Wednesday, May 23, 2012

One for the Aged

My mother-in-law shared an interesting story with me once about aging that I never forgot. She was playing Scrabble with her sister one warm summer afternoon when she noticed a shadow appear on the board below. The shadow menaced her from the corner of her eye for much of the game until the final move when she stretched out her arm to slide her the piece on the board and realized, to her horror, that the shadow that was casting an ominous half-moon on the table below was not a shadow at all but the skin underneath her arm that had begun to sag and swing beneath her every time she moved it. So self-concious was she afterwards that, for the rest of the day, she kept her arms by her sides where she could keep a close eye on them and secretly wondered why - WHY! - nobody had bothered to point it out to her that they had gone "lunch lady" on her. We both laughed like hyena's when she told it. She, because it is genuinely a funny/horrible observation, and me, because, well, I was clueless. That was never gonna happen to me, right? Ah, youth.

I was reminded of this anecdote several times over the past few months as I have begun to experience the tell-tale signs of physical aging. (Insert eye-roll here.) I always aspired to be that person who grows old gracefully, who can see the arc of their life as a slowly winding river and not a head-first dive into Niagara Falls, but I am finding the process it to be both insult and assault. And my kvetching has been unending: Why can't I stay up long enough to watch Mad Men, dammit?! Was running always this hard?! My back hurts. My feet ache. How can I be drunk? I've only had one glass! It all came to a head after consulting with a beauty expert about why my once flawless skin was not bouncing back from this incredibly harsh winter weather. She haughtily informed me that, One needs to double the moisturizing at your age, dear. And, by the way, do you want to take a look at our new anti-aging line? Rather than waiting for the playful wink that surely accompanies such statements (which I'm sure would have come back as quickly as the elasticity in my skin), I chose instead to confer with a more reliable expert: my husband. Does my skin feel like sandpaper to you, I asked him, desperation on the edge of my voice? He thrust his arm at me by way of an answer. You should feel mine, he said. Go ahead, feel it. And so I did. Soft and smooth as a newborn's behind. What are you talking about? I screeched. It feels like silk! But it's thinner, he replied as he shook his head slowly back and forth with disappointment. Sooo much thinner.

There's no question: aging thins our skin, both literally and figuratively. But what I've found is that once you can get past the crepey neck and plantar fasciitis, mostly people find themselves admitting that they are remarkably happier now than they were when they were younger. Apparently, a Gallup poll of 340, 000 people showed unequivocally that we grow more contented age, that we become more comfortable in our skin regardless of its thin or sandpapery state and even report a marked decline in stress, anger and sadness.

Bring. It. ON.

In her remarkable new memoir, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, writer Anna Quindlen makes the perfect case for her body having broken down and I'm gonna use it as my mantra. She, in her infinite wisdom, has decided to recognize her body for what is: a personality delivery system, "designed expressly to carry my character from place to place, now and in years to come. It's like a car, and while I like a red convertible, even a Bentley as well as the next person, what I really need are four tires and an engine." You can be sure that my personality delivery system will be easily recognizable. It will be the one dripping in moisturizer.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Downward Dog

French Bulldog in Yoga pose by jackpotfbd
French Bulldog in Yoga pose, a photo by jackpotfbd on Flickr.
Friend: Would you like to attend a Bikram yoga class with me this week?
Me: Remind me what Bikram yoga is again?
Friend: It's 90 minute yoga class performed in an overheated room.
My brain: “Uhhhhhhhh. I pass out pretty easily in the heat and doesn’t being in a carpeted room that hot breed, like, a billion kinds of bacteria that will kill you if you breathe it in plus I have tight hip joints this week so it sometimes hurts to stand too long in certain positions and what if I don’t know the hot yoga etiquette and I smack someone while I'm executing a difficult pose and a yoga practitioner from the wrong side of the mat defends me and I’m accidentally the catalyst for bloodshed?
My mouth: “Sure.”
My brain: Why can't I quit you?

And that's the story of how I ended up in my first hot yoga class.

For those of you unfamiliar with Birkram Yoga and its practices, let me give you a quick tutorial of what it is because it really is NOT just yoga (Trust me, I've done yoga. This is not that.): Bikram yoga is 90 minutes of the same 26 postures in every class across the world. It's roughly 110 Degrees in a carpeted room with about 60 nearly naked sweaty souls crammed in looking at their own eyes in the mirror. You listen actively the entire class to verbal instructions only. No demonstration. No music. You do the same postures in the same order whether you're in NYC, Portland or India. Sweat will pour off your body like you are in a shower, your mat and towels will be soaked and the room will stink.

Where can I sign up, you must be asking yourself? To which I would answer, Try Hell because I'm certain Satan himself came up with this particular branch of yoga.

Friend: Bikram is like a cross between running a marathon and great sex.
Me: I've run a marathon, remember? I broke my foot at the 21 mile mark.
Friend: Oh. (pause) But the sex metaphor has got your interest piqued, right?
Me: I get the comparison. Am I gonna hurt afterwards?
Friend: I don't think so. It sorta feels like being hit by a semi-truck, followed by a great spa massage.
Me: Well, why didn't you say so? Let's get in there!

Do you remember that seen in the third Mad Max film when Mel Gibson stepped into the Thunderdome and was greeted by mutants with metal masks fused to their craniums and chainsaws as limb replacements? Well, picture that but, in this environment, everyone is under 30, wearing next to no clothing and their bodies are beyond flawless. Meanwhile, the outfit you thought was cute going in will feel like the equivalent of a Hefty bag and your limbs will feel like they are filled jelly donuts. It is the kind of place where nothing else matters but living through the next 90 minutes so you could get the hell out. Like San Quentin but 110 degrees. And filled with models.

The class starts out simply enough. The poses are killer but I'm living through them. We hold the poses for waaaaay longer than we should but I can live with it. Mind over matter, right? Wrong! Ten minutes in and I'm sucking wind and soaked like someone has thrown my fully-clothed ass into a swimming pool. But I'm supposed to be focusing on "nothing", or so our fearless, boyshorts-clad instructor keeps telling us. A clean mind. Blank. Have you ever tried to have a blank mind for 2 seconds, let alone 60? The instructor suggests we pick a spot on the ceiling to focus on and think only of that spot. I pick a bolt in the ceiling beam. These are my thoughts in no particular order...

Bolt. Bolt. Bolt.
I want to bolt.
I wonder if I bolted now if it would distract anyone, probably not they are all deep in "blank mind."
OK then, screw.
Screw. Screw. Screw.

Hmmmm....screw.... it's been a minute since...
Focus! Focus!
The screw is holding the beam that is holding this building, I am the screw. I'm strong. I'm holding the building.
God, can't I just bolt!?

How can I even begin to describe how wrong this Bikram stuff was for me? There were 75 people in a room that should hold 40. It was the second class in a row of 2 so the room was extra hot. My skin literally burned. The nail polish of the woman on the mat next to me melted. Melted!! I was in HELL. No amount of self-motivating mantra's could help me. The instructor reminded us at least 20 times that Bikram himself (of course, he's a tiny, silly man!) refers to this yoga as a "torture chamber" and it was nothing shy of that. I sat out a good 1/4 of the postures and contemplated rolling up my now-drenched mat and peace-outing. But if there's one thing you NEVER do in this yoga, it's leave the room. The second thing you NEVER do is make a sound, apparently, so my sweaty ass was staying put and  finishing what I'd started. Even if it was a big bowl of wrong.

Friend: So what did you think?
Me: I think that your yoga is a bit of a dick.