I’m a loyal yoga student.
Once I find a good fit in a teacher, I have little urge to shop around. However, when a shift in my geographic location forces me into practicing with someone new, I’ve developed a rule of thumb that tends to ensure a positive experience on the mat:
I look to practice with teachers over 40.
I hate to be ageist. As a member of the much-maligned millennial generation, I’m particularly allergic to assumptions made about individuals based on the length of time they’ve been breathing on their own. But—perhaps because breathing is central in their arena—I’ve found this aspect of a yoga teacher’s biography to actually be relevant in terms of the quality of my experience.
It’s a guideline, not a doctrine. I certainly make exceptions when I’ve had good experiences with more youthful teachers. But all the very best classes I’ve taken have been with people who could actually watch Alf before it was in reruns.
Here are my top 5 reasons why I seek out yoga teachers over 40:
1. I don’t want to get hurt.
Yes, it’s my responsibility to listen to my body on the mat—and there are some teachers who are better at creating an environment in which their students are less likely to do something stupid. Typically, older teachers have injured themselves before, sometimes badly, and they know what it takes to come back from an injury. That experience has given them an awareness of the body’s fragility as well as its strength, and practicing safely takes primacy in their classrooms.
2. Yoga is very complicated.
There are a lot of moving parts, literally. It takes a long time to understand what’s going on in every pose, and then to understand how to communicate those nuances to students.
3. They have fewer issues.
In general, people who are older have had more time to work through whatever it was that messed them up in their childhoods. Yoga involves softening and opening the heart, both physically and metaphysically. Yoga teachers lead their students into this place of vulnerability and I would rather not be led to such a place by someone with issues, particularly if those issues are the same as my issues.
I’ve been in yoga classes where too many issues unite like low pressure systems, making a tropical storm of issues that rains down on everyone while they practice. It is not good.
4. They have large book collections.
I’m very into the story time portion of a yoga class—the short talk at the beginning or the end, sometimes accompanied by a reading (when someone forgoes it, I feel robbed). Older yoga teachers have had more time to amass an extensive collection of enlightening tidbits.
5. Their pedigrees are interesting.
The longer a yoga teacher is around, the more teachers they have the opportunity to practice with themselves. I really appreciate the way my older teachers have integrated all of this experience into their own classes. It’s incredible to learn from someone who has been a vessel for over a decade’s worth of knowledge.
Recently, I was on a trip to Chicago and availed myself of a ‘first-time free’ class at a yoga studio near the apartment where I was staying (I know those policies are intended to attract students who might become potential regulars, but they didn’t specifically say that on the website. I made my non-resident status known when I got to the studio, and I brought a friend with me who does live in Chicago who wouldn’t have gone otherwise. And I will go there all the time if I ever move to Chicago).
Anyway, I took a really exceptional class with a teacher who looked like she was in her lower thirties. The class was so awesome that I was considering adjusting the parameters of my rule—until we got back to the apartment and my friend’s roommate asked us who taught our class.
“Oh, isn’t she great?” she said. “Can you believe she’s 45?”
Yes. Yes, I can.
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Assistant Ed: Ben Neal/Ed: Bryonie Wise