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Jessie Raymond: Yoga helps keep ‘Bigfoot’ at bay

Getting out of bed a while back, I heard a creaking sound.
It was me.
I’m not saying I normally expect to wake up, spring to my feet, jeté into the hall and then somersaulting down the stairs like a Slinky. My mornings start with a subdued but single-minded shuffle from the bed to the coffeemaker.
But this winter I started noticing a measurable lapse of time between “sitting up in bed” and “standing up.” My muscles and joints seem to resent the sudden change in plans.
I just turned 48. What gives?
It’s not just the slow starts in the morning, either. Even after I’ve reached a comfortable cruising speed, I’m noticing that I’m not as flexible as I once was.
A few weeks ago while crossing the street, for example, I found I couldn’t look over my shoulder to check for traffic. I had to rotate my entire torso to see if I was about to walk in front of a truck
All I could think of was that famous “bigfoot” video clip from the 1970s, in which a shaky camera films a large, hairy biped tromping through the woods. The creature — what I now realize was probably just an aging 48-year-old in a costume — turns its whole upper body to look at the camera.
I don’t want to be like bigfoot.
When I need help, I turn to Google. And when I need help but I’m too lazy to read the answer, I turn to YouTube.
Sure enough, there I found what I needed: hundreds of yoga videos that focus on stretching and flexibility. And that is how, in a month, I’ve turned into a yoga addict. I’ve been doing it every day and I can’t seem to stop.
While I haven’t bought any cool yoga clothes yet (since no one in my living room cares), I have purchased a yoga mat. I quickly discovered that on the slippery rug all standing poses devolve into full splits after 10 seconds or so. I want to limber up, not audition for Cirque du Soleil.
The videos I’m watching qualify as “gentle yoga” at best; you won’t find me attempting any complicated poses that I might require outside help to get out of. Nor is it a personal goal of mine to balance on the fingertips of one hand.
I just want to follow along while an appropriately mellow certified yoga instructor tells me, in soothing tones, to “breathe into the muscle.” I don’t know exactly what that means but I enjoy trying.
I’m mostly interested in the feel-good aspects of yoga. While I’m happy to work on some twisting triangles, warrior poses and other yoga mainstays, I look forward to the more relaxing postures, such as the corpse pose. While it hasn’t helped my range of motion much, you should see how good I’ve gotten at lying on the floor with my eyes closed.
Yoga is having real results. Getting out of bed no longer feels like stop-motion animation with rusty-gate sound effects, and I can check for traffic without attracting the attention of any cryptozoologists.
But there’s something more: Even the YouTube yoga-light version I’m practicing is having effects that last all day: My shoulders are relaxed, my posture is improved, my breathing is deeper and my brow is less furrowed. I no longer have the anxious demeanor of a bank robber about to pass a note to a teller.
It’s almost as if learning how to assume the physical attributes of a calm person is turning me into one.
Whoa.
It’s coming in handy, too. For instance, I typically wake up at least once during the night and spend an hour or so cycling through every hypothetical crisis my brain can come up with. What if I get old and forget to turn off the stove and the house burns down? What if the doctor calls, and “it’s probably nothing” gives way to “it’s definitely something”? What if Trump —
Nope. No more. Through yoga, I’m learning how to use my breath to slow my heart rate and let go of negative, unproductive thoughts. Most of the time I fall right back to sleep.
I’m not sure which of yoga’s benefits means more to me: a flexible body or a quiet mind. Either way, I’m overjoyed. This morning I woke up and actually did want to somersault down the stairs like a Slinky.
I bet there’s a YouTube video for that.

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