AuthorAlexandra Samet

A Yogi At Every Decade — How Does Your Practice Change As You Age?

I began stretching as I prepared for my daily yoga practice, in a class that was particularly crowded. The diverse assortment of yogis resembled a selection of fine wines. Some were full-bodied, some lighter, some sweeter, some stronger, and some older. Yet, all of them had a lovely taste — for yoga.

The Cosmopolitan on Flickr.
The Cosmopolitan on Flickr.

I noticed a woman with greying hair and creases lining her forehead. The irises of her green eyes were specked with warm streaks of gold, evoking an aura of lightness. Next to her was a girl, no older than sixteen, with freckles dotting her cheeks and eyebrows furrowed in focus.

In ostensibly symbiotic form, the older woman and the younger girl began moving across their mats. The woman squatted and placed her hands flat in front of her. She leaned her knees into her armpit creases and balanced forward into a Crow Pose. The girl released her forearms to the mat, clasped her hands together, and placed the crown of her head between her elbows. She walked her legs in toward her head, and slowly kicked each leg up into a headstand. I watched in amazement as the pair floated into these difficult poses so easily.

Does Age Define Us?

Yoko Ono once said, “Some people are old at 18 and some are young at 90. Time is a concept that humans created.” This got me thinking about age and whether it defines our yoga practice. I began to wonder: Does our age dictate what we are capable of, or is it merely a number? I was interested to find out, so I sought out some of the most thoughtful, honest, funny, and intelligent people I know to offer their unique perspectives on yoga from every age. I put the following questions to my collection of yogis:

1. What were you afraid of when starting yoga?

Ironically, the two main concerns of all the interviewees were that yoga would be too difficult for them or that yoga would not be challenging enough.

Mackenzie (20s) admitted, “I was not very flexible. I could not even touch my toes, so I thought I would be horrible at it. However, the more I did it, the more flexible I became.” Lori (40s) expressed, “My biggest fear when first attempting yoga was that I would be bored. I was nervous that I would not feel fulfilled. I thought I would need to add another class to actually feel as if I had exercised.” However, she learned that in addition to being great for her well-being, yoga toned her muscles in ways cardiovascular exercise never did.

It seems that our apprehensions about attempting certain exercises can be eradicated by the simple act of trying them.

Rcvictorino on Flickr.
Rcvictorino on Flickr.

2. What are your favourite (or least favourite) poses? Why?

I wasn’t surprised to learn that the yogis’ favourite yoga poses were consistent with their phase of life. Mackenzie (20s) was content bouncing back and forth in Happy Baby Pose, reminiscent of her childhood, and Lisa (50s) felt euphoric laying in Corpse Pose, enjoying the rest and peace she earned through devoting herself to her practice.

Often, the least favorite poses were those that were hard for them to complete. Lori’s (40s) least favorite pose is Lotus Pose. She admitted, “my hips are very tight. I honestly think it is just my anatomy. My knees stick straight up in the air. It’s pretty funny!”

Debbie (60’s) confessed, “I am afraid to try Crow Pose, mainly because I fear falling on my head.” I think that the common fear of completing Crow Pose and other inversions, speaks to the fact that many people are hesitant to move forward with their practice because of a fear of failing. However, by practicing alongside people with different skill levels, we are presented with a benchmark for future success.

3. Have you ever surprised yourself during yoga?

Arlene (80s) had an inspiring answer to this one:

“In my Gentle Hatha class, the sequence was adapted so you could practice yoga in a chair, so there was no need to get up and down off the floor. This was helpful for me since I broke my ankle and weakened my hip eight years ago. We all use chairs for certain movements, but I was the only one using it to get up from the floor. This bothered me. One day I went home, got on the floor and discovered that I could get up without holding on to anything. I surprised myself and my instructors.”

C-C-C-C-C-C-Cary on Flickr.
C-C-C-C-C-C-Cary on Flickr.

4. What qualities do you find appealing in a yoga instructor?

Debbie (60s) believes, “The best yoga teachers are those who walk around the room and help you if you are doing a pose incorrectly. Also, a good teacher will gear the class towards their students, not towards what he or she has planned for the day.”

Arlene (80s) agrees with this approach of adapting the class to the participants. “I find that knowing the abilities of each participant is very important. In the classes I take, the first question my instructors ask is: ‘Does anyone have any injuries?’ They remember and instruct each student accordingly.”

A general theme of all the yogis is that they enjoy classes that offer variations of poses and chances to use props, so they can complete poses according to their own abilities. Arlene’s studio is especially targeted for those who want classes adapted to their needs. It’s called “Encourage Yoga,” and their goal is to do just that.

