‘Yoga After 40 Will Kill You’: The Ultimate Life Lesson I Learned As a 40-Year-Old Beginner Yogi

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I started yoga when I was 40 years old. It was the hardest (best) thing I’ve ever done in my life. Here’s my story.

My daughter is 22. She is finding that what her body once used to do—Gumby bend on a dime—is growing more difficult.

Her toe, which used to nonchalantly loop around her ear while she inhaled a bowl of cereal, now stubbornly refuses to go beyond her cheek. The young woman is startled by this shocking reveal, her eyes staring at me in horror, while I try not to smirk with knowing superiority.

By the time I notice that my own bendy-ness had been limited by the hardening of age, my toes struggle to rest on an opposite knee while I put on a pair of socks. I am at the very-nearly-seeming-dead age of 40.

See also: 5 Things Every Newbie Yogi Should Know

By the time I am told to try yoga, I have creaked up another two notches, and the idea sounds ludicrous. This suggestion is made by Mark, my teacher at massage school. His notion is a response to the sight of me sweating a torrential downpour as I massage a marathon on someone’s back.

Not able to see him from beneath the waterfall of my body liquid, I gasp between piglet breaths and nod my consent. It is easy to say yes to Mark. Young, handsome, kind, he is the fantasy of most of the older segment of our class.

It seems weird to lust after someone young enough to be my son, but the creepy desire gets me to do something I don’t want to do. Which is how I enter yoga when I’m too old, too stiff and far too aware of my mindful limitations.

Having grown up in California, I have now lived most of my adult life in the Midwest. Which means my sun-streaked hair has gone by way of the same drain as any youthful California dreams. This is evident when my cranky mind-talk far exceeds the, “this is new and cool” quotient my first day on a mat.

Yoga is going to kill me.

Straight out of the gate, our class is instructed to lie back in corpse pose, which at this point sounds appropriate. The intention is to become aware of our bodies.

How I knew My 40-Year-Old Body Was *Unfit for Yoga

Considering what it takes for me to get down on my knees one at a time, then sort of lean-to-topple over to the ground, I am hyper-aware of my body.

Sweet Jesus I’m out of shape. I’m gonna die or break something important.

It’s a good thing we stay on our backs for several of the next poses, otherwise my mat-mates would be enlisted to group leverage me up. Pointed into what is considered the “easy” Down Dog, I crab crawl into position. My belly sways left, then right, finally jello-settling into place.

This is bad. Very, very bad.

My hamstrings twang in protest, having not been forewarned of the travesty they were to endure. Thoughtfully, my right quad muscle spasms, making my Down Dog roll over.

Keeping my scream to a moaning wail, I try to maneuver my legs into position for Warrior One. They both let me know they will not be manhandled. Instead, my legs and I perform something similar to the Hokey Pokey. The instructor is trying not to stare, probably noting that I’m close enough to the door to limp an escape.

In a cult-like maneuver the teacher begins to tailor the class to my brick and mortar form, while piling on the compliments.

“Oh that’s a good tree pose, Deb,” (both of my feet are firmly rooted into the floor),

“Nicely done,” (she is referring to the lasso maneuver I utilize with a strap to rope a wayward toe) and

“Congratulations! You made it through your first yoga class.”

Next, I bought a 6-Month Yoga Pass and Deepened My Yoga Practice

Always a sucker for getting my a** kissed, I buy a six-month package.

Over the next several weeks, I drag myself to humiliation school for Mark. Not because I will leave my husband—even if an old lady body intrigues the young man—but because he believes I can do it.

Someone has to think it’s possible; I certainly don’t.

The endless sigh I emit standing in front of the yoga studio becomes a weekly tradition. I have no idea what madness is about to ensue, only that it will involve me in a pose that has no relationship with how it is intended.

I begin to enjoy my role as the “don’t” part of the class, making jokes—or rather, sharing what my snarky inner-self is jabbering nonstop:

“Will someone help me move my boobs out of the way?”

