Calling Gumby

Some of the other participants in this morning’s
yoga class.

I could have stayed in Happy Baby pose the rest of the class. Fortunately, there were only a couple more hip openers to go before my favorite part of any yoga session: Savasana, or Corpse pose.

In Happy Baby, I lay on my back with my legs off the floor above me, knees bent, while my hands grabbed the outside of my feet. I also rolled around a bit on the base of my spine, which felt wonderful after the contortions in which I’d spent the previous 50 or so minutes. Like I said: I could have stayed there for a long time but in short order the instructor had us grab a belt and extend our legs (one at a time) out to the side then over to the other side. That felt good too, and the Savasana that immediately followed was very peaceful. But most of the session had been a torture-fest, a struggle to bend and twist this 47-year-old frame into rejuvenating positions. I did it, but it wasn’t easy.

Which is a bummer because I was good at yoga a while back. I did it quite frequently and I have no doubt it was yoga that enabled me to play full-check hockey well into my 40s.

I took up yoga in the fall of 1992. I’d returned home to Park City, Utah, after my first trip to Alaska. On that trip I had several revelations, and they all conspired to get me back into proper form. I went vegetarian and gave up alcohol for almost a year, I started working out in the gym and doing cardio work regularly, and I took up yoga.

Yoga made sense because of a book I’d read by Ram Dass, in which the guru of the ’60s pointed out that if you were an active person, seated meditation was going against your nature. Better to try active meditation: whirling, tai chi or yoga, things like that.

My first teacher was an ex-Army guy who taught in the gym in Park City. He was super nice and super laid-back, and he was very helpful to a rank beginner like me. In later years I worked with some pretty high-profile teachers, including one who studied with B.K.S. Iyengar, THE yoga dude in the world. But C.J. remains my favorite, largely because of his cheerful, happy-go-lucky approach to the practice.

And the practice paid off right away. I felt healthier and more capable on the slopes, on the ice, everywhere. Several years later, while playing for the Sun Valley Suns, I’d get shit from younger teammates as I’d go through my 10-minute pre-game routine. The funny thing was: they were the ones getting hurt, not this old-fart yogi. That was what clinched the value of yoga to me: that health and strength and suppleness that practicing yoga gave me.

But as with every healthy discipline in my life, I’ve wandered off the path in recent years. I haven’t vegged since I started eating meat again in ’93, and heaven knows I don’t lead a teetotaling life. In recent months I at least kept up a gym practice (abandoned since May) and a regular yoga practice? Well, that’s been years. So this morning’s class — a slow-flow class, no less — was humbling.

There weren’t any of the Gumby-like rubber-band practitioners in this morning’s class, but there were plenty of people — male and female alike, older and younger than me — who made me feel like the out-of-shape blob I’ve become. Poses that were once easy for me are now challenging — some so challenging I can’t do them other than at the complete beginner level. I came out of the class feeling it in every muscle of my body. Which, I suppose, is the point, right?

“Seek freedom and become captive of your desires, seek discipline and find your liberty,” wrote Frank Herbert in Dune. I’ve let that discipline go over the past months and years, but I’m confident that a slow-flow yoga class this morning represents the first step on the road back to where I was not so long ago. “Begin again and again and again and…” was the mantra of an old trainer of mine years ago. Sound wisdom. Maybe I can even get back to Gumby status someday.

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