I may have told you before about how I have reconnected with many of my classmates from the CHS Class of 73. It has been a wonderful time in my life. We are all so accepting now. We are no longer the cute girls, the jocks, the nerds or the popular ones. We are all on the same playing field and I love it. Everyone is on their own journey and we enjoy sharing what we are doing and how we are doing it. We laugh, we cry, we have a great time together. We have as many get togethers as we can. If someone is coming back to our hometown, we meet somewhere to catch up. We are in the planning stages for a 60th birthday party for us all next summer. These are awesome people and I love them.
Today, I’d like to introduce you to one of my classmates. Meet Dale Johnson…
If you would have told me that I would be asking Dale questions about health and fitness and his yoga journey 40 years ago, I’m not really sure that I would have believed you. That is exactly what I’m doing today though. I am truly inspired by Dale’s answers to my questions. I hope you will be too.
1. Did you have an “aha” moment that led you to thinking it was time to get in shape?
The “aha” moment was more like a “aahhhh” pain moment. In the Spring of 2005, my wife and two sons and I went to the Wisconsin Dells for a long weekend. No boat ride or anything. Her sister had a 2nd home nearby. We decided on a “Wizards Quest” for an activity one afternoon. Getting close to the end, one of the clues was on a post that you had to use a rope tunnel to get to. I was designated climber, so I joined the boys and crawled out to it. Didn’t have an issue immediately, but later that night… After returning home made an appt with my Dr. and he prescribed a steroid pack and some muscle relaxers. In the past, this had been a successful solution. Not this time. So stiff and painful, couldn’t straighten up to standing. Had an X-Ray and was diagnosed with “Degenerative Disc disease)”. Basically, your 50, your spine has some arthritis and it’s not as flexible or pain free as it used to be. Started to feel a bit better, but after a week I discovered that there is a nerve that runs from the Sacrum (Triangular bone connecting the pelvis just below the spine) all the way down the back of the leg to the heel. It’s called the Sciatic nerve. I then had an MRI (just love that coffin feeling) and received my final diagnose. Herniated Disc, L5/S1. From April 2005 through April 2006, I had multiple PT sessions, chiropractors, Acupuncture and plenty of pain medication. 1st Microdiscectomy in April of 2006. Went fantastic. Felt great. Finished PT and promptly returned to my non healthful ways. Made it through the summer Ok. But in October, when raking leaves… Herniated the same disc. Not uncommon. But this time, the pain is excruciating. More PT, Acupuncture, pain reducing treatments and 12-15 Vicodin or Norco per day. Not much relief though. 2nd surgery in February 2007, 2 days after the Bears lost to the Colts in Super Bowl XLI. Recovery felt like real surgery this time. Did I mention the going without pain meds and withdrawal symptoms? That was an added bonus. After 2 sessions of PT, my wife Marcia (Saint to live with me during this time) suggested I join a new health club that opened in Oak Park, Fitness Formula Club (FFC). In May of 2007, I started on my path. Now, 7+ years later, I’m thankful for the back injury. I never would have had a lifestyle change, gotten fit, found Yoga and be here today.
2. How did you get interested in Yoga?
After joining FFC, I started trying the various group exercise classes. Spin, Pilates, and Yoga. Tried a demo Spin class and almost dislocated a hip joint when I tried to “stop” pedaling. Floor Pilates was good, but it didn’t resonate. Yoga, was different. I started with a great, experienced teacher. She had fun classes and music, practicing what I later learned was Vinyasa Yoga. I’m naturally flexible (flexibility is great, but not required to start Yoga) and found I had an affinity for the postures. Was a great addition to my growing core strengthening routine. By incorporating elements of Yoga and what I learned in PT, I created strength and flexibility in the muscles protecting my weakened lower back.
3. How does practicing Yoga affect your attitude and mood?
When I’m on the mat I have learned how to place memory and imagination (past and future) at the door and be in the moment. My body becomes an instrument to play, to find its strengths and weaknesses, and be accepting of all. When I’m off the mat, not so much. But that is the practice. To accept what comes in the day and not allow it to affect your peace. To look at another human being and see the light within. To seek what is right without becoming righteous. Be good, do good. And I fail every day at this. But never the less, I keep trying.
