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.
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.
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.”
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!