The Hunchback of Fort Saskatchewan

I cannot remember my Grandma R., my mother’s mother without recalling her rounded shoulders. She had what they used to call a “dowager’s hump”. Mom used to say that if anything about growing old could be avoided, she truly hoped acquiring a hump was one of them. However, she believed the hunchback look was hereditary (and judging by many of my cousins perhaps she is right) and that she would one day be as afflicted as her own mother.

Of course her fears turned out to be nonsense. The tendency to severe rounding of the shoulders might be inherited but it isn’t destiny. Not according to my yoga instructor and my massage therapist, both of whom harp at me constantly to “stop hunching!” A refrain my mother practiced as well as she preached incidentally.

But I write therefore I hunch.

As I hunker over the keyboard, my shoulder blades ache as they are pulled forward by my craft and back again during my bi-weekly yoga classes. It has gotten so bad that the yogina uses me as an example of what could happen to a woman who is not constantly vigilant and practicing daily. I am the yoga version of a Glamour “don’t”.

But I am better after almost a year now of stretching and posing and allowing my dear masseuse/friend to torture my guitar string tight muscles. Another of the insults of aging. I no longer snap back as easily as I fall out of shape. In years past it would not have taken this long to be only semi-disabled.

No one watching me would believe that I held a first degree black-belt in Tae Kwon Do once and could easily slap a person a head taller than myself upside the ear with the top of my foot.

Oh yes, I could. I was that flexible.

But somewhere along the way – I have trouble pin-pointing it on the time-line – my strength and dexterity waned a bit too often and my renewed attempts at fitness were interrupted by life too frequently until getting back to the fit and flexible woman I was once wasn’t just harder, it required the time commitment of a professional athlete and more stamina and patience than I could ever recall or muster. The spirit and the flesh were just not on the same page anymore. In fact they may be in different books.

Hormonal ups and downs don’t help either. It has left me feeling as though I awoke one day in someone else’s body. An old body. I’m young Jodie Foster in Barbara Harris’ skin, but I don’t feel sexy or grown-up. I feel wizened and betrayed. Why couldn’t I run without aching and injuries? What happened to my high kicks? My tone and definition? Where did this hump come from?

The rounding shoulders are just the latest on a long list of wear and tear.

“You need to take a nap on the floor every day,” was my yogina’s solution. Legs bent over a chair and arms out-stretched to allow the shoulders and back to settle into the hard wood is apparently quite comfy for my un-rounded yoga companions, but I have my doubts. And is this floor napping thing in addition to every other freaking thing I have to do? Because let me assure everyone, I barely manage to stay on schedule as it is – and I set my schedule – and a nap would do more to stoke my perimenopausal insomnia than it would to un-hunch me.

But, since I would rather be Esmeralda than Quasimodo, I compromise with other stretches over the course of the day and I remind my husband to call me on my posture when he notices me going slumpy. He is more than happy to oblige because he would rather sleep than massage my aching shoulder blades all night long. And he would prefer to sleep with Esmeralda too.

Perhaps one day this will all pay off. I won’t be the one in yoga class who is the bad example, but the woman of a certain age with impeccable posture.


This was an original 50 Something Moms piece.

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