Aging Well, Retirement, Trying New Things

Expanding My Comfort Zone–Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks

 When our youngest son came home for Christmas, he was displeased that our ten-year-old Husky only knew how to do two small tricks–sit and shake paw–the same two tricks that he himself had taught our dog over nine years ago. With the exuberance of youth, our son was determined to teach Cody a new trick– lie down…on command. It seemed easy enough, but not for Cody (he just could not connect the words to the action). Watching these training sessions, I empathized with Cody and thought about how I was currently expanding my own comfort zone.

Flying, public speaking, heights…. even spiders are all fine with me. Running a school with 300 – 800 middle schoolers…. no problem. But figuring out the current BC recycling rules, how to throw a rock in curling, or how to properly set up my downward facing dog in yoga have all felt like major mind-boggling feats. Due to the significant change in my current surroundings, I now need to be “bear and cougar aware,” as our local hiking trails are shared with these majestic creatures (freaks me out every single time). Other seemingly commonplace undertakings, such as single-handedly making a Christmas turkey dinner from scratch (I had never taken this task on solo before) have frankly scared the wits out of me (insert belated thanks to my mom, mother-in-law and Liz Harrison here)!

Please do not think I am exaggerating about what some may dismiss as mundane tasks. Consider recycling for example. You no longer just toss all recyclables in your blue bin as we did before we left for China–no, no, no! Now all paper goes in the yellow bag (a recent recycling addition) unless the paper is shredded, and then it goes in a clear plastic bag beside your blue box. All cardboard boxes must be flattened and placed in your yellow bag, unless they are large pieces of cardboard, then they must be cut down and placed beside your blue box. All paper cups and milk cartons go in the yellow bag, unless they contain food waste, then they go in the green composting bin. All glass bottles and jars must be taken with your returnables to the bottle deposit station, unless they are non-returnable, then they actually go in the garbage. All returnable beverage containers must be capless, cleaned and crushed–unless they are glass bottles (which thankfully should not be crushed) and must have their lids on…except for glass wine bottles that must have their lids off and labels on. Other recycling contradictions include soft and hard cover books that you must take to the used bookstore (unless the book has been mangled by your dog, and then you must tear all pages away from the spine in order to recycle…or stash the tome in your garbage bin when no one is looking). And then there is wrapping paper, which according to the Regional District of Nanaimo’s recycling poster goes in your yellow bag, unless said wrapping paper contains foil…but according to our local recycling transfer station, all wrapping paper should be put in the trash. Finally, garbage containers for collection day can only be three-quarters full if you have a plus-sized can–but if you have a regular sized can feel free to go ahead and fill the whole thing completely. Seriously, on garbage day, our whole community gyrates with the fear of being tasered lest they mess up on any of the recycling rules. In actual fact, the penalty for faulty recycling is far worse… your stuff simply will not be picked up and you will need to wait another two weeks to try again.

Unfortunately, recycling is not just one isolated example. Take yoga’s famous downward facing dog. Cody makes it look so easy! Hands should be shoulder width apart (no problem). Feet should be sit-bone distance apart (again okay). You slightly rotate your forearms as if your thumbs are magnetically drawn to each other (huh?). Then you externally rotate your upper arms while activating and elongating your shoulders (definitely losing me). Your neck and head form one long line with your spine while you draw in your navel towards your back (yup, definitely lost). And if somehow you survived all that, don’t rejoice just yet because you are then reminded that your heels should strive to be flat on the ground! But even if you get your heels anywhere near the floor, then comes the ultimate morale buster, downward facing dog is considered a resting pose–you read it correctly—a resting pose!

The media continues to bombard us with two secrets of aging well: 1) Live an active lifestyle and avoid prolonged periods of sitting, viz. if you don’t use you will definitely you lose it. 2) Continue to learn new things in order to grow additional brain connections and strengthen existing ones (the focus here is on learning brand new things as opposed to playing it safe and sticking solely to what we already know).

