I have just finished reading a great article published in a yoga magazine by a yoga teacher who sounds very much like me. I am an older teacher who has been practising yoga for over 17 years and teaching yoga for at least 7 of these in the small country town where I live. Like my fellow yoga teacher I do not travel the world giving demonstrations, write books on yoga or manage a couple of yoga studios.
My role is simply to share what I have learned about yoga with as many willing people as possible. To help others learn to accept their bodies with all their imperfections and to nurture their physical, mental and emotional selves. I run classes in a community facility and many of my students are my friends who I would and do happily sit down to enjoy a chat and chai with.
The gist of the article I read was that as yoga becomes more popular and we hear about all the different styles and add ons to yoga we can become confused as to the true purpose of yoga…yoga is not just for young, fit , skinny, active, injury free, health aware, new age people. It is for everybody! Sometimes it can be overwhelming when you are bombarded with images of lithe young women and men doing incredibly challenging physical poses.
The very meaning of yoga has nothing to do with your age, shape and size. Yoga according to Patanjali ‘ is the blocking (nirodha) of mental modifications (chitta vritti) so that the seer (drashta) re-identifies with the (higher) Self. To me this is when you learn through conscious action about the fluctuations of mind…you practise awareness in all that you do and eventually you begin to realise that you are not your mind or your body….you begin to re identify with your higher self.
Of course this emerging awareness often begins with asana, pranayama and meditation practices. However you do not have to be able to hold the perfect Eka Pada Pranamasana (one legged prayer pose) or perfect Trikonasa to be practising yoga. Many of the postures or asanas can be performed using modifications to suit you specifically. You do not need to wear the latest yoga clothes nor hold postures for as long as others in the class. The fact is ..it is your yoga and yours alone….your experience will be very different to everyone else based on your beautiful individual self. There is no need for mirrors in my classes, mirrors encourage us to look outward and yoga is about looking inward. You do not need to watch the teacher ( I only demonstrate if my students appear to be having difficulty with my instructions) …..you just need to listen to the instructions, feel into your body and be open to possibility.
My students range in age from their 30’s to 80’s. I run classes specifically for those with back issues and a class just for the “blokes” in my town. I run a weekly session at our local aged care facility where everyone practises chair yoga. My oldest student in this group is over 90!
In my regular classes my eldest student is 82. She lives at home, rides her bike twice a week, does water aerobics and comes to her weekly yoga class. When I asked her why she was coming to yoga and what she gets out of it her reply was simple.
“I did practise yoga many years ago and found it very relaxing but life gets so busy with its comings and goings. I have had a lot of stress in my life over the years raising my family of 5, supporting my husband on the farm and working as a nurse. But I like to keep busy and even when I retired I did voluntary work for many years. Now I am doing something for myself. I find that yoga keeps me supple and helps me tune into my body more. I really enjoy the calming environment and the quiet introspective aspect of breathing practices. I enjoy the practice of yoga nidra and I sleep well at the moment.
I think you have to have a certain openness to practise yoga and I enjoy meeting like minded people. I enjoy having a coffee or tea together after class and I feel good after yoga. Some of the things I find challenging are the balancing practices and some of the stronger poses.” When I asked her what advice she would give to other older people contemplating yoga she said” persevere a little if you are stiff…..you have to want to become more supple and take it slowly”
So if you are older, have back issues, dodgy knees or are overweight do not let that hold you back from joining a yoga class. Just find the right type of yoga for you and a skilled teacher who can help you with modifications as necessary and lead you carefully in yogic journey.