By Dr Tan Chin Yong
That was my first reaction when my dear wife asked me to go for a private lesson in Yoga about two years ago. Me? I was past 50 years old then and stiff as a board! How would I be able to do any form of yoga! But when the good wife commands, one has only to follow. So off we went.
Twenty minutes into the warm-up flow, while performing the crescent moon pose, I got a severe cramp in my back and all I could do was lie flat on the floor for the rest of the class. However, I was not one to give up especially with my wife looking smug, so I went for my second session the next weekend. Again! I cramped and collapsed on the floor. This time I had to visit the orthopaedic doctor for muscle relaxants and painkillers.
You see, I suffered from a 30-degree scoliosis kink in my spine probably from birth and exacerbated by years of playing vigorous tennis and trying to hit the golf ball as far as I could (with limited success I might add) where I only twist my body one-way all the time. The doctor said there was nothing to be done as it was not bad enough to require surgery but there was no cure – just live with it.
Later, when I started meditation and tried to sit crossed-legged on the floor I kept wondering why I could not sit for more than 5 minutes without excruciating pain while others could sit serenely with their knees relaxed on the ground for hours, obviously in great bliss!
Looking back, I am very glad I did not give up and persisted with Yoga. My back is almost straight now and I can sit in half lotus for a bit longer and have a small taste of the serenity and calm that meditation is supposed to provide.
Yoga has transformed my life. I no longer worry about getting back muscle cramps first thing in the morning simply by stretching in bed. On a good day I can even do the headstand without falling over. I started to enjoy slow jogs again without pain in my knees and lower back and all wrapped up in knee guards.
I have come to realize that Yoga is indeed beneficial, especially for middle-aged men (and women) like me. Most of us are somewhat health conscious and spend a fair bit of time doing some sort of exercise like running, tennis, golf, aerobics or gym. These are all very good, except that none of them involves the entire body – muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, joints and cardio. Most popular exercises work only on a specific group of muscles and neglect the others. As we age, we naturally become less flexible and combined with the imbalance in our musculature built up over the years, would regularly lead to all kinds of body aches and pains with back, neck and knee pains being the most common. Like most people, I used to go for massages a lot in search of temporary relief without curing the root cause.
Next issue: You don’t have to be flexible to do Yoga. You do Yoga to become flexible.