Wednesday, June 01, 2016

On aging and Ashtanga yoga


Most people have a number in mind when they shall say what is old. For some 50 is old. When I was in my twenties, I thought my life, or better the fun in life is over. Now I'm 57 and I know this isn't true. The younger people are, the more they think it's better to be young. I dare to say that every decade has it's own challenges, highlights and issues.

For other people 60 is old, or 70.

No, I don't agree when people say age is just a number. With 57 I'm different than I was with 27.
To have only a number in mind when thinking of age is too limited.

Genes, life-style and environment  influence how we are and feel at a certain age. They make huge differences from person to person.

Especially when we are 60 or above the differences between people enlarge. I know people who take part in marathons at this age, others cannot walk anymore or are dead already.

People usually think that I'm about 10 years younger than I am. When I say that I practise yoga, they think that this is the reason. But my grandma didn't practise yoga and she passed away at the age of 103.

One thing is sure: we'll all die one day. If we don't die at an accident, life aggravates slowly. This is not neccessarily so. Yoga can help that life doesn't aggravate. I was once in a workshop with Danny Paradise. This was it what I remember. He realized that those who practice yoga don't make the experience that life aggravates dramatically when getting older.

We won't stay the same over all the decades. Our bodies, our minds change. So do our abilities.

At a certain point at my life I wanted to do a sportive activity that I could do for the rest of my life. I knew it was not Karate. It was yoga. There are a lot of sportive activities that are designed for young people. Soccer is such an example out of many.

Ashtanga yoga was taught to young boys first. Also those first practitioners who pilgrimaged to Mysore were young. The few who sticked to the practice are now around 60, but they practiced this yoga style for all of their lives. They are different to those who joined later in life, like me. I discovered Ashtanga yoga when I was already 44 years old.

When we get older we become weaker and less flexible. When we practice yoga we work against these developments. This keeps us younger. Yet it's more difficult to learn the difficult asanas than in younger years.

In comparison to younger people it's much more difficult and it requires more effort to stay strong and flexible because one works against the normal signs of getting older. Nevertheless more is possible at any age than one thought it was a decade ago. It's worth exercising at any age and one will see positive results.

But and here comes the next difference to younger people. It takes longer to learn anything. It takes longer to get stronger and it takes longer to get flexible.
Not only this. Injuries last longer till they heal.

My experience is that when I want to practice according my age  a variety is good. I don't agree at all to do only primary when 50+. I read this sometimes. Primary alone is an unbalanced practise. It's forward bending. My body is more able to integrate new movements when a variety of asanas are offered. I prefer to do some preparation before doing wheel pose after all the forward bending asanas of primary.

I'm not a fan of limiting oneself neither re what one is doing, nor mentally. Exploring the limits at any age is what I recommend. One day I might be happy to keep a certain level. By now I noticed that I progress at anything that I practise correctly. I progress, but slower than in my twenties.

My personal advice for myself when considering my age is:
- Take care that the practise is balanced.
- Strength and flexibility are evenly important
- Exercise correctly, because it takes so much longer than in younger years till an injury heals
- No long breaks
- Cultivate a home practise

Currently the target group of Ashtanga yoga are the younger people. A few weeks ago I was asked if I promoted a yoga clothing page. As a 'thank you', I should get a sports bra. No, thank you. Not only the clothes but also the teaching focuses on younger people. And one has to teaches the masses. Individual teaching is rare. Yet this is what is more important for older people.

I'm convinced that I can practise Ashanga yoga till the end of my life. But if I start with exercising pincha mayurasana when I'm 70, it might become dangerous, because one must learn to fall. The risk to break bones is more likely when older.

As said: How we feel at a certain age varies a lot. How long we live varies a lot, too.
Life is about exploring the possibilities. And this is my attitude.
I don't want to focus on one asana that I'm not able to do. Every day. This is not effective, nor does it fit to my age.
I also need a variety of asanas on different days. To work day in day out, year in year out the same stuff is not effective, not only because of the age. Second series is rather balanced, primary is not balanced.

There are also advantages when older. I know myself better than I knew myself with 20. I wanted to try Karate and Aikido. Then belly dance was my passion. These days I can focus on Ashtanga yoga, because I know it fits to my personality and my life style.
Most people have found a balance in life when older. I regret that I missed yesterday's party due to my cold. When younger every distraction is welcomed. There are partys, love affairs, perhaps a family with children and jobs. This all makes it difficult to have a regular practise. It becomes easier to follow a disciplined routine later in life.

The goal and the path belong together. On the mat I focus on what is possible now. I focus on the path, yet I know where it shall lead.

Oh yes, I practiced also today: second series. Back bending was my focus. So today the leg behind head poses were almost impossible. Who cares?
I shall see what is possible tomorrow........

I hope this blog post was not too chaotic.


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