May 27, 2012

Old Yogi Meets Wanderlust. ~ Shanan Harrell

“When grace is joined with wrinkles, it is adorable. There is an unspeakable dawn in happy old age.”

~ Victor Hugo

It had been a challenging, transformational, unimaginable four years, and this old yogi longed to lose herself amongst the throngs at the Wanderlust Yoga/Music Festival in Lake Tahoe.

Yearning to spend some time in crowded solitude as an anonymous seeker, I was confident this Squaw Valley event was just the ticket. I would have the luxury of being a student for a quiet weekend in the serenity and breathtaking beauty of Tahoe; exquisitely alone.

Because this Festival was built around a style of yoga that is not my usual practice, I knew I would be challenged. Because I cherish my solitude, I knew I would be blissfully anonymous among the hundreds of yogis attending. Because I am middle-aged, I knew I would be free from the distraction of trying to appear hip or even marginally attractive.

Challenged, anonymous and liberated? I’m in! Which direction would you like me to set my mat?

Arriving early for my first class, I met the teacher. She was a young thirty-something woman, dressed out in pink tutu and glittery ribbons in her wild blonde hair. She introduced herself as Kiki and gave me a knowing wink; a wink that said she’d take it easy on me, the decaying old yogi. I winked back to say that I can take care of myself, and damn, I wished I’d brought my tutu for the weekend. I brazenly unfurled my mat between two yoga studs who glanced at me with disinterest.

As a younger woman, my overwhelm of inadequacy and self-consciousness would never have allowed me to be brazen enough to plop down between these two astonishing hotties. Today, I can hang with them because I am the non-threatening yoga granny who also happens to have a bitchin’ headstand. (The yoga hunks and I became BFFs.)

The big event of the weekend was held outdoors in the blazing sun with 300 practitioners eager to study with the Famous Superstar Teacher. Being the oldest and very whitest person there, I sported a darling parasol to protect my delicate skin from the damnable sun (Hey, that parasol could pair stunningly with the tutu. Next time!). As all the youngsters set out their mats, I realized there was no place for this yogagenarian in the only slice of shade.

I reconsidered: do I really want to flip around in the scorching heat with a bunch of twentysomethings?  Nah, not so much. On the other hand, I very much want to hear what the Famous Superstar Teacher has to transmit. Rooting around, I magically discovered a plastic lawn chair abandoned by the sound techs. I sat my senior self down in the sea of mats, raised my trusty parasol and surveyed the circus. The devotees shape-shifted all around me as the Famous Superstar Teacher bellowed instructions and encouragement from the stage. I broke a sweat just sitting in my happy chair, wisely acknowledging my limits, supremely content to merely watch. Aaaah.

Over the weekend, as classes progressed, I had one yoga bunny tell me she hoped she would have a strong practice like mine when she gets to be my age. I hope she does too.

I hope she can have the same realization that aging can bring awesome gifts: liberation, permission, confidence, wisdom. 

Thank you, wrinkled face, for the freedom you’ve given me. I am grateful for the strangely comforting permission to relax that emanates from my every grey hair.

Now, if I can learn to love my turkey neck, well, how far away can enlightenment be?


Shanan Harrell is a fusion of Iyengar-based asana instructor blended with a powerful streak of Buddhist warrior and seriously devoted gong player. Shanan has been practicing yoga since 1996 and teaching since 1999. Through the years she has trained with many world class teachers and traveled to Pune, India in 2004 to study with the Iyengar family. Her reverent and precise instruction coupled with an irreverent sense of humor make classes safe, fun and challenging. Shanan’s column Yoga 101 appears regularly in the Loop Newspaper. She is also a contributing writer to Tehachapi Lifestyle Magazine. Her book, Stumbling Towards Enlightenment: a Yoga 101 Collection is a compilation of her thoughtful and entertaining columns. Buy it here.

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Editor: Cassandra Smith

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