Okay, so our bodies aren’t the same as they were when we were 25.
It’s getting harder to pick ourselves up off the floor, rise up from squats, get out of the car or pick up our little grandkids without the sounds of our joints talking back. But take hope: It’s never too late to start a regular yoga practice and feel stronger and work out some of those crackles and pops. As an older practitioner who started practicing hatha yoga on the late side of life, I have some basic suggestions to make your transition into yoga easier and keep you encouraged so you’ll come back for more:
1. Talk to Your Teacher
Always talk to a new teacher before class to let him or her know about your physical limitations. This means arriving early enough to make contact and have time to get set up before class. This way, the teacher knows what or what not to do to help you feel good about class. He or she will probably tell you to take your time and do what feels right for your body.
2. Choose your Space
Pick a place in the back row. This way, you don’t have to feel awkward or embarrassed about not keeping up. You don’t need to be in the front or serve as a model for others. If you have vision or hearing problems, pick a place toward the front, but on the side.
3. Be Kind to Your Body
Start slowly. Don’t push yourself to a point of pain. Modify poses as necessary to make them work for you and only move as far as feels comfortable. Until you understand how your muscles need to work, slow the poses down or forego the ones that seem beyond your present strength or flexibility. Take longer resting poses as needed.
4. Use Props
Don’t be embarrassed to use as many props as need. In Iyengar-style classes, there will be blankets, blocks and straps available. Take extra blankets to sit on, as sitting higher helps if you’re not gifted with an open body. Your teacher should be willing to help you get the right support for your poses. If you’re as inflexible as I am, talk to your teacher about using a folding chair (if available) or a wall to help you in some of the poses.
3. Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
Don’t feel you have to keep up with your neighbor. You may never be able to follow in the tracks of the trained ballerina in front of you or the athlete doing effortless handstands next to you. Remember that every body is different and your goal is not to achieve perfect poses, but among other things, to improve your life by working with your body in a positive way.
4. Don’t Judge Yourself or Your Body
The fact that you’ve made it to a yoga class is a gift you’ve given yourself. You can make it through the moments when you’re uncomfortable and want to walk out the door by recognizing that whatever you’re doing is better than not doing anything at all. In those moments, relax, breath, take a resting pose and then start moving again.
5. Commit to a Series of Classes
Determine that you will go to, say, 10 classes or any number that seems right. Even though you might not enjoy the first class, try another class with the same teacher or the same class with a different teacher until you find a formula that fits your personality. Beginning is not easy. Your body hurts, you feel awkward and you don’t understand why you’re subjecting yourself to this physical discomfort. But eventually, your body, as well as your mental attitude, will change. It took me a year of two to three classes a week before I enjoyed doing hatha yoga.
6. Don’t Make Excuses
Don’t allow yourself to make excuses about why you can’t go to class. I’ve made them all—I’m too tired, I have more important things to do, I’m not feeling great, the weather’s not good enough, somebody needs me to do something, etc.—and I’ve realized that there will always be reasons why I can’t make it to class, and only one main reason why I should go: to respect my aging body and give it the food it needs to support my physical and mental well-being.
7. Be Proud of Yourself
Be grateful that you have a body and are able to move, that you have a mind and are able to think and that you have your breath and are able to breathe. Carry that into your yoga practice. The positive results of a steady hatha yoga practice will gradually flow into all the aspects of your life.
No one said getting old would be easy. But we can live with greater ease by embracing a steady yoga practice and enjoying the movement of our bodies in whatever stage they may be in. I’m entering my 70th year, and practicing hatha yoga has, among other things, lowered my blood pressure, increased my bone density and normalized the pressure on my eye caused by borderline glaucoma. I still can’t touch my toes, and I set a slower pace for myself than my neighbors on the mat, but I have enough energy to play with my grandchildren, as well as organize and lead adventure tours around the world. Life may be more challenging now, but there is enough activity and excitement to make each day a joy.
Author: Varya Simpson
Editor: Evan Yerburgh
Image: Author’s own