When, in 2012, I was diagnosed with dangerous osteoporosis of the spine, I remained skeptical. What’s a little wing-bone pain anyway? Once home, I stripped to the waist, picked up my hand mirror, and took a critical look at my spine. Where my right wing-bone should have been was a hump. Clothed once more, I saw how my purple T-shirt folded between my clavicle and right shoulder. And to think I’d blamed poor factory seamstresses for how my clothes hung. The mirror did not lie. Neither did the test. I had reached that certain age.
I squinted over Internet photos of crooked spines, dowager’s humps, Fosamax studies, and bones porous as Swiss cheese. Click, click. Osteoporosis causes over a million fractures every year. Click. Nearly half of women over 50 will have a fracture due to osteoporosis. All those jogging and walking miles I’d put in, all those calcium and vitamin D pills. My spine could snap like a Thanksgiving wishbone. What if I turned out like that lady with the huge hump on her right side, who shuffles on her way to Starbucks? Osteoporosis was at work in both of us, cracking bones, curling them, slyly healing them in place.
That is when I turned to Yoga for Osteoporosis by Loren Fishman and Ellen Saltonstall and began a daily regimen of isometric lifts, turns, and stretches meant to strengthen muscle, bone, and balance. Days have blend into months and months into seven years. The hump is gone. I have regained the inch and a half of height loss. My blouses no longer bunch near my clavicle. At times the accomplishment makes me proud, even smug, but other times I wonder why I fear my body’s inevitable decay.
We all grow old.
Yoga teaches me how to come to terms with that reality and how to discover a reprieve.
And sometimes, yoga whisks me back to the landscape of childhood—just before sleep.
Not too many nights ago, the moon shone outside my bedroom window. I smiled and recited lines from the children’s classic Goodnight Moon. Margaret Wise Brown’s lilting words bid “Good evening” to the child’s clocks and socks, to mouse and cow jumping over the moon, to mittens and kittens, to stars and air. Palms together, I moved into the standing breath pose, the wings of my arms wishing sweet dreams to my own desk and chair, books and phone, lamplight, and Angel my Shih Tzu. Night means no harm. Night comes as a friend.
I don’t dread growing old as I once did. True, my spine could curl me in half. My thin shell could crack wide open. Who knows, though, maybe a soft, winged creature will emerge. For now, before that butterfly appears, yoga offers me the chance to be pliable and resilient: to be child again.
At night, I breathe and angle and stretch. I surrender today’s anxieties and yesterday’s angers and regrets. Through each pose, I become dancer and warrior, tree and cobra, lion and locust, dog and child. Finally, I turn my focus to a candle flame and, minutes later, palm my eyes. An after-image—sure as a youngster’s sleepy response to a nighttime story—flares, rises, slides, brightens, and dims in the dreamscape of a nursery rhyme:
Goodnight, Cat, goodnight Fiddle.
Goodnight, Dish hand in hand with the Spoon.