Inspiration comes in all shapes and sizes

Shortly after I began teaching at Ella Yoga in November, one of my students highly recommended an Iyengar class with another American teacher named Nancy. Since I crave a class—or some instruction—in English, I decided to try the level 2-3. The first Thursday I went was sunny and hot, and when I walked in at 10:45am, the studio was bustling with activity. Everyone, it turned out, was signed up for Nancy’s class.

I walked into the long, narrow room and unrolled my mat to face the sea. Seated opposite me was a petite, slender woman with rounded shoulders dressed in periwinkle blue shorts, a long-sleeve white shirt and a grey scoop-neck sweater, an outfit, I later learned, she wears every class. I marveled at her muscular legs and saggy, sun spotted skin, trying to guess her age. Her square shaped face was hard to read, expressionless, covered in wrinkles and freckles and moles, like an aged leather-bound book.

Midway through class, we went to the wall to use the ropes to go from forward bend to up dog. We watched while Nancy demonstrated. Since there were so many of us, we paired up and took turns, each person doing a set of 10 and alternating. Nancy made her way up and down the room to correct us, myself included.

“Stop!” Come watch. Margalit is going to demo for us so you can see the poses again,” she said. “But first let me say, Margalit just celebrated her 86th birthday last week. With her twin sister. Nachon, Margalit?” she smiled and turned to this petite, older woman to confirm the facts. I loved Nancy’s ease at teaching her class in both English and Hebrew, seamlessly flowing from one to the other. “And do you know what Margalit does when she’s not practicing yoga? She teaches handicap people how to swim. OK, Margalit, boiey le kir!” she said, ordering her to the wall.

Margalit stepped forward, faced the sea and wrapped the straps around her fists. With her feet a few inches from the wall, she dropped her upper body in half, into a deep uttenasana. From there she pitched her entire body weight forward, leading with the chest, letting her arms straighten back behind her, and titled her gaze to the ceiling. In and out, breath after breath, this leather-faced woman flowed from pose to pose. I had never seen such strength and agility in an 86 year old.

“Stop!” Nancy shouted. “You get the idea. Now, if Margalit can do it so beautifully so can you. Go to it!” I had forgotten how authoritative Iyengar teachers could be.

After class, I squeezed myself into the cramped changing room to shower. Margalit was there putting on jeans and a sweater. “Cama pa’amim be shavuah at osah yoga?” I asked her, curious to know how many times a week she practices.

“Shlosha, lephaamim arba,” she said, three times sometimes four, in a deep, husky voice. She sounded like she smoked, or had smoked at some point in her life.

“Rak Iyengar o mash’eho acher?” Did she just take Iyengar classes or other styles?

“Iyengar, bevadai,” Bevadai was one of those funny words that was full of tone and attitude and meant many things: but of course, what else, or what were you thinking, you idiot? Clearly Margalit was an Iyengar junkie. I smiled, acknowledging her answer, and jumped into the shower before the hot water went cold.

Over the following two months, I saw Margalit in Nancy’s class every Thursday. She always dressed the same, wore the same expressionless face and spoke freely in class if spoken to. She did everything we did, making only minor modifications: instead of headstand she hung upside from the pelvic swing and instead of free floating shoulder stand, she used a chair. Oftentimes, I stopped my own practice to watch and admire her. 

Then, one Thursday not long ago, Nancy was in an army captain mood and, after a set of six sun salutations at speed demon pace, she ordered us to lie on our backs and put our feet in the air as straight up as possible. With our arms by our hips, we were to exhale to lower our legs and inhale to lift them, first for a set of 10, followed by 20.

“Okay, now we’re going to do a set of 30 and Margalit is going to set the pace. She’ll do and count and you keep up with her because if she can do it…” she need not say more. “At muchana, Margalit?” Even though I was on the opposite side of the room from her, I could tell what was coming. My abs were burning, but with Margalit at the helm, I couldn’t slack off.

Like a race horse let out of his post, she started counting and lowering and lifting her legs with ease: achad, shteim, shalosh, arba. I lifted my head to look at her for a moment. She neither paused nor huffed nor winced once.  Again, I marveled at her unbelievable abdominal strength and her will to work hard—in spite of, because of, still. 

