Despite what the numbers might say on my birth certificate, the Grim Reaper was not invited to my birthday party. I’m sure he thinks that 65 candles are a fire hazard way beyond my lung capacity. What he didn’t know was that I’d been training for this Medicare showdown since I turned 60.
The last time I passed that milestone birthday, I decided that, I’d get awesome, not old. Having wasted most of my life learning how to be a grownup, I wondered how one becomes awesome.
My answer was to create my 60+ year old self into an improved version of me. I would go toe-to-toe and eye-to-eye against aging. It was going to take all my body parts working together to tame this thing. Turning back the clock may not be possible, but slowing down its forward movement was doable.
Fitness magazines touted exercise as a possibility toward graceful aging. As if on cue, Melanie, my 25-year old daughter-in-law, invited me to hot yoga.
“Sure,” I told her. “Perfect timing. Strengthen my core, beat stress, and become one with the universe.” And become awesome in the process, I thought.
Admittedly a yoga neophyte, I figured that after a few downward facing dogs and child’s poses, I’d be on my merry way. But, barely inside the studio, I realized that I was in trouble. The room temperature soared to a sweltering 105 degrees. Somber people sat silently on mats. When the instructor asked who was there for the first time, only I raised a sodden hand.
With the first pose, standing deep breathing, I started to choke like an amateur fire-eater in a carnival sideshow. The guy to my left eyed me warily, and I felt guilty for hampering his “om.” When my entire being erupted like a raging brush fire, I almost bombarded everyone’s namaste with epithets.
“Sorry,” I whispered. “The screeching you hear might be my bones leaching calcium.” He picked up his mat and fairly sprinted to the other side of the room.
I became a whirling dervish in the throes of an out of body experience. I contorted on a borrowed yoga mat ripe with the fragrance of rancid, past camel poses. My altered state of consciousness verged on unconscious. The room began to vibrate, and my middle ear pulsated with a tinny shrill echo that blasted the inner membranes of my cranium.
“Excuse me?” my voice quivered as I approached a woman in front of me, her neck encircled in a purple bandana like some kind of cowboy. Rather incongruous for yoga, I thought, but perhaps I’m hallucinating. “Is there somewhere that I can get a glass of water?” Her withering look further inflamed the inferno that ravaged my red-hot flesh.
By the time Melanie whispered, “Are you okay?” I was seriously questioning her intentions for our relationship. In fact, moments before, I had seen her glance my way in disgust, as I crumpled into non-pose, elbows and knees entangled, shriveled vines on a lifeless tree. I barely nodded in response, afraid that I’d lose my equilibrium and pass out. I wondered how to call 911. Did my fingers work anymore?
I was willing to make a pact with the devil to survive. He must have been there somewhere. Maybe disguised as that perky little yoga instructor, seated in evil pose at the front of the room, clad in form-fitting Lululemon pants, color-coordinated headband, and blackberry-hued lips. Only someone from Hades could still have lipstick on under these circumstances.
Brain cells burning, chest collapsing, I gave up. I thought it best not to taunt Satan any longer.
When class ended, my refreshed and vibrant daughter-in-law found me, sprawled like a rag doll on a bench in the waiting room. “That was great!” she gushed. “Will you come back to hot yoga again?”
What is it with these yoga people? Do they have no sweat glands? For a minute, I conjured Melanie as Satan. She was decked out in perfect yoga gear. Hair flawless. Makeup intact. Hmmm…
“Sure,” I sputtered, “when they blast the air conditioner to a comfortable 55 degrees.” Yup, it’ll be a cold day in hell, I thought, facing the reality that hot yoga wasn’t my path to awesomeness.
Back to searching fitness magazines, I read that the secret to youthful aging is strong, healthy bones. I doggedly pursued weight-bearing exercise, popped calcium and gobbled green leafy vegetables. I hired a personal trainer. Three days a week, she led me into the bastion of brawny males, commonly called a weight room, replete with odors faintly reminiscent of the failed yoga encounter. Serenaded by grunts, obscenities and the occasional howl, I gradually built the strength to hoist my entire being up and over the pullup bar. Bone health or die. My cells screamed, tendons burned, and my bones purred. They knew that this was for them. The other parts of me needed to get with the program.
I learned to swing kettle bells around like cotton balls. With every move, my bones breathed a raspy thank you. Jumping jacks became weight bearing gifts from the goddess of awesome. Leaping into the air, landing on the balls of my feet, the throaty gratitude of my bones reached my ears. You go, girl. Awesomeness, here we come.
Even the tread mill, that tedious stretch of faux distance that kept me running to nowhere, became vital in my pursuit. My bones set the pace, chanting that we’re going to run to nowhere as long as necessary.
My own personal Olympics eventually included swimming, crunches and Zumba. Competing against myself became the contest of my life.
I immediately reaped the benefits. Apollo, my 95-pound Labrador Retriever, no longer dominated our walks. Breathing became a breeze. And, although I haven’t yet challenged my 16-year-old grandson to a race, I am hopeful at the thought of it.
“Bring on the birthday blaze,” I said. “I’m ready.”
And the goddess of awesome, my guest of honor, helped me blow out 65 candles.