4. What would you like to tell the “older” people about practicing yoga?
It’s never too late to start. The concept is that of walking a path to an ultimate goal on a very high mountain. There are an infinite amount of these paths, and you will see others on these paths. Some further along than you, some behind. No one is better or worse than any other. There is no comparison of the quality of your path, it is just different than another. You may never reach your ultimate goal. But you walk your path, at your own pace. You are present. But first you need to take the first step. Men, you’re going to be in the minority. A study by the publication Yoga Journal a few years ago found that about 20 million people practice Yoga in America. Of those, 80-85% are women. Most of these women will be younger, in some Yoga styles much younger. Listen to your body. Let me say that again. Listen. To. Your. Body. Yoga done with attention and awareness, and without ego will not injure you. Yoga done mindlessly, with ego will almost certainly cause you injury.
5. Why is yoga a better exercise for older people in your eyes?
Done correctly, Yoga will improve strength, flexibility, physical health, mental health, relieve back problems, improve your balance, lower your blood pressure, increase your libido, and the list goes on. No other form of movement provides as much health benefit as Yoga can. Most people come to Yoga for the physical health benefits. It’s how I started. But if it resonates with you, as you find benefits from the physical practice (Asana), you start to ask “Well, what else is there?” Asana, is just the tip of the iceberg. As we age, one day we come to the realization that the road ahead is much shorter than it used to be, the road behind much longer. We start to contemplate our life, our successes, our failures, our connection to each other, to a higher power. This is also where Yoga can help.
6. What is your advice for beginners?
Find a style of Yoga that matches your physical abilities and preferences. If you are active and can get up and down from the floor, your knees may crack but you can tolerate kneeling and are able to perform a few pushups, a beginners class offering a Vinyasa or Hatha style of Yoga may be a good place to start. If you are having some knee, or back problems a Restorative or Yin style of Yoga may be beneficial. If you have a larger body, a Plus Size style Yoga class may help you by practicing with similar sized students. If balance and strength are an issue for you, Chair Yoga will allow you to practice and build confidence as you gain strength and balance. Find a ‘Yoga buddy” that will commit to starting with you. Perform an Internet search to find studios that are close and try a few. Find out if they offer “studio Yoga mats” for you to use or rent, bring water and a couple of bathroom hand towels to wipe off sweat, or water should you spill. Find classes geared towards the Beginner. Have fun! So many Yoga students look either disconnected or stern. Practice can be difficult, either a long held posture or challenging balance pose. But Yoga should be fun, joyful, challenging, grounding, meditative. Leave your ego and judgment at the door. Don’t dwell on the fight you had with your significant other, the driver who cut you off 3 blocks from the studio or the job interview at 9 a.m. That’s the past or residing in your memories. Those events are done, you can’t change them. On the other hand don’t mentally tick off you shopping list, what you’re going to eat for dinner or your trip to FL. That’s the future or working in your imagination. Those are events that may not even turn out as you think, so why bother? Be present in your mind, in your body, in your breath in your spirit. When I’m in a posture, and my alignment feels right, my breath is strong, my depth is sustainable with little to no effort and I feel the blood flow within my body, I am one. It is peace.
7. What is your favorite style of yoga?
That’s a difficult question. Core Power’s Hot Power Fusion is a favorite when I want to practice “Hot Yoga”. It’s sequence is meant for cleansing by alternating between contraction and extension in 103-105 degree heat. A good Vinyasa Flow class with interesting sequencing and music is very rewarding. Yin Yoga with its long holds and deep, opening in the connective tissues is great when I want to draw awareness into my body. But a slow Vinyasa Flow, almost static Hatha Yoga, with a spiritual playlist is now my favorite. It is truly meditation in movement.
8. How long have you been practicing yoga?
Seven and a half years.
9. Do you teach yoga? I think I remember reading that somewhere. If not, would you like to teach?
I am teaching. I completed my 200 Hatha Yoga certification in December of 2012.
10. What else would you like our readers to know about the practice of yoga?
Yoga is not a religion. It is one of six Indian spiritual philosophies. It creates awareness in the body, allowing the yoking of mind and body, if you allow it to. As we age, we become more aware of our bodies, the infirmities not the abilities of years past. With the new realities of Health care in America, maintaining optimal health will be much more cost effective than doctor visits, test, medications and procedures that aren’t covered because you have a $6000 deductible. Healthy food to give your body the proper nourishment, strength training for balance and weight control and Yoga for connecting the mind, body, breath and spirit. A winning combination.
A winning combination indeed. I took yoga classes for about a year and then the studio closed. I didn’t seek out a new studio. After hearing the good things Dale has to say about yoga and all it’s benefits, I think it’s time to find a new studio. I’m not sure I would be as good at it as Dale, but gosh, he makes me want to try. Thank you, Dale for all your help with this post. You are amazing!
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