BABY YOGA AND TAI CHI
About a couple of years after the hurricane, you know the one I’m referring to, I was flipping the channels early one Sunday morning and found myself pausing on an infomercial advertising the exercise and fitness program, P90X. I’m sure you’re familiar with it. It’s a program on DVD in which you can, in your living room, follow proscribed aerobic and resistance exercises designed to get you in shape.
As Tony Horton, the creator, and the narrator talked convincingly I became more and more interested. At the time I had been mulling over “getting in shape,” carrying a few more pounds, nay more than a few, than I needed. I must have been in a vulnerable mood at the time, because I became so enamored that I did something I very rarely do -- I ordered the darn thing.
Like everyone who is planning to embark on a new thing, I eagerly awaited its arrival. The day it arrived I read all the reading material, the details of how it works, and the schedule of what you do. Basically, the exercises alternate the upper and lower body exercises every day, giving each a day’s rest, while interspersing aerobic and stretching exercises every few days or so. Logically, it makes sense, and still does.
The following day I began with great enthusiasm. It didn’t take me long to realize that my 25-year old thinking mind was not in sync with my then 55-plus year old body. I found quite quickly that I was not able to do the 1-hour plus exercises, opting by sheer force of pain and, eventually reason, to stop at 30 minutes or so for each one.
It was about the eighth day into the program that yoga was the next exercise and I remember wondering why such a fit, muscular, lean, and masculine guy like Mr. Tony Horton would put such a girly exercise in the program. I just couldn’t see how yoga was going to “get me in shape.” But Tony said that it was because of yoga that he was “cut.” Since I had dreamed of being cut, and being a true apostle of this fitness concept I plopped in the yoga DVD and proceeded. I proceeded not a minute longer than 17 minutes on this little girly exercise when I realized my butt was getting kicked. I was breathing and sweating harder than ever – and I mean ever.
It was the following day, upon awakening that I realized I was a changed man. The main change had happened in both of my sacroiliacs. They were not normal. This is the joint that connects the tailbone with the pelvis bone; the joint that the anthropologists tell us is the reason we should’ve stayed in the trees on all fours; and the joint, by some accounts that is responsible for the highest cost in health care.
After the effort to arise out of bed and correct the obtuse angle of my standing posture, I slowly made it to the bathroom, resigned to taking very short strides, not by choice but by pain, and not the mild kind.
Needless to say, I abandoned the routine with a view towards picking it up later, much later. But for the next four weeks, I was hobbling around the office, short-striding and half bent – like an old man, which I would like to think I ain’t, being a few decades shy of a hundred.
I finally returned to normal after taking long walks on a level surface and eventually “going to the doctor” (me) and taking prescribed cortisone. It would be nine months before I returned to the P90X program and only then did abbreviated routines for some months. I did feel better and lose some pounds, but lamentably, I never became cut.
It was a few months ago that I read two articles in a throw-away journal about yoga and tai chi. The one on yoga was directed to the frail and uninitiated, more or less, and how it was helpful for muscles and joints. A common sense approach. The other article, the one on Tai Chi was more interesting.
It detailed the results of the latest of three research studies, the most recent from Tufts University that found that Tai Chi in arthritis sufferers was statistically significant in objectively reducing the level of pain as well as increasing the range of motion of all joints. This got my attention for sure. In fact the current recommendation by multiple researchers who advise doctors about such matters was that advising patients to first engage in Tai Chi was much preferable and beneficial than taking any prescription medication. In fact, it is now recommended before even taking over-the-counter medicine, so impressive are its benefits.
The times I’ve made this recommendation to patients I usually get a look as if I have two heads, probably because many people with joint pain want a pill, not something to do. But I must confess, which heretofore has been a little secret, that I am a lame practitioner, about every other day, of Tai Chi. And not only that but since last March I have also returned to yoga – not the serious kind, but the baby kind. I call it Baby Yoga.
About 4-5 times a week I do about 10-12 yoga exercises, the basic ones, nothing advanced, that I learned demonstrated off of YouTube. It takes me about 15 minutes tops to do all of them, just holding the positions for about 30 seconds and doing them one after the other. If you are a yoga fan you know the named basic positions: Plank, Downward Dog, Warrior, Cat-Cow, etc.
If you’ve been thinking about making a doctor’s appointment for relief from progressive arthritis, you might want to reconsider and do these first – regardless of age. I had been reluctant to share this particular post for some time but was inspired when a patient last week shared with me that in her yoga class is a 71 year old retired military man who one year ago couldn’t touch his shins, standing or sitting. Now he is able to touch his toes doing both, straight-legged.
Try it. I know it sounds like foo-foo and as you are reading this you’re probably wrinkling your nose. At first, I did too. But now there’s science behind it, evidence-based science. And I can testify that it makes the morning stiffness disappear.
But if you’re thinking about doing the P90X, think twice about Tony’s Big Boy Yoga and instead do the Baby kind. Otherwise your sacroiliac will soon remind you of the difference between what you think you can do and what you can actually do. Moderation and balance is key – at any age.
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