When I started yoga in college back in the 1970s it was because the therapist I was sent to for emotional problems suggested I do baby pose. I was curious and found yoga to be relaxing.
My main sport at the time was running, which I did competitively in high school and college. I was interested in health but not yet in tune with the mind-body connection. In my twenties when I found the stress associated with becoming an adult, married and with a career, I turned to yoga again for stress reduction.
When I left my marriage and career to live in Europe for a few years, seeking artistic endeavors, I left yoga behind until my return to the United States in 1985 at age 30. At that time I discovered Kundalini Yoga, which helped me unravel the still residual emotional habits that were not serving me or anyone else.
Fast forward to age 44, when I decided to throw myself into physically demanding forms of yoga – Ashtanga, Iyengar and Dharmayoga primarily. For years I pushed myself into Chatarungas (yoga pushups) and poses I never imagined I would be able to do.
Fast forward to age 52, when almost overnight my very open shoulders shifted completely as a result of menopause. While still able to do much of the yoga I had practiced with such discipline and devotion over the years, there are other things that I will never be able to do again.
This winter, as the world was forced inside, my yoga practice became less strong for a variety of reasons. Old sport injuries were exacerbated, my shoulders became even weaker, and I found myself rehabbing my body, trying Feldenkrais and a chiropractor to address the pain and weakness that had developed. Yoga and aging were going hand in hand in my body.
So the question arose, as I did the self-reflection that is also a part of any complete yoga practice, what does yoga-and-aging look like?
I think for yoga practitioners, and teachers like myself, who have had intermediate to advanced practices, we must accept the fate of aging. Everything alive ages, and while we may age differently than our counterparts, we too are aging.
I did my Masters in Nutrition in 1979 at a Vegetarian Seventh Day Adventist University. While the population there was 20 years younger than their counterparts chronologically due to their lifestyle, they too indeed experienced aging!
It’s never too late to start doing yoga. While my muscles and bones are weaker than when I was younger, the good news is that my aging muscles and bones definitely respond positively to yoga.
So whether you are a rote beginner or have been a lifelong practitioner and are starting to see some losses in your ability to achieve certain poses, remember that, despite some of the beautiful poses found all over the internet, yoga is not about being a gymnast. It never was! Yoga and aging truly go together extremely well.
Why does yoga benefit us as we age? It keeps our minds clear, it keeps us breathing properly, it helps us move and strengthen our bodies, and it can be done with assisting props, or even in a chair.
If you have been doing yoga for a long time and cannot do everything you could when you were younger, I’ll bet you can still do more than the average person your age…and that is the reward of practicing yoga for a lifetime!