I recently attended the Yoga Aotearoa IYTA convention in Auckland. This was a wonderful opportunity to connect into a wider yoga community – a community that included teachers that had been teaching and practicing yoga for more years than I had been alive.
In my practice I often run into my own expectations of what my practice ‘should’ bring me: health, longevity, enlightenment, great body. None of these is guaranteed, even if I practice every day, but are manifestations of my desire for security and control.
Wishing into the future takes me away from whatever newness and joy is present.
However, when the 85 year old yoga teacher with a wicked sense of humour and the best leggings in the room led us in a flexibilities session, I knew what kind of old lady I wanted to be.
When I greeted the 91 year-old yoga teacher that was writing her second book on yoga, I knew that at 91, if I made it, I would rather be at a yoga weekend than nestled in a lazy boy in an old people’s home.
The theme of the weekend was ‘Joy’. It was not unusual to see groups of grey haired people with excellent posture standing about howling with laughter.
On the first night we discussed how our yoga practice had brought joy to our lives. Again and again there were stories about yoga being the main support in lives full of children, marriages, divorces, health breakdowns, death of loved ones… In short, change. Inevitable and often painful change.
But there was their precious practice, a sure thing to help them refind themselves, to refind that ‘small, still point’, the place where it is impossible not to see how beautiful the sky is as clouds unfurl, the place where suffering is revealed for what it really is, a place to go and surrender completely to now and find perspective.
I have a friend, Val, who is in her 70s. She isn’t a teacher but regularly comes to class, is passionate about her practice, which is relatively recently developed, and looks so serene and blissful in shoulderstand it is an inspiration. I often wish other younger students I know, who approach this asana with the idea of it’s difficulty firmly entrenched, could see her float into it. She has recently had a hip replacement, but I know, once fully recovered, she will still sail into this position with ease, even if she can’t cross her legs.
My first yoga teacher, Barbara Whitehouse, is in her late sixties. We live in the same small village by the sea. On a sunny, but chilly autumn day, I walk to the beach and there she is, boogie boarding and laughing out loud, two activities she often indulges in.
Five minutes later, after she has encouraged me to strip off my dress, take her boogie board and ‘just get in, Emma, it is so lovely’, I was in the exhilaratingly ‘fresh’ Dunedin water, in my underwear, contemplating that she wasn’t just teaching me yoga, she was showing me how to live with joy, fully embracing the moment.
She and the other ‘Yoga Elders’ are living examples of what yoga does for you. And they may not look like Madonna, some may no longer cross their legs because of hip replacements, they may decide that imagining their practice today is better than doing it, but they sure do laugh a lot.
When you are next worrying that you can’t get that leg to the same angle as the person next to you, or you wish like mad you could pretzel with ease, think about the 91 year old, down on the floor, on her mat, doing asana.
Think about the achievement of being able to get up and down off the floor without assistance sixty years from now.
Think about the possibility that you really hunger for joy, rather than achievement.
It sure put my practice into perspective…
Read more about about staying young with yoga in this article: