Fitness

Modified Mindsets and Adapted Asanas: A Pandemic-Inspired Family Fitness Journey (Guest Post)

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by Laura Rainbow Dragon

When Covid-19 forced our local seniors’ centre to close its doors back in March of 2020, I knew I had to do something to keep my then 79-year-old mother active.  I’m happy to do a yoga practice alone in my room, or go for a run in the forest for my own workouts.  But that’s not my mother.  My mother is very much a social exerciser.  Prior to Covid, she had been doing group exercise classes three days a week at the seniors’ centre, followed by coffee with her friends.  Without that social aspect, and the external push to get her up and at it, I feared my mother would spend the entire day in her La-Z-Boy.  So I suggested that we could work out together.

This was no small thing I was proposing.  My mother and i are very different people.  There are some significant areas in which we do not see eye-to-eye.  Living together is not easy for either of us at the best of times.  And a global pandemic in which we would be stuck at home together all day every day with nowhere else to go was unlikely to be the best of times.  Did I really want to force us into even closer quarters by working out together?  Every day?  To say that I had apprehensions about my proposal is an understatement!

One of the ways in which my mother and I differ is in our approach to exercise and physical fitness.  My mother likes to boast that she “doesn’t sweat.”  For me, a workout that doesn’t leave me dripping has no point.  My mother is quite a nervous exerciser who will swear off an exercise forever if it ever gives her the slightest twinge of discomfort.  I have sustained several repetitive stress injuries over the years because I kept going when I knew I was already injured.  I hate any interruptions to my workouts.  My mother seems almost desperate for them, and will spend a great deal of time speculating about possible reasons why we might need to stop in the middle of a workout when no such reasons are manifesting.  We’re not exactly a match made in workout heaven.  But the prospect of my mother giving up her exercise routines was not a good one.  So I made the offer.  She accepted.  And we were off!

We started out with “Vitality” (https://darebee.com/programs/vitality-program.html), a program which DAREBEE released in March of 2020, specifically aimed at seniors (and others with a limited range of movement and/or athletic conditioning) who needed a way to stay active without leaving their homes.  

The first workout my mother and I did together: Day 1 of DAREBEE’s “Vitality” program.  DAREBEE workouts are presented graphically with line drawings of human figures demonstrating each exercise.  In this case the workout includes 20 side jacks, 20 backwards leg raises, and 20 side leg raises per set.

My mother had a lot to say about Vitality, and none of it was good.  She felt the rep counts were too high.  She didn’t like it if the program called for an exercise to be done differently than what she had learned at the seniors’ centre.  And there were several exercises she flat out insisted—without even trying—that she could not do.

None of this was easy for me to deal with.  I was a serious competitive athlete in my youth.  I was privileged to train with an excellent running coach throughout high school who pushed me hard and took no nonsense.  When the coach said to jump, you jumped.  If you questioned his instruction at all, the only acceptable query was, “How high?” — and you had better have already been on the way up when you asked it.  There was no whining.  There was certainly no “can’t.”  And I loved it!  I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Granted, I wasn’t 79 years old when I was in high school.  But I wasn’t putting my mother through the workouts my high school coach had put me through either.  I knew that she could, in truth, complete the workouts in the Vitality program.  The constant nay-saying from my mother was hard for me to take, and I wasn’t always as gracious about being on the receiving end of it as I could have been.  But my mother kept showing up for our workouts.  So I kept training her.

After 30 days we had completed Vitality, and we moved on to “Baseline” (https://darebee.com/programs/baseline-program.html)  and after that “Foundation Light” (https://darebee.com/programs/foundation-light-program.html).  By that point it was clear that group exercise classes—particularly for seniors—were going to be off the table for a lot longer than anyone had originally anticipated.  DAREBEE only had the three Level 1 programs at the time.  (They have since released two more, as of this writing.)  So we moved on to Level 2 programs.

This presented new challenges as the higher level programs on DAREBEE do contain exercises which my mother is not physically able to execute.  (For example: she cannot do jumping jacks because she lacks the power necessary to remove both feet from the ground at the same time.)  I had to learn to navigate her complaints to determine when to keep pushing her and when she legitimately did need to modify an exercise, and my mother had to learn to trust me and to work with me to find solutions instead of immediately shutting down when we encountered an exercise she could not do as prescribed.  We both made mistakes.  But we persevered.

Laura and her mother performing the side leg lift exercise.  Her mother is using a chair to assist with balancing.

In September of 2021 our local seniors’ centre finally re-opened and began offering group exercise classes once again.  My mother is now doing two exercise classes per week at the centre, but she’s still working out with me every day as well!  To date we have completed sixteen 30-day DAREBEE programs together, and two 60-day DAREBEE programs.  Many of these have been Level 2 and even some (modified) Level 3 programs.  We also regularly do stand-alone DAREBEE workouts in addition to our main program, typically completing a total of 30-45 minutes of work each day.  Lately we have also been doing an hour-long yoga practice one day a week.

My mother and I have now worked out together every day for over two years!  We still get frustrated with one another at times.  We still have our arguments.  But we continue to muddle through.  At the end of every workout, my mother thanks me for training with her.  And the next day she comes back for more.

Here is a video we made to celebrate our 2-year anniversary of working out together, which demonstrates how we have modified two “sun salutation” sequences from the Ashtanga Yoga tradition to make them accessible for my mother:

Laura Rainbow Dragon is the author of the “Get Fit for the Zombie Apocalypse” choose-your-own-workout stories as well as the novelettes “Chimera Junction” and “Anne & Mary on the Hyperspace Seas”.  When she’s not writing, striving to keep her parents out of trouble, or being bossed around by the two large canines (black lab Shelby and golden retriever Trudy) who are firmly convinced that they own her, you might find Laura running or birdwatching on and around the Rondeau peninsula, or paddleboarding on the bay.

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