5. What’s your preferred style and time of day to practice?

I was fascinated to learn that all the people I interviewed hit their mats at different times of the day. Some liked to stand on their mats at sunrise, chanting ohm and flowing into the remainder of their day. Others expressed a preference for a midday energy boost. Some told me about their inclination to work out at night, to decompress from their day.

I also identified some commonalities that all the yogis shared. Most preferred classes that offered a sufficient physical workout, as well as a cerebral or spiritual component. While some did yoga every day, and others practiced less frequently, they all felt more calm, accomplished and in a better mood after they finished a class. Those who have tried yoga, wish they had started sooner, and hope their future will allow for even more time to practice.

6. Where do you see yourself in your yoga practice at 80?

The question remains: Does age dictate our yoga practice?

For Arlene (80s), she foresaw herself at 90 years old and admitted, “There are things I can’t do, but I try my best. Hey, I’m proud of what I can do!” In addition to being a yogi and a great-grandmother, Arlene has a doctorate in literature, has published respected books and is more tech savvy than an Apple genius. She certainly has a lot to be proud of.

Some of the other yogis I talked to hope to be completing Handstands or Crow Pose at 80, like the two women I witnessed in my class. Lisa (50s) has a specific image of waking up, blending herself something green and losing herself in a yoga class each morning,. Mackenzie (20s) envisions living in a beach house with an ocean view and a yoga platform to practice on. Her grandmother is 85 and still practices yoga, and Mackenzie hopes to have the same drive. Overall, they all see yoga in their future and envision themselves improving.

How Age Defines Us

Sigmund Freud said, “If youth knew; if age could,” implying that you should try things when you are younger, while you are still capable. However, I prefer Pablo Picasso’s perspective, that “youth has no age.” USA swimmer Donna de Varona competed in the 1960 Olympics when she was just 13 years old. While she was younger than her competitors, her relentless drive and determination allowed her to take home a gold medal. She was no longer young and in her prime, she was merely a success story.

Millions of people gathered for Yoko Ono’s 80th birthday, to celebrate her accomplishments as a multimedia artist, singer, and peace activist showing that we can be successful at all ages. I believe the answer to my initial question “Does age define us?” is yes. However, it is up to us to decide if we’ll allow our age to define us in a positive way.

Do you agree with what the interviewees responded to the questions? Do you have a different take on one of the topics, or have you found your age influencing (or not influencing) your practice? We’d love to hear what you would have said in the comments below!

I Get By With A Little Help From My Insta-Yogi Friends

Abby and I had just met on a Costa Rica yoga retreat and she would introduce me to something that would change my life. We practiced Sun Salutations against a sea-foam backdrop, that turned white as it crashed against powder browned with volcanic ash. We were cheered on by the high-pitched chirp of exotic birds, their cries so emphatic that they could be mistaken for competitive parents at their child’s little league game. We laughed as our bodies untangled sloppily out of Eagle Poses. We drank Coronas in hammocks, the rope leaving lines in our muscle memory. We did Dancer Poses under a sky fading into blue and pink. The sun covered our bodies like blankets as we slowly retreated into Śavāsana. Sounds like a dream, right?

Yogis Staying Connected

Image Credit:  @park_yoga_girl on Instagram
Image Credit: @park_yoga_girl on Instagram

We spent a glorious week amongst palm trees and long stretches of sand, where smiles were emblazoned on our faces. However, like all great things, our yoga retreat had to come to an end. I went back to the rush of traffic and tourists in New York City and Abby flew back to her tranquil home in England. Abby and I continued to casually connect on Instagram until the day she tagged me in a picture of a yoga challenge she was joining. She posted a picture of 30 poses, each to be completed on a different day during the month of June. I stared at the green hashtag #ZenMonkeyAsanaChallenge. I was intrigued. What would these words mean to me?

I asked her about the challenge and she sent me to the Zen Monkey website, where I read the steps involved. This was my mission, should I choose to accept it:

1) Repost the image from one of the host’s profiles (by taking a screenshot with your phone) and description and tag your friends to sign up with you!
2) Post a photo of yourself sometime between now and June 1st with the tag #ZMParticipant, and see your photo show up below! (Please make sure your account isn’t private!)
3) Follow and tag your five hosts: @bodysamantix, @indieyogalife, @sylviasyoga, @jersey_yogini, @yogijessica, and @zenmonkeylondon. Also, add the hashtag #ZenMonkeyAsanaChallenge
4) Next, follow and tag the following sponsors: @yoga_london, @carde_blanche, @hotchakrasyoga, @nomad.design, @movementformodernlife.
5) Beginning June 1st, share your own photo (or video) of the pose for the day.
6) In order for your photo to appear on our website, tag the appropriate #ZM tag with the pose name (e.g. #ZMCobraPose).
7) Be creative, have fun and enjoy this with your friends!

