Tai Chi: Moving for Better Balance

I have devoted this past year to finding ways to restore my health post-cancer. I am lucky to live in Huntington, a very “Hip” town on LI, that has lots to offer. I now attend two yoga classes at the public library, each 1x per week and a third tai chi class at the YMCA, 2x per week. Prior to these I spent 12 weeks attending “The Livestrong Program” at the YMCA, explicitly devoted to cancer survivors. The best part: one class is free, and the other two are very reasonably priced.

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The structure of having exercise classes 3 to 4x per week has helped me get back into a groove. And I’ve met so many wonderful people over the age of 60, from all walks of life, who are all dealing with personal health issues. This is very comforting and we try to support and encourage each other.

Today’s class, Moving for Better Balance at the YMCA, is free for those over 60! This class is about helping people learn to overcome balance issues they have for various reasons. The focus is on “fall prevention” since that is a big problem as people age. Once you’ve had a serious fall, your health can be seriously at risk from then on.

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I hope to avoid that fate. I do have neuropathy in both feet and legs due to the powerful chemotherapy I was given, so I wanted to do something to help myself maintain better balance. This class is perfect. First we go through a series of warm up exercises; then we follow the instructor through a modified Tai Chi program. It has taken us nearly 10 weeks to master the “form,” but we have all come so far from the first day when there were a lot of wobbly legs, bodies tipping to one side, and confusion.

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Apart from the exercise benefits, we have enjoyed each other’s company so much that today we talked about staying in touch about once a month to do the Tai Chi we have learned and then to socialize.

My balance will never be perfect, but I feel so much more confident about handling myself than when I walked into that exercise class 12 weeks ago. And I have a few new friends!

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(The above photo is not my class, but it could be!)

Taking a Well Deserved Break…Or Trying To!

There was a pervasive scent of lavender wafting through the room.  I realized it was coming from the “eye pillows” we had been given to rest our eyes.  There were about ten of us stretched out on our individual mats, but since the room was dimly lit when I entered I could not see anyone’s face. Suddenly there was the gentle “ping” of a tiny bell that signaled we were about to begin our session of “restorative yoga,” a first for me.

I was very excited about participating in this class.  I have been overly busy (of my own doing) since my recent recovery (remission) from cancer.  Probably like most cancer survivors, I am eager to get on with my life and cram as much enjoyment into it as possible.  However…I am still learning my limits.  There are days when I just collapse into my new recliner at about 5 or 5:30 pm. and become catatonic for the next hour or so. Only then do I realize how exhausted I am!  I haven’t yet learned to pace myself, but I have been learning that I do need to allow myself to rest periodically.

My hope was that I would learn some tricks in this workshop that would help me to relax in ways other than what I am used to. And that did happen. The nearly two hours of the workshop were divided into short sessions of all of us assuming different positions on our mats, cushioned by very comfortable bolsters that we placed in various strategic positions for support.  This was not the usual yoga experience.  Instead, we were encouraged to relax into the position and hold it for 10 to l5 minutes at a time.

This sounds ideal except for the fact that the real world kept intruding on my bliss.  First, the woman next to me kept shifting her position, then breathing heavily when she finally got comfortable.  The two instructors kept moving around the room or going up and down the basement stairs causing another distraction.  Then just when I thought things had finally settled down, the basement heating unit went on sounding like a jet aircraft had arrived in the room!  I concentrated on my breathing and how I had looked forward to this experience, but it wasn’t really working.  The final straw was the nearby cellphone (that belonged to my noisy neighbor, I think) that kept pinging throughout the relaxation session. I never entered that deep zone of relaxation I was hoping for.

All was not lost, however.  I did get a short foot massage from the reflexologist at the end of the session which made my feet feel wonderful.  I have been left with some neuropathy in both feet as a result of chemo, so it was wonderful to know that I still had some sensation left in both feet.  In fact, my feet felt wonderful this morning when I got up and started moving around. I’ll have to do more of that.

I don’t think I’ll ever repeat that experience, or at least not in that particular setting.  But I did learn a few new tricks I can practice myself at home.  And now I need to purchase one of those cushy bolsters for my aching body.  

Amazon.com……..here I come!

Yoga with a Chair

I have been a believer in yoga for much of my life. When I was in my mid-20s, living in NYC and very stressed out for a lot of reasons, I attended my first yoga class. The release I felt from that first class was amazing and I immediately drank the Kool Aid!

Over many years I have joined yoga classes intermittently, usually to try to relieve some kind of physical ailment. I like the way yoga practice pays attention to both the mind and the body because I believe they are completely connected, or at least have been in my case. I am not a hard core yogi…in fact, physically, far from it. I find it hard to pay attention to my body when time is limited. I tend to live more in my mind, but my body has suffered as a result.

That all came to a crashing end this past summer when I was diagnosed with cancer. I had just retired and signed up for my first senior aerobics exercise class and was very motivated to start paying more attention to my health. A couple of days later I developed a pain in my groin, and the rest is history. I soon learned I had cancer of the lymph nodes in my groin. Thank goodness I took the exercise class or I might have found out too late.

Fast forward to almost nine months later and I am back in a yoga class. But this one is different from any other I’ve taken. This one is for people who have restrictive physical conditions or who are entering the “golden years” and struggle with limited flexibility. My body is a wreck from all the chemo treatment; I often feel like someone has beaten me up. Every joint aches. I knew I needed a different approach to exercising for now.

Luckily I live in a town that has a lot to offer…Huntington. So I signed up for QiGong (see an earlier slice), which is new to me and very challenging, and this Chair Yoga class. At first I felt a little awkward about joining because I knew I was identifying with a much older crowd. And I was right…everyone is my age or older. But after the first class I realized I was exactly where I needed to be with a kinder, gentler yoga class and a sympathetic teacher. These women have already become my role models for keeping myself healthier as I age.

And what about the chair in my title? Well, we do many of our positions sitting in a chair which is tremendously helpful when your joints are in pain and you have difficulty getting on and off the floor. The positions all mimic true yoga positions but are adapted to less limber bodies. We also sometimes stand behind or in front of the chair to practice other positions using the chair as a support to lean on. I am now in love with this class. I am ready to shout it from the rooftops: I LOVE CHAIR YOGA!