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Nov 27
Opinion Pieces
Grandfather Yoga

Musings on aging, youth, and the practice of yoga

by Larry Barnett

When I was eight both of my grandfathers were sixty, which in 1956 actually was old. They were already stoop-shouldered, and mostly liked to sit shirtless in lawn chairs in the hot sun for hours, smeared with suntan oil. They wore suspenders and their pant waists rose almost to their chests. Sometimes they’d tell stories, or we’d play dominoes. Within four or five years both Papa Bill and Papa Joe had died from heart attacks. I never did any yoga with either of my grandfathers.

Not so for my granddaughter. We play card games, I’ve taught her Cat’s Cradle, we read books together, and she’s teaching me to speak Spanish while she does her math homework. We pot cactus together in the greenhouse, and watch a little SpongeBob. And, oh yes, sometimes we do yoga.

I’ve had a regular yoga practice for around fifteen years, which means in this life I will always be a beginner. Yoga has been good for me; my balance is excellent, my muscles are strong, I can “tune in” to my body and feel what’s going on as my mind moves into stillness while my mouth stays shut. Overall, I’d say yoga keeps me out of trouble.

Now my granddaughter, she’s been doing yoga nearly since what seems like forever. I actually don’t know where and when doing yoga began for her, but it may well have been at the Montessori school she attended before kindergarten. That means she was three, or maybe four at most. My yoga mats have been around all that time, and became especially useful during her “let’s-build-a-fort” stage, but for whatever reason, we did not do yoga together then.

She’s evidently had some good yoga teachers and instruction; she moves through a routine smoothly, calling out the Asanas, or pose names. All the poses have child-like names easy for kids to remember. But here’s the thing: the kind of yoga my granddaughter really likes to do best with me is “Can-you-do-this-Papa?-yoga.”  This is what she asks me as she touches her big toes to her nose, or puts both feet behind her neck, or does what she calls “the pretzel.”

“Sorry,” I repeat over and over, “too stiff for that.” I tell her this as I get into a half lotus position, sitting cross-legged with my right foot on the top of my left thigh. She watches me and moves into the much more difficult full lotus, each foot resting easily atop the opposite thigh. “Can you do this, Papa?” She laughs. I guess there’s just something intrinsically funny about grandfathers, like Bill and Joe’s goofy suspenders and wacky pants.

It goes on like this for three quarters of an hour; an eight-year-old wears out grandfathers almost as fast as they wear out shoes. “OK,” I announce, “time to meditate.” I grab a cushion, get comfortably into half-lotus, place my hands face down on my thighs, and tune into my breath.

I often must remind myself that this is 2016 in California, and not New York in 1956. I am not my grandfather. And never to be outdone, my well-schooled granddaughter quickly balances herself atop my styrofoam yoga block. Sitting in full lotus, she sets the back of each hand on each knee, brings the tips of her thumbs and forefingers together, and sitting up straight, closes her eyes.

“OMMMMM, Papa,” she hums, “OMMMMM.”

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2 responses to “ Grandfather Yoga ”
  1. Linda V Lewis
    Dec 13, 2017

    Love this article Larry. What is the name of the pose of the man bending over with his arms up in the air on the shambhaltimes.org intro to this article? I’ve been doing it for years, but at 72 have forgotten the asana’s name. It’s great to counteract life in front of a computer!

  2. In 1956, my maternal grandfather was 69 and working full time. (My paternal grandfather died as a young man
    in the flu epidemic of 1917-1918.) My maternal grandfather was very active, vibrant, and relative and lived to be
    91. He taught me much, was very caring, and occasionally spoke of moderation.

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