I’ve got a challenge for you. It came about thus. Watching a somewhat stiff Aktis lift himself onto his legs from lying on the ground reminded me of when Kestra started showing the same sad stiffness of motion, the inescapable sign of age. These images of Aktis and Kestra—not to mention all the other old dogs out there, some of whom are reading this post—reminded me of a favorite Frost poem, To Earthward, which I posted here some time ago. Finally, all of this reminded me of a challenge issued by a friend (and one-time yoga teacher) during a recent visit.
I had been sitting cross-legged on the deck. As I put my hand palm down on the deck and started pushing myself up to a standing position—rather innocently, to my mind—my friend interrupted and barked, “From now on, see if you can stand up and sit down without using your hands.”
I sat back down. My initial reaction was, “So what? How hard can that be?” Of course, the fact that he issued it as a challenge meant it would not be as easy as it sounds. And it’s not, as I found out right then and there, before an audience of friends. It’s not necessarily hard, but you do have to be deliberate and compose yourself if you’re going to to pull it off at all, much less elegantly, as your inner supple leopard would. As I wobbled and lurched to a standing position, I grumbled something about this being just the sort of sadistic torment I’ve learned to expect from yoga teachers.
Nonetheless, it is a good mind-body practice to introduce into daily life. So I’m passing on the challenge: From now on, dear reader, try to stand up and sit down without using your hands or arms. Whether you’re getting out of bed, out of a chair, off the floor, or the reverse of these, see what you can do and notice what makes the doing harder or easier. Even if you don’t practice it regularly, test yourself now and then, as a marker of how you’re doing—and to stave off death.
This challenge was news to me, but it’s unlikely to be news to many of you. I missed reports of the study claiming that the ability to stand and sit without using your hands is a good indicator of physical condition and, by extension, a predictor of mortality. (Come to think of it, this study probably should be filed, along with many other scientific findings, in the Annals of the Obvious.)
The study was spun by the mainstream press so as to prey on our fear of death. Here’s the headline from that reliable scaremonger, the UK’s Daily Mail:
Why you could be heading for an early grave if you can’t get off the floor without using your hands
Which brings me to Frost’s poem. Obviously, this test gets more challenging as time goes by. Soon enough there’ll be no way you can stand up or sit down without using your hands. Finally, of course, nothing will keep you from the ground, as you move ever to earthward.
When stiff and sore and scarred
I take away my hand
From leaning on it hard
In grass and sand,
The hurt is not enough:
I long for weight and strength
To feel the earth as rough
To all my length.