“I think this pose is going to end badly for me.”

“Is being able to touch your toes important?”

Nearly at the end of the six-month package, yoga finally gives me a gift. I’m still not any better at getting down on the ground or back up—my bendy quotient still ranges in the negative—but a long-term issue with shoulder pain has disappeared.

This spontaneous absence causes me to become aware of my body, not in the negative but in the positive way. I can now hold my awkward rendition of a pose, minus sweat rivulets running through my butt crease, and lie in Savasana in a peaceful state, without snarky commentary.

That’s not entirely true—but I do manage to keep it to myself.

At the finish of a class when we’re asked to emit a single OM, my breath doesn’t snuffle out with a piglet gasp; it lengthens well beyond my expectations. Perhaps the weekly endless sighs have assisted in strengthening my lungs.

Off the mat, my version of hydro-massage dries up, my neck swivels with swan like grace and I find that with a wobbly tree pose, I am able to put on my socks. Yoga has killed the old non-bendy me, giving birth to something new and adaptable.

On the final day of massage school, I am selected to give Mark a neck massage. Letting go of my girlish crush long enough to remember how old I am, I give back to my teacher.

As Mark lays on the table, I note his slow, even breath and ability to accept this moment. Throughout his treatment, Mark represents a centered yoga pose, one that I decide to master.

My Ultimate Life Lesson? How to simply “be.”

I learned that taking yoga after 40 will kill you. It demolishes what used to be, leaving behind an opening for what can be. There is breathful possibility in an endless sigh, a reminder that a California girl is still under the ever-changing woman I am becoming.

~

Relephant Reads:

Yoga for Beginners: 5 Things Every Newbie Should Know.

Just Be. {Poem}

A little bit Older, a little bit Wiser: 4 things I Realised on my 40th Birthday.

 

Relephant Bonus: The Simple Buddhist Trick to being Happy.

~

Author: Deb Lecos

Assistant Editor: Jaimee Guenther / Editor: Toby Israel

Image: Lisa Picard/Flickr // Kullez/Flickr

~

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Deb Lecos

Deb Lecos LMT, CST-T is a regular contributor to elephant journal, freelance writer, and speaker on topics of healing, enlightenment, parenting, nature and shamanism. As a business owner/practitioner/mentor of the healing arts, she utilizes CranioSacral Therapy, Visceral Manipulation and shamanism. Deb is currently working on a memoir about her triumph over an abusive childhood. Deb lives in Illinois with her husband, where everyday living often collides with mystical moments of hoo-ha. These are the events on her blog. She has a loving-via-text relationship with her two children who are on an extended sleepover in the ancient rain forest of adulthood. You can follow Deb @DebLecos, on Instagram or on elephant journal.

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anonymous Mar 5, 2016 11:50am

Ha! 40 is NOTHING! Wait until you bust into your 50s!!! If you haven't learned to respect when your body says "NO" by your '50s, your body will TEACH you obedience. It will show you who is boss, and can only be gently coaxed into cooperation with much time, patience and reevaluated goals.

    anonymous Mar 5, 2016 12:55pm

    I hear you Debra…I'm 55, this was a throw way back 🙂 My body has the first and last say about a Gumby maneuver, she very loudly tells me who is actually in charge of walking around on this planet. Thank you for reading and commenting!

anonymous Feb 27, 2016 7:20pm

Wow! Thank you! I love this article. I’m approaching 40 and recently noticed a new yoga studio close to my house. I was thinking of joining but was reluctant. This article is my confirmation! Nice!!! 🙂

    anonymous Feb 29, 2016 7:51am

    Go for it Cassie! I don't regret a single hilarious moment. I love yoga and I'm now 55, more than a decade after my original snarky comments in class 🙂 Have fun and thank you for commenting!