I just have to post photos, tag hosts and sponsors and use hashtags? That seems easy enough. I’m in!

The Excuse Monster

Image Credit: @villiamma on Instagram
Image Credit: @villiamma on Instagram

“Not so fast,” I heard my mind say, “let me count my excuses!

First Excuse: I doubted I could find time to complete a yoga pose on a daily basis, in addition to my other daily activities. However, I realized my daily activities consisted of working, eating, sleeping, doing yoga, reading on the train, and occasionally going for drinks. Perhaps I could make time for this.

Second Excuse: I was not sure I could remember the hashtags and the Instagram names. I also doubted whether I would want to spend the time writing out these posts each day. However, I learned that the hashtags and host names could easily be copied to the notepad on my smartphone. I did not know it yet but by the end of the month, the names and hashtags would be used so much that they would be conveniently burned into my brain.

Third Excuse: I hate to admit it, but the aspect that worried me the most was finding someone to take a picture of me completing these poses. While I am a social person, I can be introverted. I am also a single woman in a fast-paced city who has been programmed to take care of myself. It would be a new feat to have to ask others for help.

Then came six more excuses. What if I’m home alone? What if I’m in a room of strangers? What if I’m not in yoga clothes? What if the setting is not ideal? What if I’m not wearing makeup? What if I don’t have the space to complete a pose?

What Was On The Other Side?

Image Credit: @agnieszka_celestyna on Instagram
Image Credit: @agnieszka_celestyna on Instagram

In spite of all my excuses, I did it! I completed the Zen Monkey Āsana Challenge. Ironically, after all the roadblocks I threw in the way of my own path, this challenge became very important to me. The most difficult aspects of this experience is actually what made it the most fun and worthwhile: I met strangers who I was forced to ask for help. I also asked friends, family members, roommates, and coworkers to capture my daily poses, and you know what? It was alright!

Not only did they not get annoyed by my request for a picture, but they were often intrigued and sometimes joined me in my poses. I took pictures at the beach, on the city streets, in my office, on the subway and everywhere else you can imagine. I also took “selfies” of myself in hopes I could capture my desired pose in a way that did not look awkward. I believe the forced spontaneity involved in meeting the challenge each day made it that much more rewarding.

I was also surprised to discover how much I would connect with others around the world, with all levels of yoga expertise, varied personalities, different body types, diverse careers, and so on. It was thrilling to bond with people who got the same satisfaction from doing yoga and sharing their practice with others. I learned new variations of poses. I saw balances that I felt I had ‘mastered’, executed more spectacularly by other yogis. On the other hand, I was able to encourage less experienced yogis. I was thrilled when my Chair Pose was selected to be featured on a host’s Instagram page. The skills, effort, focus and dedication of everyone involved was extremely motivating. Although we were posing alone, we were a team.

Over To You

Image Credit: @durhamhe on Instagram
Image Credit: @durhamhe on Instagram

Now I ask you to do the following: imagine it is nearing 12am and the only picture you are able to take is one where you look disheveled. Envision that your bed is not made and your picture reveals that you should be on the reality show Hoarders. Visualise yourself on a first date where you have to casually ask him or her to take a picture of you in a contorted position. Picture yourself on a train where others are staring as you are forced to strike a pose. Would you meet the challenge head on or would you timidly refrain?

Before the Zen Monkey Āsana Challenge, I might have taken the cowardly path. However, I can now confidently practice and share my yoga with a support system of individuals who share my same passion. I have also found the voice to empower others to accomplish similar goals. This is your mission should you choose to accept it: try something you are afraid of and you will reap tremendous benefits.

Editor’s Note: I had just finished writing an article about our recent Zen Monkey Āsana Challenge when I received an email from Alexandra. Her story was much more honest and real than anything I could have come up with, and we are really pleased to share it with you here in the spirit of thanks and celebration! Stay tuned for the next one, and in the meantime you can see everyone’s poses archived on the site! We hope you gained as much from it as Alexandra, and we are so grateful for everyone in our community.

Zen Monkey, a sub-division of YogaLondon, is an online conduit for yoga students and teachers to share ideas and develop a catalogue of content that is informative, creative and fun. We are a community founded from the collection of writers and yogis we've mentored, worked with and been inspired by. Together, we are building a tribe that shares the tools, the inspiration and the motivation to lead a healthy, mindful and sustainable life.