Jerry Eisner has been to enough yoga classes, and seen enough quirky behavior in the last five years, he has the material for a stand-up comedy routine about a yoga class. But fantasies of a comedy club gig don’t mean he’s not serious about yoga.
“I know it sounds overly dramatic, but yoga changed my life,” Jerry said, “and it has saved my life.”
While he studied theatre in college – and still harbors dreams of the stage – Jerry is a professional photographer. For most of his life he’s been health conscious, playing racquet ball and basketball, biking and walking and being careful with his diet. Once he reached his early sixties, however, he was diagnosed with cardio vascular disease. His arteries were significantly blocked and he was put on medication. He also had arthritis in his hips. Some mornings it was so bad he needed a walking frame to get himself from bed into the hot shower that loosened him up enough to get on with his day. At times he suffered anxiety. His daughter Melanie suggested he try yoga.
“I held her off for about a year,” Jerry said. “My wife Roz introduced our family to yoga years ago. She used yoga breathing to soothe the children when they were having trouble going to sleep. It takes some people a long time for seeds to grow! It wasn’t that I didn’t like yoga – I knew it was probably the right thing for me – but I was depressed maybe.”
Melanie took him to his first class. “After that, I signed up for a rookie class for eight weeks. Then I signed up for the whole year so I could go to any class I wanted.” Now, at 69, Jerry’s weekly routine includes three, four and sometime more classes at his local yoga studio.
“Recently I had an echo cardiograph and received a note telling me it looked clear and call them in two years to do it again. My cholesterol is low, blood pressure is normal, I’m able to do things pretty much as I always did things . . . I have gotten a lot stronger, I have lost over 20 pounds and kept it off for five years – and it’s all due to the yoga.”
What first hooked Jerry to yoga, he says, was yogic breathing which both calmed his system and helped him to manage pain and anxiety.
“I was at work one day, in the early months of yoga, and I felt like I just couldn’t get enough air in,” he said. “I called my wife, it was Friday and usually Friday night you just go home and crash, but I said do you mind if I go to a yoga class? She said of course, go for it.
“I wanted to go to yoga because I really needed the breathing. I found I was able to go when I was under significant discomfort and be stronger when I walked out and even stronger the next morning. If I missed yoga I would feel weaker and symptomatic a day later.”
Jerry still walks regularly, or uses an elliptical stepper for cardio-vascular fitness, but he prioritizes yoga. During the stressful period before and after his mother’s death earlier this year, he said: “even when I didn’t have much time for walking or using the elliptical stepper – we were busy dealing with the estate, cleaning out her house and selling it – I still kept with the yoga. Yoga has always been strong for me.”
When he experiences discomfort in class, he breathes into it and coaches himself through. “I have a little phrase that I made up. I go: “Jerry, do you realize that even though you’re in this plank right now, every single muscle in your body is working, including your organs?” And I go like: “There is no better place that you could be right now. If you were doing push-ups you might get the chest stronger but your breath, and the holding of these poses, is actually training every single muscle in your body, all the ones you don’t even know about. Your feet are holding you up, your hips, your belly . . .” It’s like a little thrill goes through your heart. And I’m thinking this is where I should be, this is what’s taking care of me, making me happy, and I don’t want to be any other place.”
While the physical benefits are obvious to him, one of yoga’s greatest gifts for Jerry is the new friends he has made.
“I have made more friends at yoga than you can believe,” he said. “It’s like a community to me. It blossomed into all these people who look out for each other and look forward to each other, even if you only see them once a week and don’t even know their name. That’s been a by-product I never ever expected.”
Yoga has also returned him to an earlier philosophy of the body’s central importance. “When I studied theatre you had to look at your body as an instrument,” he said. “Without body awareness you can’t walk around the stage properly, and if you’re not eating the right foods, not getting enough sleep, you’re not going to be the best actor you can be to pull off the part.
“So I was always interested in the body as an instrument and the mind as an instrument. Yoga has added to that whole feeling I had back in college when I was studying theatre.”
Jerry will practice yoga as long as he can – but here’s a warning to all his yoga buddies: you may want to watch your behavior around him, or one day you might see yourself in a stand-up comedy routine that goes viral…