anonymous Feb 26, 2016 10:33pm

I am 49. I've been doing yoga since my 20s. I am not as flexible as I was then but it doesn't matter. In my 20s I used to just go UP to a upward dog so easy…I could just stay there. Now it's almost impossible and doesn't feel good. But there are benefits to now. Now I actually do the poses more carefully whereas before I did not. You can hurt yourself with yoga if you are not careful. Please read about this, especially an important chapter in "The Science of Yoga". You want do it but be careful and mindful and know the "x" rated poses. Now I do it and I don't care how far I go. I still get the same bliss. And I know I can go farther in my practice if I work at it. Just takes regular practice/

    anonymous Feb 29, 2016 7:49am

    Exactly Kristina! Such helpful comments. Thank you for sharing.

anonymous Feb 26, 2016 10:29pm

Thank you for sharing what is undoubtedly true for many.

Remember, you don’t have to go hard to get better at it and get benefits. I am a big proponent of easy slow yoga. I have been taken to heaven doing slow yoga. And just going to where you can go is enough. That is what an old yoga teacher told me “you get the same benefit as someone who can go farther”

And with that gentle practice it will get easier and easier.

    anonymous Feb 29, 2016 7:48am

    So true Kristina, so true. There are days when Down Dog is more like Curled Possum and I'm grateful to have gotten that far. Thank you for commenting!

anonymous Feb 26, 2016 6:08pm

I could not stop laughing the whole time I was reading !!! Your descriptions about had me rolling on the floor. I say about because I don’t think I’d be able to get back up if I got down there.
At 47 I have considered trying yoga, but can not seem to muster the courage up for fear of humiliating myself . Your post may have been just what I need to give it a try. Thank you !

    anonymous Feb 29, 2016 7:46am

    Way to go Diamond! It's worth the laughs and the Gumby maneuvers come in handy at my current age of 55 🙂

anonymous Feb 21, 2016 3:33pm

I remember the beginning Deb, I also remember a mass recruitment campaign to make all of us then over 40 partners in your new bendy club! Funny read, great visuals!

    anonymous Feb 22, 2016 7:07am

    Me? A recruiter? Nah, must be someone else!

anonymous Feb 20, 2016 7:11pm

40? Forty!??? Sheesh! A mere child!!

    anonymous Feb 20, 2016 8:27pm

    Hahaha…this was a memory. I'm 55 and yoga still elicits comical results 🙂

anonymous Feb 20, 2016 1:42pm

Thank you Lyn!

anonymous Feb 20, 2016 1:35pm

Very fun article! Very accurately descriptive as well! I really should go back and give it another shot!

    anonymous Feb 23, 2016 8:16am

    Yesssssssssssssssssss. If we believed in "should" that would be true. How about "why not"?

anonymous Feb 20, 2016 12:50pm

Love this Deb. So raw and honest – got a healthy chuckle reading it. Thanks for sharing.

    anonymous Feb 23, 2016 8:15am

    Thank you Lyn…laughing is a form of meditation so at least I got the Savasana covered in the article 🙂

anonymous Feb 19, 2016 12:26pm

I’ve tried yoga so many times I’ve lost count. In fact I laminated my last “yoga retirement” lest I ever be tempted again to enter a yoga studio. This article made me laugh in the deep belly breath kind of way I never mastered in yoga! Loved it!!!!

    anonymous Feb 20, 2016 6:05am

    Now, now. If I can do it anyone can! That's a "rule" btw.

anonymous Feb 19, 2016 4:47am

Fun article. Being out of shape is going to kill you, working out isn't the problem. Don't forget to lift weights, yoga is only part of the answer.

    anonymous Feb 19, 2016 12:18pm

    Thank you for commenting Peter. Yoga killed the old me that was resistant to change, leaving being a belief that anything is possible, even yoga after 40.

