As a yoga instructor, people often tell me, “I wish I had started yoga when I was young.”
I am always surprised to learn that many assume I started practicing when I was in my early teens or had a background in gymnastics as a child. Neither is the case.
I took my first yoga class at the ripe old age of 23 in the basement of a church in Wiltshire, England. Upon returning to the U.S. a year later, I began practicing regularly, switched from basic Hatha to Ashtanga as my primary practice and after eight years, I did a 200-hour teacher training at the local yoga school in town.
As an instructor, I like when I have students who are well into their 30s or beyond and are new to yoga. Why? Being an “older” yogi has many benefits. The reasons are as follow:
1. There is usually more time to devote to a regular practice.
When I think back to my teens and early 20s, it is all a blur. I was forever doing 20 things at once. Granted, one could argue that alone is a good reason why I needed yoga in my life, but the truth is I was not willing to make the time for a regular practice. Once I started working and had some modicum of stability in my life, finding regular times to practice became a bit more easy.
2. You start to look beyond the physical in your practice.
I won’t lie. The initial reason I came to yoga was because I wanted to look good. However, after practicing regularly I noticed that I felt calmer and even happier after a practice. While I tended to be a big cynic when it came to spiritual stuff and considered myself a pretty firm agnositc, I thought that maybe there was something to this mind/body thing. Whatever was happening, it was working. I kept coming back for more.
3. You notice and respect your body’s limitations as you grow older.
Now that I am 36 and have given birth, I know I probably will never advance beyond the primary series in Ashtanga. Wanting to achieve jaw-dropping postures is no longer a top priority of mine. When I was in my early 20s, I often pushed myself beyond my limits. (A good example is deciding to go on a 20-mile hike in England’s Peak District despite having no previous hiking experience.) I did not pay the price until much later. Now, I no longer have that option. If I push myself beyond my limit, then I feel it within hours.
4. Youth does not automatically equate greater flexibility.
This past Friday, I went to the University of Virginia’s John Paul Jones Arena and took a lead primary class with R. Sharath Jois, the grandson of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. Many of the people who practiced along side me were undergraduates who were brand new to yoga. The majority of them could barely touch their toes. I was also fascinated to learn that Sharath did not start practicing in earnest until he was 19. Granted, 19 is very young, but this whole idea that one has to have been practicing since they were a child is just so wrong.
5. You truly learn the meaning of letting go.
We use the term “letting go” so much that it has almost become a cliche. I heard it all my life, but did not truly start to understand what it meant until I was well into adulthood. “Letting go” does not mean forgetting or forgiving all the bad things that ever happened to you in life. Rather, it is about accepting it and trying to move forward. This would have been impossible for me to understand in my teens or early 20s because I lacked a lot of life experience. While I would never claimed I got it all figured out, at least I feel somewhat closer to getting some things figured out.
6. You lose some of your physical self-consciousness as you age.
When I was in my teens, I avoided P.E. like the plague because I didn’t want to sweat in front of other people. Today, I sweat, grunt, and do all sorts of things in front of other people. (Once, I leaked breast milk on my mat while I was still nursing my daughter. It was embarrassing, but not so much that I vowed never to return. Had this happened a decade earlier, I probably would have never returned to that class again.) I have also been known to run errands afterward looking like I just exited a wind tunnel. I am glad I don’t care so much anymore. It truly is liberating.
As a wise writer/yogini I know once said, “So whether you do your first downward dog at 14 or 44, it’s not your history but your presence on your mat that counts.”
I could not agree more.
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Ed: Brianna Bemel