less flexible than women (although even researchers “can’t specifically link it to differences in hormones, musculature, or connective tissue”). Men are more likely than women to sustain major injuries from yoga (women sustain more injuries overall, … Continue reading Are men really less flexible than women?

Mixing yoga and sports

One of my yoga students, “Sara,” does endurance sports. Before her annual summer triathlon, she stops attending yoga classes as she ramps up her training. Time is limited and she believes that “loose” muscles are diminished in strength. Another student, “Chris,” will celebrate her birthday next year by running a marathon. Swimming was her original sport, and she’s a lean mesomorph body type, with tight shoulders and hips. Now that she goes on long runs on Sundays, she’s forgoing her Monday evening yoga class because she needs a post-run “total rest day.” These cases got me thinking about yoga, sports, … Continue reading Mixing yoga and sports

On Supta Virasana and sticking to resolutions

There’s nothing like a public resolution to shame spur me to action. In July I vowed to do Supta Virasana daily, and nothing short of catastrophe could’ve kept me from a perfect record. One evening, the temperature inside was still in the 70s (a veritable heat wave in Vancouver) and a bunch of windows were open for ventilation. Suddenly I detected the distinct odor of… skunk. “Hurry, close the windows!” Of course, that only locked in heat and smell, yet I dragged out my props and braced myself for five nauseated minutes in the pose. Some days, the pose felt fine, … Continue reading On Supta Virasana and sticking to resolutions

Reprogramming my body: an experiment with left-handed mousing

Three weeks ago, I switched my computer mouse to the left (I’m right handed). I’d tried left-handed mousing about five years ago, when I injured my right shoulder and had no choice. During that episode, I was forced to use my left arm and hand: To pull up pants and deal with zippers and buttons. To brush my teeth. To use a fork and spoon. Over time, I grew more coordinated and comfortable using my left arm and hand (albeit far from ambidextrous). I imagined new neural connections sprouting. If anything happens to my right hand, I’ll be prepared, I told … Continue reading Reprogramming my body: an experiment with left-handed mousing

Yoga and cardio: Can you really change your genetic destiny?

In January my friend Louise, a writing teacher, environmental activist, and yoga practitioner, had a small heart attack. Around the same time, I heard that one of Canada’s senior-most Iyengar yoga teachers had an aortic dissection. It struck me that two females and lifelong yogis, have heart disease. It made me wonder about the value of aerobic exercise, also called “cardio” and touted to prevent heart trouble. Do you do cardio? Casual yoga students typically do other sporty activities, such as running, swimming, and cycling. In fact, they often view asana as complementary to their main sport. But what about serious yogis … Continue reading Yoga and cardio: Can you really change your genetic destiny?