September 19, 2012

Musings from a 75-Year-Old Yogini.

I have been blessed to study with some of the greatest yoga teachers of our time.

I am inspired daily by my students, my friends and my teachers. One of my greatest inspirations is my student, Sharon.

She has taught me the meaning of living an inspired full life. She is the ultimate yogini at 75-years-old.

I remember the first time she called the studio and told me she would love to do yoga, but she had a knee replacement, frozen shoulder and she was 73. I made a judgement instantly, but boy was I wrong!

Here is what inspires me the most about her.

What brought you to yoga?

Well, this is probably going to be longer than you are prepared for, but I was always interested in alternative paths to wellness….acupuncture, homeopathy and of course, an overall program of exercise. The problem was I disliked most forms of exercise, especially “groupy” things.

Along the way, I began practicing “Yoga with Priscilla,” alone with my VCR, mat and Priscilla. At the time, I also had a full-time job, a husband, children, a garden and chickens, so it was something I could leverage in between dinner and evening post-graduate classes.

Then a long-time friend and I began to practice together and it just built from there. I have since come to appreciate the group energy dynamic. As well, yoga studios have sprung up to facilitate group practice.

How long have you been practicing?

I was in my late 40s when I started, so over 25 years. When I think of it that way, I really should be much better at this! Of course there were hills and valleys in my practice over the years, but I always came back to the mat.

Do you have a favorite style to practice?

The more important issue for me is finding a teacher that fits and inspires me. Then I practice what is being taught (other than Bikram). At present, I have a knowledgeable, motivating, positive teacher. There are times I want a practice that focuses on form but I have just discovered Yin Yoga and revel in its effect on “old bones.”

What is the biggest change you have noticed both physical/mental?

I have been practicing so long that is hard to point to specific change as it has just become a significant part of my life. I do attribute much good in my life to the practice of yoga and Tai Chi. I am certainly stronger, calmer and more in the present because of my practice.

How is practicing yoga at 75 better or different than at any other age?

I have to admit, there are limitations that come with aging, especially in the form of a titanium knee. Believe me, that keep you humble. But as I age, I take comfort in something I have known throughout my practice, that I can continue this until I settle back into the earth.

What is your best yoga experience? The worst? The most challenging?

This will make me seem entirely shallow, but I will tell you what immediately comes to mind.

Best: when I saw a rippling muscle in my thigh.

Worst: when I saw my crepey legs in a shoulder stand.

Most challenging: well, every class is a challenge as it is always tempting to coast, but as I am constantly trying to get stronger, I strive to extend myself with each class. That’s challenging! It helps that I am determined, or perhaps stubborn is more apt. I do have to tell you that another “best” is the fact that you can practice yoga wherever you are and, as I am an inveterate traveler, some of my “bests” relate to the surroundings in which I have practiced. I have always believed travel gives you memories so that when you are beyond your travel years (not imminent I hope), but even now, views of those memorable experiences will come back and enrich my life…practice in a temple, in the mountains of Japan, in a studio in the busy streets of New Delhi, in a Buddhist temple in Detroit, in a garden in Katmandu, beside a field of lupines in New Zealand. All best!

How to encourage or inspire your friends to practice yoga?

Well, I guess by example. I have a fair amount of strength and a lot of energy and this inspires some of my friends to join me. I do talk about the place yoga has in my life and encourage where I see interest. This interview maybe?

Has the reason you practice yoga changed over the years?

Yes and no! I have always and continue to practice for strength, serenity and peace. There are times when one purpose is more important than others. With my husband’s and later my son’s death, I went to the mat just to get through the day, to eventually bring back some peace and serenity to my life.

Yoga breathing helps calm you so that you can drive when you are called that your sister has fallen (ALS), or that your son has had a heart attack. Life’s exigencies affect your experience on the mat.
Strength has always been a core of my practice so that I can remain independent as I age.

How has your yoga practice affected your outlook on life?

I have always been relatively positive, but yoga has enhanced that. I am not a religious person so the mental and spiritual facets of yoga have helped me accept the vicissitudes of life. Hopefully it will also help me accept death with dignity and grace.

Why do you think yoga now is more popular than it has ever been?

On this continent, yoga’s focus is primarily the physical body and at present health and fitness is more on people’s minds. Yoga is a way to achieve this. There has been some celebrity attention and that has fanned the interest as well.

Exercise fads come and go, but yoga has persisted for thousands of years in one form or another and I hope its rise here will continue. And of course, with increased interest, there has been increased accessibility.

What changes have you witnessed in yoga over the years?

First of all, you are no longer considered odd if you practice yoga. That’s really big!
There have developed a myriad of Western approaches to yoga. Many of these are only physical and therefore miss the totality of yoga practice, an expansion of physical, mental and emotional powers.

What is your favorite yoga pose? What is your least favorite?

I haven’t thought in those terms before, but let me see. My favorite poses are probably twisting poses that relieve the effects of osteoarthritis. They just feel good and I know they are helping me move with more ease and balance.

The deep standing poses have become much more difficult as I struggle with vertigo and involuntary tremor. My instability makes me wobble and I feel awkward and inept. Perhaps a good lesson in humility, but not so good for ego.

I don’t focus on such limitations, but I refer to such things here as I want people to know you can yoga through almost anything. Nothing is perfect in life, much less the human body. Limitations are almost inevitable as you age but you can truck right on around them.

What are you still working on in your yoga practice?

Everything! Seriously, one of the things I like about yoga is there is always room to grow in your practice, to expand physically, mentally and emotionally. I don’t feel I have a “perfect” anything, so I am always striving to breathe through the pose, to put my shoulders on my back, to hold the asana a minute longer, to settle my monkey mind. To learn, to grow, to challenge myself! To live in the moment! To leave yoga class with a smile on my face!

Thank you Sharon it is an honour to share this path with you. Thank you for reminding me why I practice yoga




Editor: Brianna Bemel


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