“Back cleavage! Give me some back cleavage!”
I do a double take, wondering if I’ve somehow wandered onto the set of “New Age Full Metal Jacket.”
“Give me some cleavage! Don’t forget the cleavage!”
The woman talking is Amy Kraft, a 66-year-old yoga instructor. The woman she’s barking at is an 85-year-old client. The woman makes a slight shift in her torso and Kraft notices.
“Better, that’s better,” Kraft says, stalking her client, closely studying her posture, her alignment and her breathing.
“Are you breathing?” Kraft asks.
“Yes,” the woman says, but in talking she lets her guard down, her concentration, if just for a moment. She loses the posture. Kraft places a hand in the woman’s spine, a gentle reminder for the woman to bring her shoulders back, make the shoulder blades hang together like angel’s wings.
An hour later, Kraft and I are drinking water under the Arizona sun outside a Whole Foods Market. She tells me about the client.
“A month ago she could barely walk without assistance. You saw her feet?”
I nod that I did. When the session had begun the lady’s feet were swollen, painful to look at. After 45 minutes of yoga and some physical therapy from Kraft, I’d taken another look. All the swelling had gone down. She could straighten them. They’d grown decades younger before my eyes.
“Are you some kind of healer?” I ask.
She doesn’t say anything. She just smiles, that Arizona sun seeming to halo around her curly golden hair.
See our exclusive video: A day in the life of Amy Kraft
On the waterfront
Kraft’s story didn’t start with yoga or in Arizona. Like many baby boomers it started across the country. For Kraft that meant the beaches and boardwalks of the East Coast. She spent her days outdoors, building sandcastles and climbing trees.
“I was always drawn to the sun and the water,” she says, talking about her childhood.
She wanted to be a professional baseball player, too, and to this day doesn’t understand why they wouldn’t let girls play ball with the boys.
I can almost hear her repeating the famous line from “On the Waterfront,” “I coulda been somebody, I coulda been a contender…”
With baseball an afterthought, Kraft turned to acting. Her mother loved the stage and took her to summer stock where she would go back stage and meet luminaries like Helen Hayes.
She was bitten by the acting bug and had some success of her own.
“I was lucky to have some roles in the early days of TV,” she says, “but the stage was so special.” Her eyes seem to twinkle talking about those adventures in acting.
She shows me a headshot from those days, a photo taken in the ‘60s, the one she handed out when she made the cattle calls for acting parts. She’s in her early 20s and striking, her angular features resembling many of the leading ladies of that era.
As with the much of the boomer generation Kraft had a restless spirit, was looking for somewhere to land and focus her attention. She would find it on Wall Street.
“I’d been a hippie of the ‘60s,” she says, “but I got serious at a certain point, when I was around 35.”
She recalls the first memories of money and finance, when, as a child, her father and grandmother debated the worth of IBM stock in its nascent years. Her dad didn’t think it was worth the paper it was printed on but her grandmother saw the potential.
“We all know who won that argument.”
For the next 20 years, Kraft worked her magic in money, making it for her clients and for herself. With her blonde mane, they called her a “lioness” of Wall Street. She was, as Tom Wolfe coined, among those “masters of the universe.”
Kraft began the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 like most others, taking a quick look at her calendar. She had seven to eight clients to check in with over the course of the day. There was only one difference.
“For some reason, I didn’t go to my early morning yoga class. I don’t know why.”
Had she gone, her subway train would have taken her under the World Trade Center where she very well could have been trapped.
As it was, she arrived at work early and began making calls. She was on the 46th floor of a building across the street from the Twin Towers.
When the first building was hit, Kraft was in a client consultation. She doesn’t recall anything from the initial impact, but later, as she turned to her window she saw something that resembled snow falling in September in Manhattan. It was ash from the explosion. It was followed by other things falling from the sky.
“I saw… people…falling.”
She mourned. The day seems like a blur, but she was able to make it back to her apartment and in a state of shock, she began calling those clients who were on the calendar. Some were too shaken to talk. But Kraft carried on until the last call for the day was made.
As with many people, a part of Kraft died on 9/11 but it fueled something inside of her as well. She’d been making a difference in people’s lives by building their retirement plans, and while she loved that work, something else was calling.
For a while she lived on a ranch in Montana where she kept horses and returned to the natural world, the great outdoors that she’d loved so much as a child. During those years, she worked on non-profit endeavors, including a foundation on neonatal research.
Kraft and I are in another makeshift yoga studio. This time it’s in the game room of a senior community that looks as if it’s been designed for a sultan.
I tell an administrator I’d like to live here.
“Everybody tells us that,” she says.
I can see why. The place is a resort. The front door opens to a foyer that can only be described as Versailles if Versailles had been developed in Arizona in the late 20th century for senior citizens.
The game room is similarly impressive. Artwork adorns the walls, original works of vivid colors and abstract shapes. The back wall is one big window. A resident walks by with a towel draped over a shoulder and performs a cannonball, or what an octogenarian would call a cannonball.
I wait a beat for the man to surface. When another beat arrives without the man I rise on my toes and crane my neck. I look for a weakness in the glass if he needs saving. But there he is pulling himself up at the pool’s far end.
Apparently, unsatisfied with merely catapulting himself into the water, the man touched bottom before kicking off and with lungs burning, frog kicked his way underwater to the far wall.
He exits the water and finds an empty cabana chair where he plops down to read a Michael Crichton thriller about a virus run amok.
When another administrator offers me a glass of water I say “yes” then “no” concerned if I drink the water here I’ll wake up as a teenager, or worse.
The residents begin ambling in for the class; some of them are rolled in. Kraft doesn’t baby them. She has the chairs aligned in a circle and has the residents sit at the edge of their chairs and take off their shoes.
The feet are a gateway to determining health, she tells me. She needs to study the swelling, the disfigurement.
One woman won’t remove her shoes.
“We’ll help you get them back on.”
“I’ll be cold.”
“It’s better for you to perform the exercises with your shoes off.”
“Cold,” I hear the woman say again, under her breath.
Kraft lets it go. She has the class roll a tennis ball under foot. One man loses control of the ball and it rolls to the circle’s center where Kraft retrieves it for him.
Then she’s back to the back cleavage. Some of the students perch at the edge of the chair drooping toward the floor.
“I want to see back cleavage,” Kraft orders. Then it’s, “Cactus arms. Give me cactus arms.”
There they are, arms at 90 degree angles or as close as they can reach to 90, seated at attention, a whole family of cacti in the desert sun.
“You’ve been practicing,” Kraft says to one woman.
“Yes,” says the woman, who’s sitting at attention, her back board straight.
After the class Kraft tells me the practice is what will make the real difference. The sessions under her supervision are great but they have to put in the work every day.
“They need the activity. They need someone to listen and hear their goals and desires. Maybe it’s to get the pain to stop. But whatever it is they want to be heard.”
“That doesn’t sound too different than your work with clients on Wall Street, when you carved out their financial and retirement plans,” I note.
“Exactly,” Kraft says. “That was always my favorite part of being in the financial world. I lived for those meetings with people and hearing them tell me their stories and their goals about life and retirement.”
In those days, she would help clients carve out a plan that would help them enjoy their golden years. Now it’s come full circle. These people she’s working with are set financially but for many there’s a missing piece to the puzzle — their health. So here she is, the golden girl, guiding them through their Golden Years one posture, one breath at a time.