Tag Archives: Aging

Luke’s final farewell

Today was Luke’s service at Hawai’i State Veteran’s Cemetery in Kane’ohe. It was brief and to the point, just the way he would have wanted it. Since he served many years in the military, he received a full honor guard detail including a 21 gun salute.

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Among Luke’s accomplishments in service: he enrolled in the National Guard at 14 years old, was fully enlisted at 16. He served in Europe, Korea, Vietnam, and the Middle East. He was a Green Beret. Among his decorations: The National Defense Service Medal, Combat Medical Badge, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm, Republic of Vietnam Honorary Jump Wings, Soldiers Medal, Meritorious Unit Commendation, Bronze Star Medal (1st Oak Leaf Cluster), Good Conduct Medal (5 Awards), Army Commmendation Medal (1st Oak Leaf Cluster), Bronze Star (2nd Oak Leaf Cluster), Purple Heart, and Republic of China Taiwan Rough Terrain Parachute Badge.

Once he retired he got his Bachelor’s of Nursing Degree  at Hawaii Loa (Now Hawaii Pacific University) and became a labor and delivery nurse. He delivered babies from 1990 to 1999.

For me, the biggest piece of his resume does not have a medal. He took diligent care of his wife Toshiko after her stroke in 1997 and attended to all of her needs up until a week of his passing.

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Rest in peace, Luke.

 

Third wheel for our anniversary celebration?

My wife and I celebrated eight years of marriage tonight. As eight is an auspicious number, tonight was a bit more special as we had an added guest to our dinner at a five-star restaurant: my mother-in-law Toshiko!

Normally this would be cause for some couples to “lawyer up,” but since my father-in-law’s passing a few weeks ago, the three of us have been inseparable during non-work time. We were initially going to ask the woman who helps us with Toshiko if she could “sit” while we went out to celebrate. But then my wife had a brilliant plan. Why not invite Toshiko to our anniversary dinner?

Before my mother-in-law’s stroke in 1997, she ran her own business in Waikiki and had numerous friends and customers. She was living the dream. Then a severe stroke hit her and confined her to a wheelchair. She closed her business and my father-in-law took tireless care of her up until a week before he passed. Now, my wife mainly has taken over the role of assisting her with daily needs with me helping to my capacity. One thing that has actually helped to avoid caregiver burnout is including Toshiko in all of our activities. That way my wife does not worry about her so much an it gives Toshiko a new perspective of our lives.

At the restaurant Toshiko was in awe. After all, this is where President Obama eats when he’s in town. Toshiko and my father-in-law have been to fancy restaurants before, but that was in the 1980s when going out to a fancy meal was about $100 or less. My wife’s doctor with whom she works with gives us gift certificates for Alan Wong’s for Christmas every year. This is a restaurant where dinner for two can run about $200, so the gift card makes this restaurant more accessible to us.

Between Toshiko’s unfamiliarity with the menu, her limited English skills, and her stroke, she was a bit overwhelmed with the menu and said “I just want steak.” My wife ordered the Onaga (red snapper) which is a signature dish at Alan Wong’s, and I won’t tell you what I ordered as I would probably get kicked off the internet.

The food came and Toshiko decided she liked my wife’s entree better, and proceeded to eat that instead, leaving my wife with her steak. Rather than getting upset, my wife relished the fact that her mother was trying new things and celebrating our life with us. Rather than a “third wheel” (extra visual as Toshiko is in a wheelchair), my wife thinks of her as a side car for an old time motorcycle. That allows the three of us to go on many adventures together. This is our family dharma now.

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Happy Anniversary!

 

Just the three of us…the new normal is very normalizing

It has been a tough week of mourning in our household. The quiet is deafening and on the verge of upsetting. We were so used to hearing Luke pacing up and down, using his nebulizer, and then bellowing for a car ride. Now silence. In this silence we all came to a realization: we are now bonded as three people instead of two couples.

Now that my mother-in-law isn’t keeping constant vigil at Luke’s side, it has opened her up to new experiences. We all went for a walk around the block. She talked to neighbors she hasn’t seen for years. All knew Luke and she shared the news of his passing. I can see her brighten up more as she shared more. Then a surprising twist: I asked her if she wanted to come with me to teach my yoga class on Saturday, and she agreed!

So this morning I packed my props in Luke’s old car and put her wheelchair in the back seat. We drove to town were I teach at the base of Diamond Head to Unity Church of Hawaii. She had been here only one other time when my wife and I got married 8 years ago on the grounds.

My wife sat with her while I taught class facing the road leading to the church grounds. My mother-in-law used to run a jewelry shop in Waikiki and was surprised on how much it has changed. The constant stream of tourists, runners, tour buses shaped like Whales, homeless, and the whole other gamut of Waikiki’s humanity passed by.

Some of my students knew about Luke’s passing and word quickly spread in class. After class, my longtime students rushed down stairs to pay their condolences to Toshiko. One of my students, Miho, speaks Japanese which brought great comfort to my mother-in-law.

