Too old to bend? Not by a stretch

March 24, 1992|By Tracie Cone | Tracie Cone,Knight-Ridder Newspapers

Some people, as they grow old, can become SO inflexible.

And then there's Ina Marx, 68, who can put both feet behind her head. Or, standing with her arms extended at shoulder height, can raise her straightened leg until her toe touches her hand. Or even do a not-so-simple backbend.

There is nothing inflexible about Ina Marx, except her attitude toward exercise. And that attitude is: You've got to do it, even if it's only 10 minutes of stretching a day. And, she says, one can never be too old or too unfit to start.

"I've worked with people who are 80," she says.

Ms. Marx is the grandmother of yoga. You remember yoga? That lunatic fringe of fitness fanatics who chanted mantras and meditated in the lotus position while eating tofu and sprouts? Well, forget it. Yoga is coming back to the mainstream, and Ms. Marx has written a book that can help anyone plunge in.

Ms. Marx opines in the book, "Fitness for the Unfit," that without a flexible body, a fit heart is nothing. The key to good health is taking care of the body structure, she says. Think of how many people suffer from bad backs. You start feeling old when you start losing your agility, when it isn't worth it to bend to pick up less than a dime anymore.

"It's true," says Ms. Marx, taking a break at Bonaventure Spa in Miami, where the California exercise phenomenon has come for an exercise vacation. "We can't neglect our spine. Our spine is our lifeline. What I teach is not a workout. It's a structural conditioning."

Yoga is back, Ms. Marx says, because it's easy on the body. At the Yoga Research Center in Miami, a spokeswoman for Swami Jyotirmayananda says inquiries about yoga are rising.

People who pounded pavement running, or pulled muscles doing strenuous aerobics, are deciding to be gentler to their aching bones and muscles, says Ms. Marx. Yoga consists of slow stretching, deep breathing, relaxing and releasing stress.

"Someone who is 80 and can bend over and touch the floor is someone who is in perfect cardiovascular health," says Ms. Marx. Or a contortionist.

Marx hasn't always been limber. Until 40, she was a fat, nicotine-addicted couch potato, the result of breaking her back a decade earlier. She suffered from chronic pain. Nothing helped until a friend suggested yoga. She became hooked.

The book offers step-by-step instruction for getting started in yoga, with photographs of Ms. Marx demonstrating beginner and advanced positions of each step.

Ms. Marx suggests developing a routine. Practice at the same time every day. Do it on an empty stomach to free up your organs, which are exercised during yoga, she says. Pick a quiet spot where you won't be interrupted. Dress in loose clothing, or don't wear anything at all.

Yoga, says the book, elongates muscles through stretch, which makes them more pliable and increases their resistance to fat deposits. It encourages deep, slow, relaxing breathing, which reduces stress and makes lung tissue more healthy.

The book, from Carol Publishing, is worth the $9.95 price just to see Ms. Marx in the painful-looking "Noose" position: on her back with her feet behind her head and her hands clasped behind her buttocks.

Try these basics and see improvement in a week, says Ms. Marx. Tip: Don't bounce when you stretch, just stretch and hold the position.

* Stand with your back against a wall and your feet about four inches from it. Slowly bend forward at the waist. Taking slow, deep breaths, continue bending forward as far as you can without straining. Then just let your body hang. Let your arms dangle. Relax. Let the weight of your body gently stretch your muscles. Don't force anything. Start by holding the stretch for a minute. Increase the time daily.

* Sit with your legs extended in front of you. Place a belt around your feet and hold an end in each hand. Try to sit up straight. Bend your knees if you have to. Hold the stretch without pulling. As days go by, try to sit straight without bending your knees. Then, lean forward to stretch your legs without bending them.

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