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A Note From Katie: Yoga With Gram

My grandmother’s name is Barbara but I call her Baboo. When I was a little girl, the closest I could get to pronouncing her name was Baboo – and it stuck. Baboo is not your typical grandma. Even in her 90’s, she's still the life of the party and manages to keep us all on our toes.

Baboo is creative. She is a talented oil painter and has a knack for figure drawing. She is a published writer and was an active member of the Sarasota Literary Society, serving as editor of New Century Voices, a collection of poetry and short stories. She sings, sometimes poorly, yet with unwavering confidence. Some of my fondest bedtime memories with Baboo were her dramatic renditions of Johnny Cash’s Ghost Riders In The Sky.

She is eccentric. She has a crystal ball and creates elaborate astrological charts for anyone who asks. She used to sew her own clothes. She was that weirdo on the block making her own yogurt and growing corn in her front yard. She swears and speeds - often at the same time.

She is bright. She skipped a year of school in both grade school and high school. She grew up wanting to be a doctor. She married and had three sons, and then went to college and traveled the country performing Susan B. Anthony speeches in support of the women’s rights movement.

Baboo is also a yogi.

She learned mainly from reading books and never had any formal teacher training but developed a thorough practice. In the 1980’s, she taught classes at her local community center in Elmhurst, Illinois. I never had the pleasure of attending any of her classes, but she introduced me to yoga anyway. When I was in school, I discovered some of her old books about yoga. I had no idea how meaningful the practice would become in both my personal and professional path, but Baboo’s support and experience helped me embark on my yogic path.

Baboo is now 92 years old. She requires 24-hour care. She has dementia, uses a wheelchair, and can barely hear. Sometimes she remembers who I am and sometimes she doesn’t. Nevertheless, Baboo continues to exude verve and energy. She still wears bright colors and big jewelry.

I was able to visit her this past summer and we spent the afternoon coloring and feeding the turtles outside her building (pictured above). It was a perfectly nice day, but I could sense she was agitated. She was bored of coloring and frustrated with her general lack of control and independence. I asked her if she wanted to practice yoga together and her eyes lit up.

I guided her through a sequence that could appear basic, but was quite nuanced. We practiced sensing our bodies and breathing deeply. We worked with discomfort. We linked specific directions of movement to the breath to balance energy, or prana, as it’s called in Sanskrit. We cultivated kindness and gratitude. Here’s a time lapse video of our practice together.

One of the most beautiful aspects of yoga is that anyone can do it at any stage in life. Yoga is not limited by physical ability, and you don’t have to be calm or happy to practice. It meets you exactly where you are. I asked Baboo how she felt after class. Here is what she said - watch her response here or read below.

“You don’t get exhausted, and you don’t get worn out or tired out or sick to death of doing these things. They are perfectly comfortable and loving things. It tells your body what it can do, without even poking it or turning it around.” Baboo entered the practice feeling irritable, but was transformed by the end, feeling capable and comfortable. This transformation happened without fancy poses and expensive spandex. While advanced postures are fun to master, simple breath-based movements create a powerful mind-body shift. Simplicity does not equate to easy or ineffective activity. This is why I’m so passionate about Unfold’s approach to wellbeing – a short movement break can change your whole day. Her response was touching, particularly the part about how yoga is a “loving thing”, because it aligns so closely to my current approach to practicing and teaching. My practice has become richer by learning to slow down and sit quietly with what is, with a loving heart.

I believe that practicing yoga is an act of self-love and I’m so grateful to Baboo for introducing me to it. She’s truly an inspiration. I hope to visit her again soon. It’s difficult to see her body age and her memory fade, but equally lovely to spend time with her during her golden years. Every time I see her it feels like I’ve been given a gift of time, and I’m reminded that we have this life, here, now.

Until our next class together, Baboo. I love you!




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