The benefits of yoga and meditation are broadly advertised and the routine is rapidly gaining popularity as a busy population realizes that the practice of calming the mind really does improve your life.
I originally tried yoga a number of years ago on the advice of my physician. She said it would help regulate my blood pressure and ease the stiffness I would invariably encounter with arthritis and aging. (we’re all gonna have this) At the time yoga was trendy. Studios were on every corner and yoga ‘gear’ was widely available. The issue for me, was twofold. The first was time. Yoga and meditation require us to slow down; each practice requires no less than 40-60 minutes of complete focus and surrender and I found it difficult to allow myself that down time. I’m a doer and if I’m not ‘doing’ something I feel as though I am not productive and being non-productive, in my opinion is being idle, and idle is not in my DNA.
Secondly, I struggled with the average age in most yoga classes, i.e., I was always the oldest in the group by a good 20 years and therefore the least flexible. I couldn’t keep up, and because I was often the only one who couldn’t, the instructors catered the routine to the majority. I went less and less often until I just eventually stopped going altogether.
Ever since I last tried (then abandoned) yoga I’ve struggled with the aches and pains typical of my age, then about a year ago, while on vacation, I noticed a gentleman, a few years older than I practicing his yoga on the beach, unconcerned about who might be watching. This impressed me so I dug a little deeper into my own psyche to find out why. I researched the practice of yoga and meditation and it turns out it’s a very individual spiritual and physical practice. There’s no ‘team’ effort required, or desired and it’s in no one else’s interest how well you do it, or if you do it for that matter. This fellow was oblivious to any spectators nor did he care, and the spectators,,,,,well, they didn’t seem interested either. (ok, now we’re getting somewhere)
One of the things I felt uncomfortable about in group yoga classes was my obvious lack of finesse. I couldn’t manage most of the poses and when I tried I couldn’t contain the gasps or groans that accompanied my efforts. I was self-conscious and felt on display in a very unflattering way.
Then about a year ago, after a strained muscle in my lower back literally laid me up for weeks, I decided something had to change if I was to enjoy life over 30. (ok, well over 30) I’ve always been active so it wasn’t lack of exercise that plagued me. What I needed I realized, was a routine that focused solely on flexibility, and this could only be achieved through a disciplined practice of focus and intention. This would require patience (which is not my forte) In short, I had to revisit yoga.
The trendier yoga studios that once peppered every street corner eventually closed, leaving only a few that advertised a variety of classes, from beginner, to yoga for seniors, and everything in between. I searched out studios near me, read up on their founders and reputation, then bought a 1 month pass. I was relieved to see a number of people in my age range in the first class, (actually, there was a couple noticeably older) and even more relieved to see that their mobility, like mine, was limited. The instructor guided each move in a very broad sense, constantly stressing that we should work within our own limitations. She focused on breathing techniques to work through difficult poses and offered numerous variations to each pose that ensured anyone, regardless of ability, was included in the class. After the 1 hour session I felt limber, light even, and I vowed to return the next day for another class. (amazing what a good instructor can do)
Over the next few months I attended a variety of classes and experimented with the different instructors. Some are much tougher than others and ask you to push your limits, but always in an encouraging and supportive way. And at the end of each class we are reminded to slow our breathing and focus our intention inward, and in doing so we unconsciously prioritize our daily lives. If you truly embrace the practice of mindfulness you will reap enormous gratification from every activity, every day.
My blood pressure is regulated. I can bend over to tie my shoes without straining. I sleep like a rock and no longer wake with stiff joints. But most importantly I see things differently. People and events have a deeper meaning because I no longer simply scan life. Yoga has disciplined me to read the emotion and participate fully in each encounter. I take the time to stop and listen, to appreciate, and this in itself is the greatest feat because the hardest thing for me was slowing myself down. I guess I realized that rushing through life would only bring me closer to death and I’m not ready for that.
Now I don’t want to preach, nor am I on a mission to recruit anyone. I just want to share a valuable life lesson because I wish I’d found this practice sooner. I still can’t do all the poses and likely never will. I still unwittingly groan or gasp in class, but I note I am not alone. I also note nobody notices or cares, so focused are they on their own practice. Yoga is a lifestyle, one I advocate hugely. Love yourself enough to embrace the practice of yoga and meditation. You’ll be so glad you did!