I love senior yoga teachers.
You know the ones. They don’t wear Lulu, they have nondescript sweatpants or crazy tie-dyed bell bottom yoga pants. They have grey hair, either cut short or in dreads; big grey dreads that snake unapologetically down their bare, freckled backs.
They don’t have pedicures and they don’t wear make up. They’ve traveled the world, still love patchouli, and routinely attend drum circles.
They’re not “old hippies,” they’re people who found something that worked and still work it. And if you let them, they can teach you how to work your thing too, your Lulu pants notwithstanding.
There is a disturbing trend among yogis of today, which looks a lot like the popular group of girls who used to torment me back in high school. We’re into the fashion—it makes our butts look small—and we’re insecure, so that’s a good thing. Our studios are all fancied up with bamboo plants and soft lighting, statues of Ganesh and great stereo systems. There isn’t an un-pedicured toe among us—not necessarily a bad thing, except it points to a larger problem. A human problem. The herd mentality.
I say this as an admitted member of the herd.
But I am independent thinker enough to appreciate when I see a different species. What can this species teach me? What secrets do they have?
Older yoga teachers, let’s say 60 years and up, either had different teacher training than us younger pups, or absorbed the training we had in a different way thanks to their deeper experience of life. That alone is worth showing up to their class.
Also, I believe they have a greater knowledge of the body, having weathered the storms of injury and physical change over time. They’re still on the mat, and they’ve been where you are now. Watch what’s going on with them. If nothing else, it’s tremendously inspirational.
They are gentler, too.
A senior yoga teacher is not going to try and beat the crap out of you with endless sun salutations and inversions. They know that the middle way is the healthy way, and they will operate from that knowledge as they lead you. They are not just gentler in terms of their sequencing though, but gentler in their nature. They laugh more. They move more slowly. They radiate gratitude.
Older students are just as great, and for many of the same reasons. Though they may not have the dreads or bell bottoms going, they have that light humor and sense of self acceptance. It doesn’t bother them to do trikonasana (triangle) with a block.
They inevitably come into my class with a smile their face when most of my other students look drained and self absorbed. They ask me how I’m doing, and are interested in the answer. They listen to what I say during class and aren’t afraid to ask questions afterwards. They come more consistently, never forget to turn off their cell phone (maybe they don’t even have one), and sink into savasana like no other.
In these older teachers and students, I see myself, my future self—a better self.
I cherish their presence whether I’m teaching them or they’re teaching me, which of course, is always happening simultaneously anyway.
Maybe when I’m older and still teaching (oh, I hope I will be), there will be a new yoga tribe. My Lulu’s will be pilled and faded and my arms dotted with age spots, (but my pedicure will still be fresh), and they will stare at me, in awe of my out of date vibe.
I can’t imagine what this younger bunch will be like, but I do know this: I hope they take the time to see past their egos and know that, though I may seem like a rickety old dame, I’ve still got lots to give.
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Ed: Catherine Monkman