anonymous Feb 18, 2016 10:53am

Hi! Thanks for sharing your experience. I also started yoga at 40 – and now I’m in yoga teacher training. There are lots of ways to be in your 40s: I’ve had ahemm, relations with men 20 years younger than me – and it was pretty awesome. I love to dance, drink cocktails, have my 2 daily cigarettes, read, laugh, entertain – and of course do yoga. I don’t think your 40’s are old – much less near dead – at all! I’m 46 now and in better shape – mental and physical than ever. I look better too. We are indeed ever changing – that’s the beauty of life and that’s what keeps a youthful spirit.

    anonymous Feb 18, 2016 4:10pm

    Hey Clara, thank you for commenting! What a great life you have. I'm 54 these days and I completely agree, getting older ROCKS.

anonymous Feb 18, 2016 10:50am

I love how you ended this article! I started a yoga practice at 44 and 2+ years in, I am still growing by leaps and bounds in all areas of my life. Yoga reminds me that we are, truly, always evolving if we are willing to do the work and that means periods of feeling uncomfortable!

    anonymous Feb 18, 2016 4:08pm

    Yeah…I'm a pro at uncomfortable. I've got itchy brain synapses cracking the whip on me, so I keep trying new things…to hilarious results. Thank you for reading!

anonymous Feb 18, 2016 8:43am

OMG, laughed my asd off.

    anonymous Feb 18, 2016 4:06pm

    hahahahaha…me too…every time I look at myself doing yoga!

anonymous Feb 18, 2016 3:48am

Just keep turning up – the only thing you have to remember is how to push the studio door open.

    anonymous Feb 18, 2016 4:06pm

    SO right Bren…thank everything I've got quite a few yoga teacher friends…they keep me on the mat 🙂

anonymous Feb 18, 2016 2:35am

well written, thank you! i have similar experiences as a novice to yoga in my late 30s.

    anonymous Feb 18, 2016 4:05pm

    Thank you Nate…amazing what we find out about ourselves after 30 🙂

      anonymous Feb 19, 2016 6:30pm

      If you think 40 hurts….you're gonna hate 68! Great writing Deb.

        anonymous Feb 23, 2016 8:13am

        Hahaha! Jim I'm 55 now so I see the trend, though if I'm as pulled together as you are at 68, I'll be counting myself grateful.

Elaine Hicks Churton Sep 14, 2018 1:55am

I find these comments laughable—- 64 years young and rocking my yoga practice.

Ana Rank Jul 30, 2018 2:21pm

Love this!

Julie Frizelle Burke Jun 15, 2017 12:49pm

Best article I have read in a while! Started my morning off right! Laughing very loudly! But also very encouraging!

Annette Bell Mar 17, 2017 5:46pm

Beautiful! I was 49 , wonder often, what took me so long!

Debbie Jensen Pehle Feb 6, 2017 5:08pm

I love this article!! I can soooo relate! I am a "Deb" too and I started yoga at 48 years old and now I am a 52 year old yogi! I say that because although I have not mastered anything in yoga, I consider myself a yogi because I am dedicated to keep trying to challenge myself...and to just "be" who I am, and love myself for that. Yoga is a journey with yourself, so all of you out there in your 40's,50's,60's and more should go for it! You are never too old to take care of you, inside and out. Thank you for you're lovely article! Namaste!

Rosrene Joseph Pawar Dec 9, 2016 10:46am

Beautifully written Deb!

Wendy Lynn Jul 22, 2016 2:24am

hysterical!! Thanks for sharing :)

Zee Mark May 26, 2016 12:14pm

Nice article... Thank you... I have similar one but quite different... Yoga after 50 will kill you... It is parody, don't take it serious. http://www.exploringdreamstate.com/2016/05/yoga-after-50-will-kill-you.html

Rhonda Anne May 25, 2016 9:40pm

I'm 48 and looking to try yoga. When I saw the title of your article I got scared! But now I'm so ready to go for it.. Thank you :)

Jeff Mongold May 25, 2016 5:19pm

Well done. I loved this.

Emily Scott Yoga May 25, 2016 10:36am

Wonderful article. Thank you for sharing.