Ever since I got up into my first headstand, some 10 years back, I have always joked with my yoga friends that when I’m a grandma, I want to be able to stand on my head. I hope to be able to age with grace and strength and flexibility. This woman Margalit embodies all of that. Now every Thursday morning as I head to class, I hope to see Margalit and to get to know her and tell her what an inspiration she is.

 

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17 Responses to “Inspiration comes in all shapes and sizes”

  1. lisa January 16, 2012 at 3:45 am #

    Is that you hanging upside down in that first photo?
    I miss you Jen!
    Great, great story….may we all be all possess a little of Margalit as we age!
    xo

    • Jennifer Lang January 16, 2012 at 6:03 am #

      Those are all pics of Margalit. The woman is utterly amazing! Thanks, xo me

  2. Lauren January 16, 2012 at 5:43 am #

    Thank you for sharing abou Margalit – I think they should name a new asana for her…

    • Jennifer Lang January 16, 2012 at 6:04 am #

      I love the idea. I am thinking of the uttenasana to up dog flow we did as a Margalit-vinyasana. xo, me

  3. Mom/Grandma Marianne January 16, 2012 at 6:47 am #

    Love it and will forward to Lisa (Pilates) who is always telling your mother who is about to become a great grandmother that I do more and better reps than people half my age! So between that and your grandmother’s agility to well into her 80s you should be able to reach your goal! love…PS Your writing ability seems to get better and better!

    • Jennifer Lang January 16, 2012 at 8:11 am #

      Thanks! I hope so…xo

  4. Sharon January 16, 2012 at 7:49 am #

    Inspiration comes in all shapes and sizes…and your blog! Thank you, Jennifer!

    • Jennifer Lang January 16, 2012 at 8:12 am #

      Back at you, my writer teacher friend!
      xo

  5. Doris Fankhauser January 16, 2012 at 2:18 pm #

    I am so impressed and inspired. Thanks for another great story!

    • Jennifer Lang January 16, 2012 at 4:19 pm #

      I miss telling you guys stories… love and hugs to all!Jen

  6. auntie mona January 16, 2012 at 3:35 pm #

    Now you have inspired me to get to one of my Iyengar yoga classes in which our teacher has had a student; a woman who is 90!!! who has been coming to her for years/her husband drives her the mile-plus from their grand home to the studio and our teacher brings her home.

    first, we all climb a very steep straight steel-like staircase of 19 steps (only an unreliable freight elevator in this converted industrial building) to get to the studio; that alone is a feat!!!

    And, you of course know that Mr. Iyengar has just celebrated his 94th birthday; my teacher spent November with him and his “aides”–his daughter, practicing, in Pune, India.

    These people are true role models for us as we age; no doubt about it. Fantastic!!!
    And that crazy author whose NY Times Mag article week ago yesterday about the yoga injuries………..I was so glad to read the pushback article published; which I believe I sent on to you.

    xo

    • Jennifer Lang January 16, 2012 at 4:20 pm #

      Amazing, amazing, amazing. I love hearing these stories, knowing these people. The NYT article makes for great conversation. A group of us yoga teachers who get together each week to practice (last week were 3 Israelis, 2 Americans and 1 French) had a fabulous discussion about teaching, injury, body awareness. Keep on practicing! xo

  7. Jade January 18, 2012 at 12:33 am #

    As I enter my medicare year, this is particularly reassuring to read. It sounds as though I’ve got nothing to worry about — as long as those herniated dics behave. I am envious to see that strap for hanging upside down…

  8. dalia benveniste February 6, 2012 at 2:26 pm #

    I have known Margalit & Nancy for many many years . Took classes with Nancy as well.
    Enjoy the opportunity of having them both in your life.

    • Jennifer Lang February 7, 2012 at 1:11 pm #

      Toda Dalia! I feel blessed.

  9. Ulrika February 15, 2012 at 8:25 pm #

    Love your blog, makes me miss the vividness of Israel.
    Kisses
    Ulrika

    • Jennifer Lang February 17, 2012 at 2:37 pm #

      Toda, Ulrika! When are you coming for a visit? Do you go to IKEA often now that you’re back in Sweden?

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