Trouble with Old People | July 2018

The List of Dangerous Things

by Steve Van Auken


You have probably noticed that the older people in your life tend to move slowly.  There is a reason for this.  I mean, beyond the fact that our knees haven’t worked properly since the first Reagan administration.

The reason is that we are constantly being warned to “Be careful.” The list of things that are dangerous to seniors is now about as long as the tax code, and growing by the day.  As a special bonus to those of us who worry as a hobby, the list of Dangerous Things contradicts itself. 

As one example, consider the bizarre fact that we seniors are advised to maintain our self-esteem, and also advised that yoga is good for us.  All well and good, you say?  When is the last time you actually tried yoga?

In my innocence, I once thought that yoga must be a nice way to get a stretch.  It was something a person might do if the basketball court was being resurfaced or the weight room was  crowded.  I thought it was cute that yoga ladies, and some yoga men, arrived for their class with a mat and a matching bag.  I figured the mat was there to facilitate a nice nap while zither music played in the background and the instructor droned on about chakras.  Then I succumbed to my wife’s suggestions that I try yoga. 

It didn’t take long to learn what the mats are really for.  They are there to keep your blood off the floor.  And to give you something to bite on to contain your screams when a joint you had forgotten you had pops out of place.

A word of caution to older men about yoga instructors. You may have played football, basketball, or soccer for a coach you bitterly recall as having been tough.  The kind of coach who was convinced that pain — at least, pain that was not his own — was nothing more than an appetite stimulant, and who believed that stopping to drink water during a workout in the afternoon sun caused atrophy of the male genitals.  You know the coach I mean.

I am here to tell you that he was not tough enough to carry a yoga instructor’s sweatband.  The key difference between an old-school sports coach and a yoga coach is this:  The yoga coach will not get angry with you, ever.  He doesn’t need to.  He knows how to totally dismantle you while he smiles gently upon you. 

It took me five minutes at my first yoga class to learn the terrible truth.  It is more painful to hold a pose than it is to jump around from here to there.  Ernest Hemingway said, “Never mistake motion for action.”  Garrett, the instructor who worked hard to teach me yoga, would probably say, “Never mistake motion for action.  And I know you can hold that pose for another two minutes.”

Do not, by the way, be deceived by the cute names — like “Child Pose” and “Downward Dog”– that yoga practitioners have assigned to their poses.  They selected these innocuous-sounding names because no one would show up to learn “Slow Death” or “Abandon All Hope.” 

I do worry about any of my peers who might naively wander into a yoga class.  My own instructor was brilliant, and he did all he could to encourage me.  It was not his fault that I dropped out.  A better man than I would have had the self-esteem to cheerfully accept being the only person in the room who needed to do some of the poses while seated in a chair. 

The list of things for seniors to Be Careful about continues to grow, and it contradicts itself.  Yoga is one example.  It is great for your flexibility, but only if you have iron-clad self esteem and a professional boxer’s tolerance for pain.  The list is replete with other contradictions.  Coffee is good for you and it is bad for you.  Hiking is good but it increases your Risk of Falling.  Which is something that makes all the lists of things not to do.  Sex and broccoli are about the only things that make every Good List and avoid every Bad List.  (Although doctors do advise seniors against having sex while cooking broccoli.  Clinical research recently published shows that hot, spilled water poses a Risk of Falling.)

So if the older person in your life seems preoccupied and slow to move her grocery cart out of the middle of the aisle, give her a break.  She has a lot on her mind.