During a Passover seder participants are encouraged to imagine themselves as slaves leaving Egypt. We put ourselves in the shoes of those being released from bondage to better recognize our freedoms - and our bondages. Another benefit is that the story of the Exodus becomes alive! When we don't have a live story, it can become quite boring. Once the story becomes a lived experience it evolves as we evolve.
Have you ever found yourself telling your story over and over? It is interesting how we can speak about our suffering and our perceived failure and dissatisfaction as if we're trying to convince everybody that it's true. When we do that, we are usually not seeking resolution, instead we are entrenching ourselves in a part of our identity that suffers. How often do we authentically ask somebody, or our own selves, what the remedy might be? You might respond by saying "I asked people for advice all the time," but think about it. Are you asking for advice or are you seeking a willing ear to air your grievances, or someone to confirm your identity? I have found that when I speak of my problems, I am usually trying to get somebody to agree with me. I'm hoping they will say, "Oh yes, that's terrible," "it's unfair," "let me kiss the boo boo," etc. Or I want them to assure me that my perception is correct. More often than not I’m trying to get people to visit me in the little (sometimes big!) room that I have setup to showcase my suffering. When I recognized this, I began to listen to others in a different way, and I quickly realized that most of us do the same thing!
My teacher used to say you can tell your story once maybe twice. But after that, If you want the story to change, you have to stop telling the story and seek the resolution. This was a very powerful teaching for me. How do we seek this resolution? One of my other teachers would say just ask good questions. Good questions don't always have, or need, an answer. If they are really good questions, they will open the doorway to a deeper understanding. So, if you find yourself retelling the story over and over again, and you're sincerely seeking the way out, see what happens if you ask yourself a good question. That good question may lead to finding a good answer or asking an even better question. At the very least it may help stop the process of solidifying suffering deeper into your self-concept.
I know it is easy to suggest, but if we're in the habit of telling the stories, we are in the habit of telling the stories – and a lot of the time we get pretty good at it. Yoga has a solution for getting out of that cycle, and it's called sadhana. Sadhana means spiritual practice, and spiritual practices are formulated for personal transformation. A very simple and powerful (though not necessarily easy) sadhana is meditation. Meditation allows us to look at our mind without needing to respond to it. We begin to look at the thoughts we're carrying around in our heads and see how we are using our thoughts. Once we examine these thoughts and our stories enough, we can begin to put aside the things we don't want to carry with us anymore.
I have this very bad habit of using canvas bags to carry things between my house and the studio. A lot of the times the thing I’m carrying never even comes out of the bag when I reach my destination. It just gets carried back and forth and back and forth. At some point I look in bag and I realize it is full of stuff that I really don’t need. (If you see me one day caring a bag over my shoulder, don't ask me what's in it! It could be quite scary and confusing). Until we sit down in meditation and dump out and examine the bag of thoughts, we're wasting energy schlepping these things around across our lifetime. Meditation is the beginning of sorting through the bag and seeing what it is you're really carrying around. The next step, of course, is to start asking some really good questions. There are many other steps, and sometimes the next question will lead to a very specific sadhana to address a destructive or uncomfortable thought pattern.
At some point, for some things, we will be ready to start the work of dismantling negative conditioning, traumas, and confusion. And the start of that, believe it or not, can simply be stopping your story line. Until then, watch your thoughts and empty out your bags.
It’s never too late to benefit from a yoga practice, and you’re never too old to start. Check out this NY Times article which gives you an insight to someone whose journey began in his 60s.
There are so many misconceptions and misrepresentations of yoga practice out there! It’s actually a bit scary and quite frustrating when I consider how many people might be turned off by the practice based on what they see on commercials, social media and TV.
I have worked with many people in their 60s, 70s and even 80s who decided it was time to begin. We all begin where we are, which is one of the beautiful things about the practice. Keep in mind that the practice of yoga is vast- it is not just about doing poses. This is one of the unfortunate misconceptions being thrust on the public. I came to yoga based on the physical poses (asanas) and that got me interested in all the other stuff, and here we are 30-ish years later, and I am still learning and practicing. It’s true that when I speak with friends close to my middle age who do not practice yoga, I realize how beneficial the practice has been to my physical body. But emphatically: asana not my primary concern, even though that is where I started.
Happily, yoga can help us grow old gracefully. I say happily because we are all going to grow old, and its kind of cool to be able be getting older and not freak out about it, or try to halt time, or rewind it. It is crazy to think that so many of the messages we get from our society are aimed at trying to turn around or halt what is an inevitable part of life. This is one of the reasons I so love working with older people who want to start yoga. Someone who shows up later in life understands it's time to get on with it, and why not do it with grace and contentment.
It really is never too late, and it will always be beneficial. There is still so much of life we can live, so much of our own selves we can discover, and so many treasures we can pass on to the younger generations.