Joyce Turner is the best possible argument for keeping your body flexible as you age. She is my role model. I can’t say exactly when I came to this conclusion, certainly not as a result of our first encounter, which happened something like this. I opened the door to enter a detached building located within a church complex to start my first yoga class. A woman older than me was arriving at the same time. She looked up — way up given our height differences — and asked, “Who are you?” “I’m Ann,” I said, figuring she was a church volunteer who for security reasons was interested in keeping track of strangers entering the building. “I’ve just retired and I’m here for yoga,” I said, by way of assuring her I had no ill intentions toward church property or its employees. “I’m Joyce,” she responded. That made me wonder if maybe she was not a church volunteer but one of my future classmates.
I was wrong on both counts. Joyce was the yoga teacher. You can’t blame me entirely for my snap judgment. She doesn’t look the part, first because she will turn 80 this year and I had never seen an 80-year-old yoga teacher, nor was I capable of imagining one at the time. She is not a statuesque blond, like those whose photos often grace the covers of yoga books and magazines. And rarely does she contort her body into what some would call pretzel poses, but which she calls the “noodle” positions. Nonetheless, her spine, hamstrings and hips are very flexible, much more so than mine. Best of all, she’s not a lycra/spandex kind of woman, which elevates her in my rankings of fitness teachers.
One reason Joyce is my role model is that she’s a life-long learner, even though she’s been doing yoga for 28 years and teaching for 20. She still attends intense yoga retreats, which she describes as “marvelous experiences that have enabled me to meet yogis and yoginis from all over the world.” Her goal is to keep learning, not only for her practice, but to become a better teacher. In class, she shows she cares about her students as well as individualizes her instruction, a buzzword in education these days. How does she do this? Although she will say that keeping safe in class is our responsibility, she continues to remind us, based on what she knows about our individual aches and pains, which movements not to attempt and which alternatives will be safer. Joyce patiently explains what we are supposed to do, even if she has gone through the same steps many times before.
Joyce believes that yoga teachers tend to be “caring and open, which leads them to a healthy diet. I’m not sure how all this works, but once one becomes aware of their body they become aware of what goes into it. Somehow through all this, one opens their heart and their brain.” She keeps healthy and does aerobic exercise to complement her stretching. She says she has arthritis but doesn’t feel pain and attributes this to keeping flexible. Joyce is truly someone to look up to as I age. She makes it look so easy, though she says what she enjoys most is “not getting old.”