Yoga at 88

I arranged Mother’s Day lunch at mum’s house this year and invited Nana along. The potatoes and parsnips are browning in the Aga as Nana arrives with a posey for me from this morning’s church service. I, in turn, hand her a planter containing blue hyacinths (which I carefully made sure I didn’t touch – I swear I secrete something from my pores that’s lethal to plants) along with two empty egg boxes which she collects to take to the last remaining family farm.

“Nana, can I ask you some questions about your yoga practice?”…is followed by the signature eye roll which I think translates as a combination of ‘don’t make a fuss dear’ and her not wanting to be the centre of attention.

Nana is a no-nonsense, practical and independent 88 year old; the daughter of Westmorland livestock farmers, living in Kendal – not too far away from where she was born and brought up.

There are no end of things that amaze me about my Nana and if I manage to inherit even a few of them I’ll be incredibly grateful, but one of the things I love about her the most is that she has been practicing yoga for 40 years.

She started in the late 70’s as the ‘Keep Fit’ trend was out and the new Yoga fashion was in. She was in her late 40’s with three children and decided that the time had come to start a class that was a little less energetic.

“I just went along on my own – I wasn’t phased. We all wore leotards back then – I remember one tutor wouldn’t even let us wear bras!”

I asked her what kept her going back, what she liked about it.

“Well, it was different back then – more traditional. These days they seem to bring Pilates moves into it much more. Classes varied between being more fast paced, or slower practices with time to stretch into postures.

I found it has kept me flexible and if I don’t do it I would deteriorate in a way.”

I was telling Nana about a TEDTalk I’d seen recently where Wendy Suzuki had delivered the results of her recent research into the link between physical exercise and mental wellbeing. The results were showing that regular exercise over a long period of time promoted creation of new cells in the hippocampus and pre frontal cortex, aiding memory, focus and above all warding off incurable diseases like dementia for much longer.

Nana shrugged this off like it was obvious.

“Well yes, I just do it.”

Which is exactly the right attitude. We marvel at this new research but previous generations know this to be true without the need for scientific proof. Yoga makes Nana feel strong, more flexible and aids her balance. So she goes to a class once a week and does self practice 3 – 4 times a week. Simple.