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As my blogger friend Sonia said, every day gets easier. We took Toshiko on our Saturday “routine” and went shopping at Costco after class. I am realizing that we are consuming 1/4 less and not having to buy as much. That is again simultaneously comforting and upsetting. We all wound up eating lunch at a Korean restaurant. Toshiko dug into the spicy house made Kim Chee with relish. After living on Luke’s unhealthy diet for the longest time, Toshiko is now in a position to make better changes in her diet and health. I am starting to see with a little bit of her cooperation with my wife and I, there is nothing we cannot do together.

 

The new faces of yoga?

Today was a nice reunion in my Saturday morning class. These are all of my original male students who have been studying with me since 2004. What is remarkable is not the fact that I have been teaching for 12 years, but the fact that these men have been regulars for a large duration of that time.

Dr. Malcolm Ing, seen in the black shirt to my right in the photo (I’m the guy with the red tank top), has an impressive resume. He graduated from Yale Medical School and is a pediatric ophthalmologist. He’s well into his 80s and surfs longboard as well. He is a great model of what it looks like to age well.

Howard Wiig, the man to his right, works with the State of Hawai’i on alternative energy solutions. He is a stalwart in my class and comes rain or shine when he is not traveling extensively for his work. He is an avid runner and works out far more than I do. He is well into his 70s. Another great model of aging well.

Joe Teipel to my left in the grey shirt was an auctioneer for many years. I saw him recently on A&E’s Storage Wars when they came to Kailua. He is now pursuing other career interests in real estate. He is also an avid surfer and has been a part of the Hawai’i surfing community from the early days. He has a golden voice and often gives speeches for money. He has a great cameo in the movie “North Shore” which came out in the 80s. He of course was the announcer of the big surf competition. I think Joe is in his 60s, but reminds me of someone in his 30s.

Not to knock the ladies, but yoga nowadays seems to be dominated by young, lithe, 20 something women who have been doing yoga for only a few years. When I see my male students in class with over a decade of yoga experience, and they keep coming back week after week, it gives me hope that there is also a bright future for yoga being more open to men as a means of relieving stress and staying healthy as they age. With these guys, I get the same feelings of healthy camaraderie I felt was a youngster in my grandfather’s barbershop.

 

Yoga blog trends I would like to see in 2015 – part 2

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H.S. Arun’s  flawless Krounchasana

 

I may have lost a few followers since my last post. I do have strong opinions, but they help foster thinking about our practice of Yoga. Some of my most cherished preconceptions about Yoga have been smushed down flat by great teachers who flipped my ideas upside-down (literally). In order to keep evolving in our practice, we cannot take anything as set in stone. I will forge ahead and finish my list of Yoga blog trends I would like to see in the next year.

7) More blogs about the inward journey in addition to the outward journey.

One of the best blogs out there for this is 1979Darryl’s Contorted Strength. This guy has a solid daily practice! He is really trying to find the truth of Yoga among the Ashtanga, Bikram, and Iyengar methods. He is finding that the answers are not easy, but maintains his daily practice anyway. This is very similar to how I started Yoga 16 years ago. I finally settled on the Iyengar system, but this path made it clearer for me to see how the other systems are more alike than they are different. 1979Darryl reminds me that Yoga is Yoga no matter what “style” you call it with his adherence to classical texts and his Tapas.

8) More Yoga blogs authored by Men

I’m not saying this this to be sexist, but I feel the Yogic journey is different for men than women. As stated in a previous blog posts, men are barely taken into consideration by Yoga Inc. As far as Yoga Journal is concerned, men are just the stiff student in the back of the room no one pays attention to. As stated above, 1979Darryl, myself, and a few others have a unique perspective about Yoga as male practitioners, as well as many special issues.

9) More Yoga blogs authored by people over 50

Yoga and aging will be the next big trend in coming decades. There is a slew of new research coming out about how Yoga is assisting the aging process to facilitate more range of motion and mental alertness in the later years. All those pictures you see in Light On Yoga shows a “youthful” Iyengar in his late 40s. It would like to hear more anecdotal evidence by those who have practiced for decades.

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10) On that note…more Yoga research entries

It is fascinating the effects Asana have on our 11 bodily systems. I have written quite a few entries based on research about subjects ranging from inversions and eye pressure, yoga and mental health, to other medically related topics. In the early days of Yoga in the West, teachers would make claims that made Yoga sound like 21st Century snake oil. Now much research is supporting those claims. On the flip side, there is also a body of research that suggest that some Yoga may be harmful. Particularly in modern poses like “wild thing.”

