I started doing yoga when I was about 19 years old. I was born with a flexible and strong body and the poses came pretty easy to me. It was of course still work, but it was more like dancing than working out. Obviously the yoga bug bit me and I've been practicing ever since. That was about 30 years ago. And like everybody else, my body has changed quite a lot in those 30 years.
I remember seeing yoga for “over 50” advertised and thinking, ``What's the big deal? Isn't 50 just like 40 and isn't 40 just like 30?” Now I realize the answer is a big fat no. I turned 55 this June and I really feel the difference in my physicality. I noticed things starting to shift when I turned 50, but each year on top of 50 is making a difference. What are those differences? I'm not as strong and I'm not as flexible and I don't have the desire to do as many as the fancy things my 19 and 20 year old body used to do. I'm not complaining, I'm just saying! Now add to the 55-year-old body 30° weather. It's true that the warm weather does make us more fluid and flexible and limber and the cold weather does the exact opposite. So when it started to get cold out I began to feel all the 55 years in with the 30 degree cold and thought “Whose body is this?”
Doing yoga asana while old and cold (and wearing many layers) feels like I am in a strangers body. And you know what? I love it! It might sound crazy, but for somebody who spent many years doing yoga and not actually feeling anything in their body, to feel the restrictions and the stiffness and the tightness is actually quite lovely. It has made me more tender-hearted towards my body. Feeling the limitations of my physicality has revealed a give and take, surrender and effort, which I didn't have when I was younger and was able to easily demand so much from my body. There's also a fragility which I have come to appreciate. In a way it separates the “who I am” from the body that “I am not”. The great enlightened sage, Ramana Maharashi, suggested we ask ourselves if we are not this mind, and we are not this body, then what are we? This question makes more sense to me now that my body is not as reliable as it once was. That's where the fragility comes in. There's a kind of separation between my body “the vehicle” and what I am, as well as a deeper appreciation for this vehicle than I've had before, and an understanding that this is in fact merely a vehicle. An important one for sure, but still just a vehicle.
I've also found that my yoga asana practice is no longer about being better at doing something as it was for many years. It's also not about curing something that is wrong or out of place, it's about restoring, maintaining, and showing reverence. This gives a different, and hopefully more mature, perspective on my practice. As a result it's changed many of the ways I relate to important parts of my being, as well as to the aging process.
For many years I would hear from students older than myself how much they needed the practice. I didn't quite understand that then but I certainly do understand it now. One of the struggles that younger people can have doing yoga is staying consistent with their practice. I imagine this will change when the practice has become a necessity, and that there's no going forward without it. Practicing becomes a choiceless choice when we realize yoga doesn't just help accentuate our life, it is our life. Many people feel that freedom is in having a plethora of choices, but wiser ones realize that freedom is really being presented with the choiceless choice.
Check out the workshop page for seminars that will help you while you are old and cold: