Monday, March 19, 2018

Life with Yoga, a Handicap, and a Chair by Herb Benkel

Looking back on life from age 72, I was never really fit. I was never an athlete of any prowess. I became lightly handicapped at age 22, when a fight with cancer, and the radiation to treat it, destroyed the muscles surrounding my right femur (upper leg bone). I was able to walk. I looked fine, but would never run anywhere again. I was already married, to a wonderful woman who accepted my shortcomings. She even supported me when I went to Dental School. I was 40 when I tried my first yoga class. Immediately I knew I had found a health and fitness regimen that was accepting to someone partially handicapped. I loved the classes. I could only bend my right knee to 90 degrees and had much reduced muscle mass (quad and hamstring). Yoga was totally accepting of my limitations. The same people showed up to classes based on personal schedules, therefore classes became a warm and friendly place to go. I was always envious of those with full capacity, but no one ever seemed to notice my diminished ability. Yoga is very personal to each individual. It is a quest to understand and improve only you. There is no competition.

Well, life is amazing. It goes by so quickly that you don’t even realize you are getting old. Then one are a senior citizen, on Social Security and Medicare. Apparently, life passes in a whirl of attention to the rigors of life, family and work. 

 Now to the present. The cancer from age 22 caught up to me. The radiation had destroyed the quality of the right femur bone, and it broke: terribly. An orthopedic surgeon couldn’t fix it. I needed an orthopedic oncologist. It took 6 major surgeries in 53 weeks to repair the leg by removing bone and replacing it with a titanium rod and knee. Now, I was really handicapped. One of the many who supported me that entire year was my yoga teacher, and the other students from the yoga community. During my worst time in the hospital, when I thought it might be better to be “gone”, I took control of my feelings by starting to do upper body yoga. I started that night, at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning, to stretch and work my upper body using the arms of the hospital bed as props. I used my ‘no’ wheel walker, my first style walker, as support for twists and bends. My ability to cope with my problems soared. I was doing “better” then the patients around me. This lasted through the 6 surgeries and the months of rehabilitation, including the period at home recovering. It was my family, friends and yoga that brought me through what was well over a year of crisis. 

2016 post surgery

Today, I can’t bend the titanium knee past 40 degrees (so it’s very straight in its metal brace) and there is no functioning quad or hamstring at all. Both muscles are totally atrophied. Yoga still accommodated my needs both physically and mentally. I attend classes 2 or 3 times a week. They are now “Chair Yoga” classes. All moves are with the support of a chair, with no time spent on the floor. In the class are others with different physical or age related problems. There is still a strong and supportive social and emotional framework. We are, not even necessarily older. The need for modified types of yoga is based, not on age but on ability. Ability or need brings people to chair yoga. The ultimate result of doing yoga is the same from any level practice. Yoga creates self confidence, physical and mental strength and well being, personal awareness, better balance and the ability to handle life’s curves after injuries, or age, catch up to you. I once counted the “5 Most Important Decisions” I had made in my life. One of those was getting involved and staying involved with yoga. 

 Herb Benkel 

 If you are curious about chair yoga, we offer several classes each week.  No reservations needed, just show up. We’ve got a chair waiting for you!

We offer 10 gentle therapeutic classes each week ranging from chair yoga, to yoga for strong bones, bad back, restorative and meditation and more.  See our full schedule on our website:

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