11) Finally, more blogs from Iyengar practitioners

For my fellow Iyengar teachers, we have a beautiful system. We need to share it more with the world. I find it a little sad that me at my lowly Introductory II status is writing blog material that a more experienced teacher can easily expound upon. Luci at Yoga Spy who is also Intro II is the Iyengar teacher who inspired me to start this blog. Luci’s blog was “Freshly Pressed” a few years back and I have almost 40k views in my first year of blogging. Imagine the influence some of you Junior and Senior Intermediate level teachers could have…

The Yoga of not doing Yoga

 

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It has been a rough few weeks. My father-in-law has not been able to eat food without throwing it back up. At first we tried a doctor visit. “You have acid reflux, try Priolsec.” A few days  later we were on our way to the ER at 2 am (I had to teach yoga class at 8 that morning.) He was admitted. Tests were done. He had IVs and tubes. I thought this was the end. I struggled to teach the morning class, but got through it.

As it turned out he had a rare esophageal disorder called achalasia where the sphincter muscle of the esophagus is so tight that food cannot go through. He lost about 15 pounds in the past month. He was discharged with a feeding tube until the hospital could schedule surgery a week or so out.

Not so easy. The feeding tube became immediately clogged when my wife tried to feed his medication through it. The medication would not pulverize in a mortar and pestle fine enough to fit through the tube. We were soon on our way back to the ER. The feeding tube was removed, and he was given the okay to eat a liquid diet (jell-o, broth, water).

All was calm for the moment. My wife took FMLA to watch him until the surgery and I worked my two jobs. I was going to go to my Wednesday night class with my mentoring teacher Ray, then I got a phone call. My father-in-law was en route to the hospital again. My wife was driving him and was at her wits end. She also was taking care of her mother who is a stroke survivor. At that point I went to meet them at the hospital. I sent her back home for respite and to better take care of her mother.

I sat with my father-in-law for a few hours while he was in the ER. I was able to help him better communicate with the doctor (he is hard of hearing and just yells at people) and was able to have my wife involved in the discussion via cell phone. In between tests, we talked about his life. He is an interesting man. Former Master Sergeant, retired labor and delivery nurse, married a Japanese woman, moved to Hawai’i and bought a boat.

That few hours drew my father-in-law closer. He was able to tell me how he wanted my wife and I to take care her mother if he passes. It was by not doing Yoga that night that allowed me to truly help my father-in-law. It was by doing Yoga all these years that helped me stay calm and supportive for him in this serious time of need. The Bhagavad Gita talks about finding liberation by doing one’s duty. My duty, my Yoga, was not to be in asana class, it was to be sitting at my father-in-law’s bedside that night.

When all was said and done, doctors did a procedure where they botox-ed his esophagus to loosen the muscle. A few days later he ate his first meal in a long time that he did not have to vomit up. He has gained a pound or two. My wife finally went back to work. And now I can continue my Yoga practice.

H.S. Arun, prop master!


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At my Iyengar yoga assessment last September, one of the candidates told me about a teacher from Bangalore who would give yearly workshops in Santa Fe. “This guy is a prop master,” she said, then showed me one of his teachings: a simple version of Pavana Muktasana (see below) with a white strap in a three foot loop with one end behind the knees, the other end around the neck. Five minutes in this pose turned my tight back to butter. The constant tension of the thighs pushing against the strap in the pose makes the muscle fibers in the back unwind one-by-one until the back is completely softened. This was revolutionary. “He does this every night after he teaches coupled with Supta Padangusthasana to relieve the stress from teaching,” she said.

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Pavana Muktasana with strap

The man is H.S. Arun. He has been teaching yoga since 1976 under the tutelage of BKS Iyengar who awarded him with a Advanced Junior certification. Full disclosure, I have never met Arun or attended one of his classes. That is what makes his practice more intriguing to me.

I sought him out on YouTube. If you saw this man walking down the street, you wouldn’t even think of him as a yoga practitioner. This man is an accountant by profession and looks very much the part. All you would see is just see a 60ish year old man in workout gear, like they kind you would see your gramps wearing to the gym. Ha ha Lululemon! Watching him do yoga, that illusion transforms. In all of his poses, he demonstrates beautifully. In the final pose, he closes his eyes and looks peaceful and content. Not just easy poses. Poses like Yogadandasana (as seen below) where you have to rotate your hip so much that your foot is placed in the armpit. Poses like Krounchasana, where one leg is fully flexed in Virasana, and the other leg is extended up.

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H.S. Arun in Yogadandasana

His Facebook page which is rife with pictures of him a various workshops, as he is just finishing a US tour. The photos inspire. He doing Virabhardrasana I with a long strap looped around his back foot and hold the other end above his head. I tried this today, and have never felt such a stable and even backbend in this pose…ever!

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Virabhadrasana I with strap

Iyengar yoga gets its undo share of ribbing for its use of props. But this man takes it the other way. He shows what is possible with the use of props like no other teacher I have seen. And at 60 years old, he looks like he is still in his  30s when doing asana…and far better than any 30 year old I’ve seen!

So far I have had much success in reverse engineering the poses just based on his photographs and videos. I even had my uncle who has severe back problems do the Pavana Muktasana as mentioned above. My uncle felt immediate relief. Arun highlights the innovativeness of the Iyengar method and inspires me to want to experiment more with props to see what is possible. Perhaps one day I will be fortunate enough to attend one his workshops.