Gardening books don’t address it, and colleagues keep the information to themselves. There is a sad truth that an aging body is a gardener’s worst enemy. Weakening muscles and arthritis sometimes place painful and exhausting obstacles in the way of the most dedicated and talented among us.
Winter is the next worst adversary. Mature, housebound gardeners who are unable to maintain a reasonable level of physical fitness between end autumn and early spring, are in for an unpleasant surprise when they try to bend, crouch, heave, or dig after six months of idleness. Inactivity compromises overall health and one's ability to garden efficiently, productively, and without pain.
My endurance in the garden diminishes as I get older; and I love gardening too much to resign myself to the unavoidable aging process. Last year, I decided to do something about it. I joined a community center that offered generous use of its Olympic-sized swimming pool, as long as I chose to swim in the early mornings up to 10:30 AM.
My weekly regime in the pool made a difference. I was able to stand on my feet for longer periods supervising my staff without feeling exhausted or racked with pain.[Also helpful was taking a warm bath after the garden work day was over]. However, I felt that I was not doing enough.
In todays world, my age group is supposed to feel younger than the same age group of previous generations. While I do feel younger in heart and mind than my parents did at the same age, my body refuses to remain as young as my mind.
This winter, after a successful experience with alternative medicine, I decided to take my physical regimen to another level. During the autumn, when I was struggling with an issue that western medicine was unable to resolve, I decided it was time to think outside the box and turned my focus Eastward, searching for alternative solutions.
I already knew that members of Asian cultures had been practicing their versions of healing and medicine for thousands of years longer than Western civilization has. If they were successfully caring for their sick while our ancestors were still living in caves, perhaps Eastern medicine might offer better solutions for whatever ailed me. It did!
Thinking outside the box had meant investigating acupuncture. I’m glad I chose that route because it offered greater healing than I could have ever imagine - and it was all drug-free. That success led me to Chinese health exercises known as Qi Kong, and a recommendation from my acupuncturist to expand my horizons by investigating Osteopathy- not an Eastern healing process but - another alternative to conventional Western medicine.
Upon meeting the Osteopath, another side of the thinking box was opened. “Now that you’re retired” she asked, “what else are you doing to keep your mind and body healthy. Do you practice Qi Kong or Yoga?”
Yoga? Ya gotta be kiddin! Isn’t that stuff for women? “No”, she said. “In India, where Yoga was developed, it’s a male activity. The reason Western women embrace it more enthusiastically that Western men do is because it has a spirituality about it that does not resonate well with many men. That’s a pity because it is a very beneficial activity for everyone”.
My osteopath had planted an idea in my brain that required further research. If I were to take up the practice of Yoga, I would prefer to do so amongst other men. In my neighborhood, 98% of all Yoga practitioners are women. Why would I want to engage in an athletic activity with friends of my wife and daughters?
A sports activity with mostly women just didn’t resonate well with me. Ever since I retired from industry, I noticed that I missed the camaraderie of my male coworkers and that unless I decide to take up a team sport – is there a hockey team for those over 65? - male bonding experiences at community activities are going to be few.
I decided to hit the internet to find out if there was a way to combine yoga and male bonding. By typing in search words such as men and yoga, I was surprised to discover accidentally that professional athletes, most with macho public profiles, practice Yoga and are proud to do so.
A common narrative runs through their bios. Most had suffered repeated stress to a limb, muscle, bone, or ligament. Some required surgery. None of their bodies healed as expected. All experienced lingering pain or discomfort for which modern Western medicine was unable to offer further intervention.
As a last resort, the athletes were advised to investigate Yoga, to experiment with it, to see if they could find a healthy [i.e. non-pharmaceutical] relief for their pain and discomfort. In all case, the athletes discovered not only relief but an inner peace, as well. They also realized that practicing Yoga had turned them into better athletes. Both their minds and their bodies were now stronger.
When I came across a photo of third baseman for the Tampa Bay Rays, Evan Longoria, in a Yoga pose, in a room full of women, I realized that my need to be surrounded by male buddies in order to exercise, was an unrealistic and perhaps silly expectation. If professional athletes are comfortable in a Yoga studio, surrounded by women, other men should be equally comfortable there, as well.
In the end, I found a studio near my home where parking is easy and the instructors are passionate and approachable. Most important, they demonstrate sincere appreciation for an aging Yoga newbie like me.
It is now a month since I began practicing Yoga. My posture has improved, core muscles are tighter, gait flows smoother, my endurance improves weekly, appetite is more moderate, and the mind is on its way to a surprising serenity I had not anticipated or asked for.
Will Yoga allow me more flexibility and less discomfort in the garden this upcoming spring? Will I have more stamina? Will my arthritis finally stop sabotaging my body? I don’t know just yet. It will take a full a season of gardening to find out. When I have the answer to these very important questions, I will share them with you because other aging gardeners ought to know!
P.S. According to Kevin Zirm, Assistant Content Director for STACK Media, there are at least nine other known professional athletes who practice yoga:- Shaquille O’Neal, a former NBA player, LeBron James, forward for the Miami Heat, Ray Lewis linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens, Victor Cruz, wide receiver for the New York Giants, Mike Krzyzewski, men’s basketball coach, the New Zealand All Blacks, rugby team, Kevin Garnett, forward for the Boston Celtics, and Kevin Love, forward for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Read his entire article of September 17, 2012, at this link:- http://www.stack.com/2012/09/17/yoga-athletes/