Following this advice, I prepare myself for a stroll on one of the trails outside of my home. Then I remember–bears, cougars, and other scary things. I try to calm myself by reading the bear aware literature. The Get Bear Smart Society advises me to “Stand tall and look the bear directly in the eye. Yell at the bear and firmly tell it to leave: ‘Get out of here, bear!’” But that recommendation is only for black bears (and apparently, ones who understand English). If it is a grizzly, that has somehow managed to make its way onto Vancouver Island, the advice is “never try to move a grizzly bear” (seriously, I could not make this stuff up). (

So here I am, just like Cody, learning new tricks in my retirement years. There’s a lot more to learn…especially since I have signed up for another month of yoga, and as my husband is suggesting that we hike the West Coast Trail this summer. Looks like I will need to continue to practice my downward dog…and review the Get Bear Smart literature one more time!

11 thoughts on “Expanding My Comfort Zone–Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks”

  1. Sounds like you are having fun! You will have to try pickleball, we love it. A new sport growing wild in the retirement age bracket!! I started the west coast trail, but went off with Barry and Betty…should have continued on with Odette, Greg and Earle! A bucket list thing to complete it! Maybe one day…….live each day to the fullest never know what is around the corner!


    1. Thanks Georgia! I greatly appreciate your regular comments on my blog posts. Hope to see you again one day soon — on the West Coast Trail perhaps?


  2. Oh my, where did they recycle the recycling rule book. I think practicing the doggy down move might scare aware the bear as I have seen that position and wondered who ever thought yoga was a good idea. How can you hold onto your gin and tonic as you move into these positions. My final thought – if you can ‘bear’ it- is whether or not the old dog learned his new trick…


    1. Hi Franko – Bob B did demonstrate downward-facing dog on the beach in Parksville….and I can’t say that we even heard of any bear sightings for a long while after that…so your theory just might work! And yes, Cody did learn the new trick while Creighton was here…and then quickly forgot as soon as we went back to our old patterns (of not having to beg for treats). Shhh, don’t tell Creighton. Thanks for reading, and sharing!


  3. I really do sympathise re the Down Dog… I did yoga once a week for two years in Oxford.. (thank god that’s over!) .. And yes, there does come a point when Down Dog is a rest pose, although my favourite was Pigeon….

    I dutifully brought my yoga pants here to Tokyo but, thankfully, haven’t yet found a class. 🙂

    Bit jealous over the bears though!


    1. Hi Helen – Just the definition of pigeon scares me “Pigeon is about unlocking our deepest fears, traumas and anxieties, a pose that releases the pressures put on our lower two chakras…. ” . (I think I am more of a “tree” kind of yogini). Thanks for reading and sharing, I greatly appreciate it!


  4. Ha! I would make you a full roast dinner every day -maybe more than once- before I ever became a school administrator! What makes some people quiver… 🙂 can’t imagine breezing through parent meetings easier than making gravy. But you make it look fun! ( we empathize with the recycling… Japan may have copied your guidelines, or vice versa…)


  5. Well, I will have to admit that I have never read the “recycling police” literature at home but I just read yours with great care. I am appreciating that we only have two containers plus a yard waste bin. Our recycling people do dump and leave stuff that is not acceptable on the curb though.

    My husband digs his heels in and just throws everything in recycling that is not food waste. He says that if they want to sort it, let them do it. I don’t want to take care of the recycling stuff so I stay very quiet.

    As for the bear aware information…the fact that there even is such a flyer would keep me in town. I admit to being a coward!

    Loved this one a lot.



    1. Hi Barbara – I greatly appreciate your comments. I need to be better at adopting your strategy of “staying quiet” so that I don’t get jobs handed back to me!


  6. The recycling litany made me laugh! I was in Florida last month (yes, retirement is sometimes tough) and did beach yoga, as a beginner. The lead yogi(?) said multiple times…come as you are, do what you can, listen to your body….and always go to child’s pose if you feel the need. Yup, I like child’s pose! Pigeon made my leg hurt, and really…flat feet on downward dog? But still, beach yoga…sand & surf. I do plan on going again…next time we are in Florida (which is in 6 weeks…not that I’m counting days.)


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