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Yesterday, I realized this may be the next to the last time I would practice at this time after Savasana. In two weeks, the night before this weekly scheduled practice, I will start weekly of practicing and training for YT200 certification to gain an increased knowledge of yoga and understand the mistakes I make.
The idea of learning more about yoga via training with the eventual goal of some teaching is not age-appropriate behavior for someone nearing their eighth decade. I’ve always been a little off the mark, a corner case, two standards off.
I came to yoga late, a little under three years ago, after retirement. As I went through my fifties and early sixties, I exercised less and less, always using the typical litany of excuses: the company gym is too far away from my cubicle, classes are at the wrong time, I have a treadmill (albeit severely underused at home), etc. When I retired about four years ago, I was overweight and needed armrests to get out of a chair. I joined a gym near my house, got a personal trainer and started to take some classes at a level a little higher than Silver Sneakers. On Sunday mornings the gym had a yoga class and I dipped my toe in the water, totally ignorant of the difference between downward dog and pigeon. However, the class had something great at the end: Savasana. What a great thing to do on a Sunday morning to end or begin the week. Savasana became my reason to take yoga.
I continued to go to the once a week class, trying to copy what others around me were doing. The instructor just mentioned poses with no guidance or adjustments. (In retrospect, having an inadequate instructor is a major lesson learned: sometimes you may be better off doing nothing than doing it incorrectly.) This was rectified when we relocated and I started to take classes from someone properly trained, who practices and teaches yoga, as opposed to a drill instructor giving an asana sequence.
Looking back, I was a duck out of water with this class at first; I even committed the cardinal sin of my cell phone on. I had no idea of the knowing the difference between a chakra and a mudra beyond being a good choice for Scrabble or Words with Friends. Gradually I realized yoga is dual: it is individual and collective, especially when the energy of fellow students inspire our personal practice, and when we are reminded that the yogi is multi-limbed.
Since I began to practice seriously, I have a different attitude. I am ‘hamstring limited’ (despite the simplicity of categorizations yogis seem to be either ‘hamstring limited’ or ‘hip limited’) but that is about as critical as my eye color. The importance is how you practice now. I always see little ‘improvements’: today is the first time my finger tips touch the floor in a forward fold. It’s not the end of the world if my heels don’t touch the back of the mat in a downward dog or if I can’t hold a tree pose for more than a few seconds. The key is I’m doing the down dog with decent alignment and attempt the tree pose without holding on to a wall.
As I practiced more I started to read about yoga. Fortunately, we live in the age of the Internet with seemingly uncountable videos, blogs, and articles available. At the same time, I became more interested in meditation and central ethical behavioral beliefs in my religious background. I found a great overlap between yoga and religion in the common idea of what is spirituality and behavior. I began to realize yoga is the ‘next big thing’ I was looking for.
I also understood my age group more, early boomers and younger members of the ‘greatest generation’. Their physical, spiritual and emotional health could be better. For example, walking ’10,000 steps’ a day is not enough and does nothing to offset neck, shoulder and back challenges as we age, let alone realize the synergy of our emotional, spiritual and physical self. This is a group who needs something between hot yoga with 10 sun salutations and chair yoga. As a member of this group, I concluded this is the cohort I would like to teach.
I decided to wait until I was 70 to take teacher training. About this time last year, I was on the boat between Iceland and Greenland. One of the crew members was studying a loose leaf book with positions and we started to talk. She was in the midst of training. I told her of my plan to wait until 70 to start training and she encouraged me to think about doing it sooner.
I had reservations about training as I was not the strongest, most agile or flexible in a class. I felt another year of practice would make me a better student with more asana time under my belt. I’ve always been a little klutzy and in recent years have balance issues. This, coupled with the age issue, made me reluctant to undergo training in a YT 200 program. In the past year, I overcame this by realizing yoga is a journey with always new highlights, and it’s your journey now. I also wanted to better my practice and existence, and understand more about the eight limbs beyond asana, meditation (dharana) and breathing (pranayama) with a spiritual component.
Hence, I decide to undergo training. My teachers are in the studio that taught my current teachers. I won’t deny I have some reservations and concerns about training. I won’t be able to do everything in a practice and I am old enough to be the parent if not grandparent of my fellow students. However I have a degree of emotional maturity and experiences that bring a strength to training. I’ve had my fair share of bone breaks, injuries and operations in the past that will make me a more empathetic teacher.
I’m not looking to open a studio or have a part time income from conducting classes. If anything, I would eventually like to teach some yoga in my community on a volunteer basis and help establish a practice in Mussa yoga, a combination of yoga and Judaic-based ethical behavior.
In a flippant manner, I feel every YT 200 training cohort should have a 69-year-old male. The reality is I am following my path, regardless of my age or sex.
Starting in less than two weeks I will have four months of every Wednesday night from about 5:30 to 10, four weekends, one per month, of Friday evening with all day Saturday and Sunday, at least two additional practices a week and homework. My friends and acquaintances think I’m crazy, or offer me kudos for doing this.
Call this essay a prologue on this part of the journey. I’m somewhat apprehensive and trying to keep at bay a diminishing amount of self doubt. I’m not going to start to be ‘average’ and ‘normal’. If anything, I’m actualizing a quote I recently saw from a great woman, Eleanor Roosevelt: ‘ You must do the things you think you cannot do.’