For the unlearned, old age is winter.
For the learned, it is the season of the harvest
– Hasidic saying.
I am humbled by the challenges of pain and mobility faced by my older practitioners, and their ability to rise above these, aided by the healing power of yoga. The outer body grows old, but the inner energy body does not, in fact I see it becoming stronger as their practice develops.
A teacher needs to accommodate and teach to all ability levels – this is particularly true of my older pupils. Often I have pupils who are comfortable with floor work, those who practice standing, and those who take seated options all in the same class. I remind my students to find their own pose, not to compare themselves to others. It is not how deeply you get into the pose, but who you are when you get there that matters. Anne practices seated, her body is bent like a gnarled oak tree, but the quality of her movement and her face express her inner freedom. Mary walks with the aid of a frame. I marvel at the openness and fluidity of her sun salutations.
All you need to to do to practice yoga is to be able to breathe. I wish I could bottle the sound of their breath and release it for my younger students to hear – deep, glorious and free.
We emphasise feeling over form, it is how it feels, not how it looks that matters. Fluid movement rather than jerky movements and rigid holdings. Pupils are encouraged to honour the inner teacher, learning how to distinguish between discomfort and pain.
A balance sequence is part of the weekly practice, important as we age to mitigate against the possibility of falling. We aim to challenge while avoiding strain, finding the middle ground between effort and surrender.
Strength work is important even for pupils who practice seated. The quads or thigh muscles are a particular focus, the “independence muscles” as we call them.
Our forty-five-minute session ends with a guided meditation; sometimes themed around issues that affect us increasingly as we get older, such as living with chronic pain. Our practice is about coming to Now, and encouraging gratitude and joy in our lives. Our time together is for community and sharing, our space safe and free from comparisons.
Names have been changed to protect privacy.