Every 5 years or so, I try to introduce my family to the benefits of Yoga and I fail. Until, I think, now…because I finally stopped trying so hard.
Last year, after her unlucky string of injuries and trips to the hospital, I bought my 69-year-old mother a gift certificate for 10 free classes at her local yoga center. I thought it would be a good way to get her out doing something AND it would get her back some of the strength and balance she was lacking from before and after the injuries. SHe seemed delighted; she bought herself a mat, a special outfit, and went to a class that week. Then she went to another class the following week. Then she brought her husband with her to a third class. And then she never went back. Sigh. Twelve years earlier, I had brought them to a Bikram class with me, and she left the class 20 minutes before the end. Similarly, after dragging my brother to a hot class he declared, to my expectant, smiling face,"that was the most disgusting experience of my life." In retrospect: WTF was I thinking?!? I've struggled to understand why my family doesn't listen to me. I'm an expert! I share everything I learn with them! I want to spoon-feed them help! After a recent family visit, I think I finally have the wisdom, patience, and evidence to start to understand what's going on.
My partner's parents just spent 3 weeks with us in Hong Kong. They're both around 60, and actually don't look much older than 50. They're in great shape. They live in Newfoundland, and have spent the past eight years building a stone (!) house using only locally-available stones that they painstakingly gather, haul with their pickup, and, when the weather permits, carefully position in an ever-higher mass of hand-mixed mortar and rock. It's beautiful, and it's a labor of love that requires constant attention, patience and careful timing due to the rather harsh climate. the 7 winter months of the year are spent working on construction inside.
Unfortunately, as a result of years of physical feats, my father-in-law has inflexible ankles, an injured knee, an injured shoulder, thickened fingers and wrists, and an injured back. I offered to show him some stretches that might help relieve some of these problems, and we actually did two 45-minute sessions. He appreciated it, I think. I hope he learned something. Here's what I learned:
all pain is bad to him, whether it's from stretching or from exacerbating an injury
he doesn't have a mental picture of the bones, muscles, and organs interacting in his body
he has the capacity to improve DRASTICALLY after only 2 sessions
He, like many, has so firmly identified with his injuries that he hasn't noticed that some of them are no longer injuries (for example, 40 years ago (!) he apparently hyper-extended both feet backwards (!) in a wrestling match during police training (!), and has since then NEVER kneeled on the floor with feet underneath his butt (!)…I had him try this, and to his and my surprise, after day 2 he could sustain this posture for up to 10 seconds.)
he, like many, has been told by doctors that if you have an injury, you should never use that body part again
many doctors don't have a clue what they're doing
attention is important to him, like to all humans, and there's a difference between the attention he wants and the attention he needs
to get strength, balance, and flexibility in his body, he needs it in his brain
he's going to be FINE
he learns FAST
the biggest thing I learned during their visit (and it relates to diet, exercise, and overall life-balance) is that he actually deep down ALREADY KNOWS everything I can tell him that is worth him knowing. I can preach until I'm blue in the face, and it's not necessary, and in fact might be counter-productive. He knows. In fact, to my surprise at the end of the visit, he described physiotherapy he'd had years ago to fix his other shoulder that had been injured in the same place. The therapy had worked. This made me happy, albeit confused (and a little irritated). I suspect this is the case for most people who watch tv, read newspapers, and live on earth: they know. Sure, people might not know that broccoli has more calcium in it than cheese, that talk therapy can replace medication, and that breathing rapidly does not increase oxygen intake, but they do know that too much or not enough of something is bad for you, and that moderate amounts of exercise, good food, and being social helps you live longer. People choose to not do what's good for them. It's not just information that people need, it's the encouragement and the empowerment to understand that they're responsible for their own good health. Not their doctor. Not their wife or husband or kids. Not their son's partner. Yoga classes and one-on-one sessions are there to equip people with information about their bodies so that they can take control, not to fix their problems for them. My family is amazing and will be fine, and it's not because of me.