Mindful Monday #8: An Ode to Jack LaLanne
I have a very clear image of my mother doing a headstand on the front porch of our small ranch house in Connecticut in the late 1960s when I was about three years old. Thanks to Jack LaLanne. It is with nostalgia that read about his passing at a hardy age of 96. I’m convinced this early imprinting of my inverted mother led me to find my path to yoga.
I can’t really think of anyone in recent history that may have influenced American fitness culture more on the importance of physical activity – before it even became fashionable in the 80s or the prescription for obesity prevention today. When I think about it, by the time my mom was listening to Jack on a black and white TV he was already 50 years old.
The idea of exercising for good health, however, was part of my mother's German heritage, where walking or hiking was simply something families did together – for fresh air, to walk off lunch, and to enjoy the views of the forest or fields. Stuck raising two toddlers in the suburbs of Connecticut, I’m sure Jack LaLanne provided her with a daily dose of self-care and peace of mind.
With that said, I did not grow up playing sports or become an athlete. Born pigeon toed and prescribed shoe braces, my mother put me in ballet classes as her own idea of physical therapy. Mastering first position in ballet slippers may have helped my gait but it certainly provided me with a form of graceful exercise. The passing of Title IX occurred when I was a child and was not implemented until my teenage years; and frankly sports did not take over afterschool activities and weekends as it does today for my daughters. Back then I gave cheerleading and track & field a shot – mostly because I liked being part of a team and singing along on the bus to high school athletic events.
But later I circled back to those early poses I watched my mother do. She had no home gym equipment, special butt shaping sneakers or iPods, 50 fitness channels or Jane Fonda DVDs. Just a hokey guy with his dog, Happy, on a snowy screen.
When I discovered yoga in my early 20s, these memories of my mother would resurface with gratitude. When I studied mind-body medicine later with Jon Kabat-Zinn, I remembered him saying to our group that being in an inverted posture (or upside-down) is great for the mind – it offers a different perspective of the world. Jack LaLanne surely knew this already.
Now the question is: What will my teen girls remember about my relationship to exercise since I opt to escape from home life and go to structured classes? I think I’ll pull out my yoga mat suggest some shoulder stands when things get wiggy in our household. It will, at the least, be the start of a conversation on being in “balance.” They can’t fain embarrassment in our own home with no one looking.
Thank you, Jack LaLanne for entering my childhood living room.