We were leaving Joanne Gormley’s morning class. Joanne turned towards Betty with a smile.
“You did the whole class today, Betty! Even the standing postures!”
“I was talking to my sister on the phone last night, ” Betty, a soft-spoken, diminutive lady, was eager to share her story, “and I was complaining about how I can’t do what I used to do! How I can no longer do the whole practice.” Betty gave us a dead-pan face, “She said, ‘But Betty, you’re 92. Time to let it go.’” Betty smiled, “I was thinking about her in this morning’s practice!”
Betty moved to Quebec from the States in her 20’s, at the end of WW2, looking for relief from her allergies. She was told St. Donat was an allergy-free zone. There she met her husband. In the following years they had 4 children and, to quote her, ‘lived the life’. Think Mad Men. Think cocktail parties and little black dresses!
When Betty was 46, she began to feel some physical and emotional stress: she had an empty nest was doing some renovations on her daughter’s old room. She went to a Florida spa for a retreat and, there, did her first yoga class. And so her yoga journey began!
At that time in Montreal, Sivananda was about the only place to go for yoga. One of her persistent memories of that was the strong smell of cooking coming up from the communal kitchen. Another memory is about Sun Salutations and her dislike of them. In the first class, they did 16 of them in a row and at a fast pace!
Her next experience was with a teacher, Jana Lackman, who opened the studio, Yoga Plus, in Westmount. The classes were small and intimate. Betty remembers the amazing effect of these classes: floating down Green Avenue, lost in the yoga-high.
One day, Betty was in so much pain she couldn’t get out of bed. She was diagnosed with polymyalgia rheumatic, a syndrome with pain or stiffness, usually in the neck, shoulders, upper arms, and hips, but which may occur all over the body. PMR is usually treated with courses of oral corticosteroids. Most people need to continue the corticosteroid treatment for two to three years. PMR sometimes goes away on its own in a year or two, but medications and self-care measures can improve the rate of recovery.
Although she was taking the prescribed medication, she was almost unable to walk. Betty then turned to Dr. Bali of Yoga Bliss. Eventually because of this syndrome, PMR, she stopped all exercise, including yoga. But yoga was not done with Betty.
Eight years ago someone recommended Joanne Gormley at Yoga on The Park.
Betty’s current regime includes 20 minutes of stretches before she gets out of bed, a regular fitness class at The Queen Elizabeth (aerobics without the Jumping), and two yoga classes a week. If you arrive early at the studio on a Monday or Wednesday morning, you will find Betty sitting in her car reading the morning paper. She likes to keep up with the news but says that recent news stories from her original home have brought her to read less! After the class she will be at our local café, Shaika, having lunch with the some of the other yoga students.
Betty has what we all aspire to: health and wellness into our later years. Betty has found the closest thing we have the Fountain of Youth: move, keep informed, and socialize.
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has sponsored evidence-based research on yoga and aging. Yoga can help with joint stiffness, low back pain, balance issues and depression. Another study, Effect of Regular Yogic Training on GH and DHEAS as an Endocrine Marker of Aging, Sridip Chatterjee and Samiran Mondal has found that a regular yoga practice increases production of GH (a hormone which stimulates cell growth and reproduction) and DHEAS (a hormone linked to immune function and heart health) . So yoga may slow down the loss of bone density and loss of muscle mass and also improve immune function and help guard against degenerative disorders (e.g. Parkinson’s).
Eva Brune, another of our teachers, used to teach chair yoga at a senior’s residence in California. Although from anecdotal evidence, the administration at this residence was convinced of the efficacy of these classes. The seniors who did the classes were more flexible, had greater mobility and improved mood and outlook. So these seniors were more autonomous and independent. They could dress themselves. They slept better. They were more social. Aging is inevitable; dis-ease is optional.
When I told Betty I wanted to write a blog about her, she said, “Why me? I’m nothing special.” Nothing special? Betty is what we all aspire to.
Very special indeed!!