A review of William Broad’s new book, “The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards” recently appeared in these pages. It seems to lean heavily on the risks part.

Mr. Broad speaks of shoulder and headstands that have caused injuries, lower back, knee and neck problems, and in rare cases, strokes in healthy young people.

It’s important to note that Broad, the chief science writer for the New York Times, hasn’t changed his mind about the practice and remains devoted to it. Good for him. He knows there is a growing conversation in the agora on this matter, and it’s an opportunity for him to sell a book.

I rise here this morning to make my own stand on yoga, and to add my own list of cautions. I have dabbled in the practice off and on for about four years without completely falling in love with it. I tried. Buddha knows I tried. No deal.

This winter, after an unpleasant and brief conversation with my heart, I went looking for a program to reduce stress. I started up again at the School Street Yoga Center in Waterville under the guidance and patience of the gentle teacher, Jeri Wilson. It was, at first, pleasurable and relaxing.

After eight sessions however, I dropped out. Yoga, it seems, isn’t going to be my raison d’etre in my later years, but it has nothing to do with injuries. I suffered none, nor do I know of anyone who has, including my own daughter, a habitual student.

My problems with yoga are very personal and deal with the ego of an aging actor, bon vivant and fading raconteur. When one has spent one’s youth in the world of entertainment, being constantly photographed, measured and scrutinized, it’s painful, even in retirement, to grow old and lose that youthful glow of beauty and charm. The body fades, the ego goes from here to eternity.

This winter, I bought a yoga mat and the requisite loose-fitting clothing, and floating over ice, bundled up against the wind, I went to my first class.

Of course I was the oldest. There was also a doctor in his late 50s. But after a few classes, he vanished, leaving me alone with 20 or 30 women who fell into four categories: slim and young, attractive, gorgeous and fit.

In the privacy of my home I can convince myself that I am still flexible, lithe and dashing. I can squint in the mirror and see Cary Grant. But surrounded by incredibly fit young women, I felt more like Ernie Borgnine.

Then there was the matter of my feet. It is required in yoga classes to be barefoot. Putting on my reading glasses, I studied my Borgnine toenails. I could feel the others averting their eyes. I tried to walk around with them curled under like a 14th-century Chinese bride. It just made me appear aging and hobbled. Toenails do not age gracefully. They require careful, constant attention, professional attention. Mat, clothing, toenails, tuition. It adds up.

It gets worse. One night, just before my last class, I watched a comedy show in which a middle-aged firefighter attended a yoga class, surrounded by beautiful young women.

In his effort to complete a perfect downward dog, the poor man suffered an attack of flatulence that rocked the stillness. I tried to imagine his heart-breaking, soul-shaking embarrassment. What, I shuddered, if that happened to me? I managed to get through that class without such a disaster, but the very thought of it happening was too horrible to contemplate. It’s bad enough to be Ernie Borgnine, but Ernie Borgnine with gas? No chance.

Ultimately, it’s really a matter of discipline. I’ve never had much.

She who could not live without it, has enough for both of us. I hate getting up early and having to be someplace, to sit up, even in a contorted lotus position, and pay attention.

I will miss the garden of pulchritude, the chanting of namaste and Ms. Wilson. Wake me in June.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.