Doing Yoga Helps a Stiff Back and Other Aging Issues

“Yoga? ME?”

It was never something I’d considered doing. Isn’t yoga for slim, trim young ladies in stretchy pants and leotards?

I wasn’t a stranger to exercise. In my long‐ago college days, I’d run 5 or 6 miles a day, I enjoyed playing tennis, and for nearly three decades I played basketball with friends at the UGA gyms.

“Yeah,” my wife kept reminding me, ” and didn’t every major injury you ever had come from basketball?”

After I had total hip replacement surgery in 2014, running and jumping on hard surfaces doesn’t work well for my 68‐year‐old body anymore, so I was ready when the publishers of BoomAthens suggested that I try yoga and write about the experience.

Baby Boomer Mens Yoga - BoomAthens
Bill Griswold begins class with a cross-legged pose even after hip surgery. Photo Credit: Larry Petroff

That’s how I wound up at the entrance to Five Points Yoga, introducing myself to Chet Thomas, who would be leading the morning session. I was a bit nervous, wondering whether I’d be embarrassed if I couldn’t turn myself into a pretzel like the others in the class.

“Grab a mat, a couple of blankets, and blocks,” Chet said. “You’ll do fine.”

Athens 5 Points Yoga Instructor Chet Thomas begins class in a cross-legged pose
Yoga classes often begin with a cross‐legged pose (ask for folded blankets and
pillows to help stiff muscles in seated poses). Photo Credit: Larry Petroff

Chet, who is 58 years old and has been in Athens since 1994, is trained as an instructor in Iyengar yoga, named after the man who created this form. Like all forms of yoga, Iyengar is aimed at increasing physical and mental well‐being through the use of bodily postures, breathing techniques, and meditation.

Iyengar emphasizes that “yoga is for everybody, regardless of age or ability,” Chet wrote to me later.

In the high‐ceilinged main room, about 14 of us spread mats on the floor and sat quietly waiting. Along with the dozen or more women, most of whom appeared to be in their 40s or older, I was one of the two men in the class. I later learned the other was Avrom Robin, an attorney from New York who said he was so “addicted” to yoga that he and his daughter had made sure to find classes they could go to while they were visiting Athens.

The class began with breathing exercises, and yes, saying “Om” while exhaling. The point of that appears to be focusing the mind on what the body is doing, and concentrating on what is happening in the moment.

Bill Griswold Balancing Pose Yoga BoomAthens
Roger Bailey works on balance at the Center for Active Living.

As the class moved on, we were guided through a series of asanas, or bodily poses, that reminded me of how inflexible my body had become. The “downward dog” asana ‐‐ hands and feet on the floor, bottom pointed up, making an inverted V shape ‐‐ let me know how tight my hamstrings are, since I couldn’t keep my legs straight.

But, unlike my memories of physical education classes in high school and Army physical training, no one yelled at me, made fun of me, or laughed at me. Chet came over and showed how using plastic blocks could make the pose easier and relieve some of the strain on my legs. And as we moved into other asanas, standing or kneeling or lying on our mats, we all were urged to pay attention to our bodies, and not to hurt ourselves.

“Men may be reluctant to go to a yoga class, thinking they will be embarrassed by a room full of flexible women,” Chet told me. “It’s important to know yoga equally emphasizes strength, stamina, balance, and flexibility. Not being flexible is not a valid excuse [to not attend]; you go to improve flexibility. Also, everyone generally pays attention to their own practice during class, not what other students are doing.”

Half-Moon Yoga Pose
A foam block and the wall aid Half‐moon pose. Photo Credit: Larry Petroff

The session ended with several minutes of quiet meditation. As we cleared away the mats and other equipment, I realized that an hour and a half had gone by much faster than it had seemed. It was invigorating and more strenuous than I had expected. I had worked muscles that had been dormant for too long, and I felt better for it.

I enjoyed it ‐‐ so much so that a week later I was in another class, this time in the activity room of the Center for Active Living, a program run by the Athens Community Council on Aging. I was encouraged to see that several men were in the class, all older than I am, but again I found that, although I was sometimes challenged to keep up in some of the poses, I felt both energized and relaxed after the class.

Spinal Twist Yoga Apparatus Tools Aides BoomAthens
Spinal twists are easier in a chair. Photo Credit: Larry Petroff

I had been told that every instructor teaches his or her class differently than others, and the two sessions I attended were different ‐‐ more emphasis on physical exercise in the first, and more chanting and mental focus in the second ‐‐ but I found value in each.

So I guess now the answer to “Yoga? Me?” is “Yes,” yoga is for men, even old dogs like me, and I’ll be checking out several of the many opportunities to do yoga in Athens, to find which fits me best. Boom Athens Logo - Favicon (Recolor) - 75px

Editor’s Note: For the skeptics, read The Science of Yoga, by William J. Broad.

How to Get Started in Yoga in or Near Athens:
The best way, according to many people I talked to, is to go to a class. You can start with a “slow,” “gentle,” or “restorative” class with a teacher who knows you’re a beginner. Let the teacher know of any health conditions you have, and modifications can be made for individual needs during class.
You can find out a lot about what kind of classes are offered by Googling “yoga studios in Athens” or your community) or call and talk with someone about what to expect and which classes are best for first‐timers.
Many teachers offer private lessons for those who need individual instruction or don’t want to be in classes with others.
The cost can vary from $10 ‐ $17 per drop‐in session, for instance, to free (after an annual $45 registration fee) at the Athens Community Council on Aging’s Center for Active Living. A few studios operate by donations.
You’ll need a mat, to cushion your bones against the floor, and you can find one at most sporting goods stores, or even at Walmart. Often, studios have mats for new students. It’s best to wear close‐fitting clothes, so that they don’t sag or get in the way of certain poses. No special shoes are required; you’ll do the classes barefoot or in socks.
Five Points Yoga, 706‐355‐3114
The Center for Active Living, 706‐549‐4850
(PLUS,  the YMCA, the YWCO, and the UGA Ramsey Center offer classes in addition to numerous private studios.)
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Bill Griswold
Bill Griswold received a Ph.D in mass communication from the University of Minnesota in 1994. He worked as a journalist for the Atlanta Journal and taught journalism at the University of Kentucky, then UGA’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, retiring as an associate professor in 2008.

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