It's not a stretch. I'm in my 40s, but a student told me recently that, until I mentioned my age, she thought I was in my 20s. Honestly? I don't *really* look like I'm in my 20s (I *wish*!) but I think this speaks volumes about perceived age. Is youth a number or the ability to do a nice backbend?
Some would argue that it's a little bit of both. I've lost track of how many times I've heard master teachers say "You're as young as the health of your spine" (or variations on that theme).
Let's rewind a bit, say, 20 years. I was in my early 20s working as a professional field archaeologist on the east coast of the United States. Forget everything you've been told about archaeologists and bullwhips, or dental picks, or trowels for that matter. Try: shovels - and buckets. And screens full of heavy, heavy dirt. By the time I was in my mid-20s, I had wrecked my body.
(Let's add this item to our list: Archaeology Can Wreck Your Body.)
I was in chronic pain (my back and oddly enough, my feet) and went to a doctor. He shook his head: "You have the body of an 80-year-old woman", he said to my twenty-something self. His suggestion: 'bed rest'. Whenever I tell this story, I always throw air quotes around that prescription because I was a total spitfire back then and I had no intention of resting. I didn't like to rest.
The first day of 'bed rest', I went jogging. The second day, I drove out to a local mall and perused the 'bargain bin' at a video store. In it, I found Patricia Walden's video "Yoga for Beginners". The next morning, I tried this yoga thing, which I hoped would help heal my spine. I hated it, but I kept doing it, each and every morning. I still don't understand why I kept it up, but I'm grateful.
Fast forward 20 years and I can do things I never imagined would be possible in my 40s. And I know this because that beginner's yoga video featured a demonstration of Patricia Walden's practice. Watching it, my 20-something self was completely gobsmacked. Watching it now, I can do (or feel I have the potential of learning) everything she does in that demo.
Last year, I had a complete physical for the first time in many years, with a doctor who had never seen me before. She weighed me, took my blood pressure, asked some questions about my health and activity levels. Then she squinted at my file and said cheerfully "Oh, look at that! The nurse mis-wrote your age. You're *31*, right?" I just grinned at her.
From the lofty perspective of my 40s, my yoga practice feels like a miracle and I'm grateful every day for my health and strength.
Thanks to my practice, I feel curious and ready to experience the aging process. I'm not afraid of the more-than-occasional gray hair on my head or wrinkles around my eyes. Yoga has given me this gift, as have the master teachers I've studied with over the years (leading by example), many of whom are now in their 60s or 70s.
Recently, iVillage published a photo essay of aging yoga teachers and their thoughts about yoga and the again process: Anti-Aging Secrets From Yoga Superstars (found via Flo). Ignore the silly title and dive in - I guarantee you'll be inspired.
Several years back, Yoga Journal also published an article about aging yogis entitled: Better With Age. I was in my early 30s when that article was published, but I was so dumbstruck by what I read that I clipped and saved it. Now I see it with new eyes.
The teachers interviewed were all still practising and teaching, most of them daily. A few of mentioned practising poses that they couldn't have attempted 30 years ago, but that's not the greatest commonality. This is: As they've grown older, practice has become more contemplative and this meditative ease has spilled into their daily lives.
I get it. I'm starting to get it more and more. You see, all of this asana stuff? It actually leads somewhere! It leads to something fabulous and worthwhile. I truly believe that, because I've seen it in the faces of my most respected teachers.
"My practice is much simpler. I don't have anything to achieve anymore. Everything is achieved already."
~Dharma Mittra (at age 64 - he's now in his early 70s, still practising)
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