MINDFULNESS YOGA AND CELEBRATING OLD AGE
“In our society of course, where technology moves so fast we get outdated, so that begs the question of what wisdom elders have that is useful. Society and aging is constantly changing. I mean I’m only at WordPerfect 5.0 (Laughter) and I realize now that I already can’t talk the language of my friend’s twelve-year-old son and you know I moved from a typewriter to a computer and I kept saying to myself, old dogs can learn new tricks, old dogs can learn new tricks, old dogs can learn new tricks, and I’d put it over my computer, but I don’t know how many more old tricks I’m going to learn and I may just decide to be outdated”
Lately when sharing how I got introduced to yoga (the physical practice initially) which was from practicing along to a VHS Video of Rodney Yee in my Mums Lounge Room and reading Light On Yoga on the banks of the Penny Father River. When I notice I am seeing blank faces , initially thinking it was because people didn’t know where the Penny Father River was but in fact it was they were wondering what a VHS was. Along with some of my Yoga Playlists being ‘unheard of’ was starting to stress me out a little. A reality slap – Oh Shit I am actually getting old!!
As my own body starts to change in various ways 😉 my yoga takes twists and turns but it is Mindfulness (Insight Meditation) that unveils a way to cope with this law of nature called change. Getting attached to the body, clinging to your ability to be able to nail poses can create alot of uneccessary stress. As Bryan Kest says we can sometimes
“Bring our shit into yoga (of being critical and judgemental about our bodies) and turn yoga into complete shit”
Vivian who has just turned 96 years old and has been on several Yoga NRG Retreats where there are all walks of life from early 20’s to late 90’s!, is a living example of using Yoga + a Mindful Heart to age as gracefully as she does.
I find comfort in her example but also in teachers such as Dan Millman Ram Dass and David Swenson as they have taught me about our self imposed suffering when it comes to aging and getting older.
There have been moments in life where my own mind has latched on to certain ‘pathology’ and began to build a nightmare out of it. However the great thing was , it was Mindfulness, Yoga and being around wise and caring teachers that guided me back to seeing how although it is important to take care of the body we must not become attached to it.
I had resonated with great lessons from my teachers such as Dan Millman where I was reminded that the only thing that is there with us until the very end is our bodies. Being a nurse I have also been around a lot of people during times where to them it feels like their body has failed them due to becoming sick with illness. These experiences aswel as my own inspired me to look deeper into the nature of this suffering.
I had never considered myself attached to my body, as I didn’t care for worrying too much about dressing up , make up intact give me a pair of boardies, thongs, surf board and I didn’t care how I looked because I felt good. Likewise I never started the physical practice of yoga to nail the poses either, for me there was always a huge amount of curiosity about the mind and everything it effected. Little did I know (as a child when this yearning to understand how the mind works) that there was a name for it called Yoga. It even gave a name for the reactivity in the mind called Vrttis.
These fluctuations can really amp up when things don’t go down how we think they should or want them to. This includes how we think our body “should” be functioning
In my experience and others who have shared their experiences with me, there is fear when your body ‘lets you down’
Ram Dass says : “One of the reasons that old age is so disconcerting to many people is that they feel as if they’re stripped of their roles. As we enter old age and face physical frailty, the departure of children, retirement, and the deaths of loved ones, we see the lights fading, the audience dwindles, and we are overwhelmed by a loss of purpose, and by the fear of not knowing how to behave or where we now fit in this play. The Ego, whose very sustenance has been the roles it played in the public eye, becomes irate, despairing, or numb, in the face of its own obsolescence. It may harken back to roles in its past to assert itself, but these strategies bring only more suffering as the Ego fights a losing battle”
Many teachers have shared lessons about the contractions that are caused by the ego.
One of them is over identifying with our roles and when we do so we forget the soul.
For example our “role” as a yoga teacher, sports person, mother, father may have us ‘thinking’ that our body in order to fulfil these roles needs to be a certain way?
If the body lets us down, will we be as of much value to people?
When I met Vivian she was in the front row of my yoga class at Yoga Fest and given her “age” I went over to explain how if she needed to back off in the class and rest to please do that. What I learned that day was about my own habitual assumptions. It was actually the fit young guy next to Vivian that needed to back off. Vivian actually was the first up in headstand and has since been at every class I have taught at Yoga Fest and has come away on our Yoga NRG Retreats.
Although Vivan is absolutely amazing in that she still stands on her head, dances, and teaches yoga at 96 years old!! It was her lessons about helping each other, being kind and actually acknowledging your achievements and never giving up on yourself that meant the most.
She spoke of how she could have given up and stopped doing things when her husband died but she just kept going. I recall her saying “You have to keep moving”
In reflection although Vivan is inspiring given all she is still doing with her body what it is that is really inspiring is her heart and state of “being”
And the words of Ram Das equally putting things into perspective reminding us of the truth of what it means to be human :
“At nearly seventy, surrounded by people who care for and love me, I’m still learning to be here now”
The next time you are struggling with the fact that you like everyone else is ageing then perhaps consider the alternative.
Although David Swenson (as featured on the Titans of Yoga) teaches Ashtanga Yoga , a fairly dynamic style of yoga (as far as styles go) he is full of joy and perspective and through sharing his life stories despite being able to teach amazing asana classes what I really enjoyed was his ability to share a helpful perspective.
“When death comes for you , the fact that you can do a jump through in yoga is not going to help you”
My deepest thanks to my Mum who has always lead by example when it comes to having respect for your elders and listening to what they are teaching you.
You are not your body, you are not your mind, you are so much more than that
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