Months ago, I crouched to light a lantern on my patio. Hands occupied with matches and candles, I toppled over like an egg. My thighs alone could not propel me vertical. My hastily outstretched arms failed to counteract gravitational pull. Mortified, I lay on my back for several minutes, palms stinging from their forceful encounter with grit and pebbles.
I spent much of the last year planted in a swivel chair, trying to hide my double chin from co-workers on screen.
I looked around. I was alone, except for my enraged and apparently vocal inner self.
What happened to you?
You played tennis, golf, and softball. You skied icy New England trails. You loved to sweat. You moved furniture just for fun.
You used to be strong!
Yes, I used to be. But my nearing-60-year-old-body was squishy and weak. Lifting the cast-iron skillet required two hands instead of one. Walking four miles meant shin splints and a sore back.
Carrying all the grocery bags to the doorstep in a single trip? Those were the good old days.
Kneeling on the kitchen floor to scratch fuzzy cat bellies? Ouch! I’d wait for them to come to me. When I was lounging on the couch.
Is It Me or Is It COVID?
Blaming COVID for hastening my decrepitude would be convenient. And I wouldn’t be alone. Nearly a third of people believe their general strength declined during the pandemic. A survey of U.S. adults in late February 2021 for the Stress in America poll found 42 percent reporting they gained more weight than intended. During the initial stage of lockdown, people felt a lack of motivation to exercise.
I’d require new tools to re-set what was becoming my new, unfortunate normal.
I spent much of the last year planted in a swivel chair, trying to hide my double chin from the coworkers on my screen. I focused on the next deadline, the next meal, the nightly cocktail hour.
When even a double-dose of Pfizer didn’t lure me out of hunker-down mode I started to worry.
Re-entering a more physical post-pandemic world freaked me out.
To be fair, my slide started well before the pandemic. At some point over the last few years my vigilance about what I ate and how much I exercised began to wane. I felt somewhat less—less active, less energetic, less young. And then came the nonsense with aching fingers that woke me at night, crackling, tattered knees that balked at the staircases in my house, and more recent adventures with osteoporosis and constant heartburn.
Come on! You’re still healthy. You know how to get stronger.
I did, but I’d require new tools to re-set what was becoming my new, unfortunate normal. My worldview narrowed during the pandemic while my once-cute muffin-top expanded to resemble the bulky whole-grain loaves and bagels I was baking. I’d have to refocus myself, reignite the inner strength that was sapped by ennui and inactivity.
How to Start
I wondered if a downward-facing dog approach could remedy my inward-facing inertia. It had been more than two years since my last yoga pose shot a flaming arrow of agony through my right shoulder. Intense pain aggravated by bone spurs drove me to surgery.
Was I willing to risk further injury to fortify head, shoulders, knees and toes? The answer, with very little hesitation, was yes. After nearly a hundred trips to physical therapy, I could raise my arm without wincing and wrangle on a bra without tears of frustration.
Bring on the mat!
I googled “gentle yoga,” “free” and “strength.” Up popped “Breath, A 30-day Yoga Journey.” The YouTube videos are taught by Adriene Mishler, an instructor with 9 million subscribers. Her library of more than 500 videos includes Yoga For the Lonely, Yoga For Courage, Yoga For When You Feel Dead Inside.
Yoga for you!
Yes, yoga for me. I clicked on the “Breath” series, and soon after, I clicked with Adriene. She broke into honky-tonk songs and cooed to her dog, Benji, who mostly snoozed on his own mat. “Find what feels good for your body today,” Adriene said. “You’ve already shown up. That’s the hardest part.”
She reminded me that I was part of a global community that savored each deep breath. She gave permission to let go of mental drama—much the way Marie Kondo helped us find joy in decluttering our homes. Adriene spoke to me. She said to focus on showing up physically, be present mentally, and accept that the practice—and my body—is a work in progress.
I finished that first class on January 6. An hour or so later, texts from family and friends sent me to the television and surreal images from Washington, D.C. I spent the rest of the day under a weighted blanket drinking gin. Neck and back tight, stomach twisted, my hand in my husband’s firm grip.
I am preparing for re-entry by finding strength in myself to do whatever I need.
The next morning, still clenched, I found refuge on my purple yoga mat. Subsequent classes buoyed my physical and emotional strength. Beyond the joy of a proud warrior pose or relaxing happy-baby stretches, the mind-body connection soothed external pressures and internal shortcomings. I now had a way to find serenity and a measure of self-control in a world of intensifying weather, deadly disease, and other outsized distractions.
And I’m still at it. Every day around 11, I take a break from work, shoo the cats, and unfurl my mat. Sometimes the sun reaches me from the front door. Or a breeze seeps over the threshold. I balance on one leg. In arched plank, I support myself with abs that I thought had long retired after two C-sections. I rise (mostly) unaided from those troublesome deep crouches.
I still need two hands for the cast-iron pan. But when my fingertips drill into the mat to relieve pressure on my wrists, when I pant with the fire-breath of a lion or exhale slowly to create the sound of the ocean in my ears, I am centered. I am the strong version of me. There’s no room for my inner scolding voice. No need to feel old or weak, or less-than. I am preparing for re-entry by finding strength in myself to do whatever I need, whatever my age.
You’re making me proud. Keep going!
Lisa Kosan is an editor, nonprofit grant writer, and former journalist whose recent essays have appeared in Next Avenue and a (sadly defunct) New York City blog about midlife adventures. She writes for technology, arts and parenting platforms, and is a ghostwriter and editorial consultant. She lives in Sleepy Hollow, New York. Read more at binderclipeditorial.com.