How My 100-Year-Old Grandmother Influenced My Appreciation For Yoga

Amy Leonard
How My 100-Year-Old Grandmother Influenced My Appreciation For Yoga

I’m 99.9 percent certain that my 100-year-old grandmother (“Grandma Nita”) has never heard of yoga, and I’ll toss in that additional decimal point in assuming she’s never practiced. Even so, Grandma Nita has taught me a number of lessons over the years, which have, in turn, influenced my appreciation of yoga and where my mind goes while I practice.

Reason 1 - I am blessed

No matter what your religious beliefs are, I think most can agree that being present during your yoga practices involves a certain acceptance of where you are at that particular point in time. In those few moments of silence at the end of a yoga class, I like to prepare myself for the day and week that lies ahead of me. This involves preparing for challenges, getting excited about things to come, but also recognizing how fortunate I am to have what I have and who I have in my life.

For as long as I can remember, my Grandma’s favorite greeting, or response (often when she doesn’t understand, or more commonly, when she simply can’t hear you) has been “God bless you, darlin’.” No matter who you are, or what you’re doing, if you take the time to give Grandma a smile, or a hug, or just a few minutes of your day, you’re not going to walk away without hearing those four words. Even when her hearing was perfectly in tact, Grandma passed blessings to each and every person that she had the opportunity to interact with. And whenever I hear those words, they make me smile and they remind me that everyone deserves a smile or a kind word when you have the opportunity to give them one. It also reminds me to appreciate all the blessings that I do have in my life. One of which is the opportunity to practice yoga.

Reason 2 - The shape of my body is a part of who I am

One of the first moments where I felt that practicing yoga really “clicked” for me was several years ago when I heard an instructor use the term “organic.” “Let your body flow through its natural, organic movement,” she instructed. And instructors will often urge students to perform a “mental check” throughout their body, recognizing areas that are holding a lot of tension or noting particular muscles that may feel strong. These mental checks, and understanding what my body’s “organic” movement is, require an acknowledgement of the shape of my body and encourages me to be proud of the strength that physical activity like yoga has provided me with.

“I’m a hippie woman,” my Grandma recently informed me (completely out of the blue). “My husband liked women with hips.” When I think back to my favorite 100-year-old firecracker stating these words with a look of satisfaction on her face, I can’t help but smile. Even at the century-mark, Grandma is still proud of her body and satisfied that it has taken her this far. I can only hope that as I continue to strengthen my own body through the practice of yoga, that one day I’ll be 100-years-old, telling my granddaughter how proud I am of my body.

Reason 3 - Sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself

Most little old ladies probably have a sweet, quiet chuckle or giggle whenever they are amused. Grandma Nita on the other hand, likes to let out a “HA!” whenever something is funny. You can always hear it from across the house, and when Grandma Nita laughs at something, it is contagious. Something that I’ve always loved about Grandma Nita’s sense of humor is that she has no problem laughing at herself. Especially as she has gotten older and it takes a little bit longer to understand certain things, or to move around, Grandma will laugh and explain, “Well, I’m not but a hundred!”

Every now and then, I’ll be feeling fairly courageous in my practice, when my yoga instructor will suddenly suggest some kind of pose where it seems that you’re required to balance on the tip of your finger while adjusting your legs in some elegant form at a 45 degree angle (okay, that might be an exaggeration…but sometimes that’s how it looks). Although I generally agree to attempt these poses (why not?) I usually wind up flat on my butt (which is better than falling on my head…though I’ve done that once or twice too). And when trying out a pose, which looks so graceful, results in exactly the opposite of graceful…you might as well laugh at yourself. I may not be a hundred (yet), but I still can appreciate Grandma’s lesson that sometimes laughing at yourself is better than getting down on yourself.

Reason 4 - It’s about the journey

Would you believe me if I told you that only a few years ago, just shy of Grandma’s 98th birthday, my mom, cousin Becky, and I boarded a plane, Grandma Nita in tow, and headed to Panama (not Florida…we’re talking Central America). We have family living in Panama and Grandma has frequently told me stories about the beautiful flowers, exotic animals, and hospitable people that make up this gorgeous country. She made promises to me as a little girl that she would one day take me to Panama and in March 2010, Grandma Nita made good on her promise. We packed our bags and headed to “Central del Mundo” – the Center of the World.

Mom, Becky and I rolled Grandma in a wheelchair all over Panama City, guided by gracious family members who agreed to show us around. With her sunhat and sunglasses on at all times, Grandma told stories of her family members who had moved to Panama during the Great Depression to work on the canal. As I watched Grandma take in her surroundings, and be fawned over by locals who couldn’t believe that she had traveled from North Carolina to Panama at 98-years-old, I knew that I was experiencing something wonderful.

Now, each time I see Grandma Nita, she squeezes my hand and says, “We went to Panama together!” We did, and it is one of my fondest memories.

As I continue to practice yoga, I do so with the understanding that yoga is not about an end-goal or achieving perfection. Rather, it’s about a personal journey, one that I hope to continue for many years to come.

So while Grandma may not understand the practice of yoga, she has taught me many lessons that have informed my own understanding of the practice and continue to influence how I approach both my practice and my life.

Who has influenced you the most in your yoga practice?