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Yoga Got This Cowboy Back In the Saddle

Back and neck pain forced Albert Marquis to hang up the reins. Through basic yoga stretching, he finds his way back.

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At 65 years old, I figure I have been a cowboy for two-thirds of my life—the first third and the last third. In between I was a lawyer and a father. Actually I’m still a practicing lawyer in Las Vegas, but my ranch is my favorite place in the world.

Over the years horses have thrown me off on my head and on my butt, and they’ve kicked, bit and stomped me from time to time. I started going to the chiropractor for back and neck pain when I was in 10th grade and continued seeking intermittent treatment until age 55 as things got steadily worse. In pain most of the time, I found myself in the chiropractor’s office at least once each week. I often felt like someone had stuck a knife between my shoulder blades, and it was damn aggravating. It seemed like all my old injuries were coming back to haunt me. I even went to see an orthopedic surgeon, but he said there was nothing he could do.

I became desperate for a solution. I tried to carry on with my life, but it was difficult to ignore getting stuck with a cattle prod every time I bent over or turned my head. I began thinking about an article I had read years before that said the best way to avoid back and neck problems is to keep your spine limber. So I started working out each morning. I was basically engaged in exercises I had performed in football and basketball many decades ago. I started to feel better!

While on vacation, friends and relatives (all women by the way) would see me exercising, and they often joined me. They began making suggestions: Slow down. Try stretching like this. Hold that position. Slowly but surely, I began to realize that I was engaging in yoga. Who would have guessed? I always thought I was too stiff to do yoga. Looking back, that seems like a silly thought. If you are stiff, all the more reason to engage in yoga. I subscribed to Yoga Journal, learned new poses, and read about the benefits.

I think our ligaments, tendons and muscles are like the leather in our tack room (where we keep saddles, bridles and other gear). When leather is twisted and stretched on a regular basis, it remains pliable, limber and strong. When neglected, leather gets stiff, it begins to crack, and it can actually break. Our ligaments, tendons and muscles—that are organic like leather—are just the same. They need to be stretched and twisted on a regular basis. Otherwise, they get stiff and knotted, resulting in pain, limited movement and injury.

One night my wife commented, “You haven’t asked me to massage those knots in your back for a long time.” Sure enough, I hadn’t. I realized that the pain I had previously experienced every day had been reduced by 90 percent. My chiropractor even called and wanted to know where I had been.

Now I do a half hour of yoga every morning. I’m not in a yoga class where I’d feel self-conscious around a bunch of lithe, double-jointed women. I’m in my bedroom or on the porch. I listen to mellow music and enter a meditative trance that calms my nerves for the rest of the day.

People ask what kind of yoga I practice. My answer is: Cowboy yoga, self-taught, on the ranch, doing my own thing.

Sometimes, however, I don’t have time to finish. During the day I monitor how my body feels, and the pain and stiffness that I experience is in direct proportion to how much of my daily yoga routine I failed to perform. Talk about motivation! Seldom do I miss a day.

Now I can hop on my horse like I was 30 years old. I can gallop off without any pain. I can squat and pet my dog, then stand up without any pain. It is like I’ve found the fountain of youth. Nothing has ever had such a profound impact on the quality of my life. I want to shout from the rooftops, “Yoga has changed my life!”

Read more Tales of Transformation here.

Albert G. Marquis is the founding partner of the Las Vegas law firm of Marquis Aurbach Coffing and owner of the historic Kingston Ranch.