A couple of weeks ago I got a phone call from a lady who’d seen one of my adverts and was thinking about joining a class. She asked me all of the usual questions “what time does the class start? How much does it cost?” etc etc. She seemed keen to come along which was great but then she said something that completely stopped me in my tracks: She told me “I’m in my sixties and I don’t want to make a fool of myself.”
That one sentence really got me thinking. What is it about the words “Yoga Class” that would make someone worry that they were a) too old and b) not going to fit in? And of course when I considered it the answer was obvious. Yoga magazines, memes on the internet and adverts on the TV are all populated by young, beautiful women with flawless complexions and the effortless poise of a whole troupe of dancers. Sometimes there are images of men too but once again they are generally ruggedly handsome and athletic beyond their years. They invariably practise as dawn breaks over acres of golden sand with the azure sea just visible in the background. Not very useful when your arthritis means it takes you fifteen minutes to get out of bed or your hips seize up after sitting in a chair. It’s very possible that the nearest you are going to get to sunrise on the beach is picking up a bag of sand from B and Q on a wet Monday morning.
And it’s a real shame because Yoga genuinely is for everyone. It’s a cradle to the grave affair and just as your body changes from childhood to old age so does the nature of your practice. When I was a teenager I used to scuttle around the house in “crab” or as it’s know in the Yoga world “Wheel Posture” just for the sheer joy of it . These days my spine is a lot less mobile and my shoulders just won’t move that far. So now I work within very different parameters and there are entire practices in Yoga that are just about getting simple movements happening in the body. Circling your wrists with mindful attention is Yoga, so is playing air piano and so is pointing your toes and flexing your feet. (I’m sure putting your leg around the back of your neck is also Yoga but you certainly won’t be doing that in my class! ) And while I do teach and enjoy doing some of the more challenging classical postures there are also a hundred and one variations to them so that the people with the sore wrists or the dodgy knees aren’t just left watching from the sidelines. Some of the great teachers like Vanda Scaravelli were doing Yoga well into their eighties and nineties and they too adapted their practice along the way.
Ultimately Yoga isn’t about making shapes – rather it’s the opportunity to explore – to find out what you can do and perhaps more importantly to discover what you can’t. It’s a means of coming back into the body and beginning to notice the small things that can make a huge difference. How a simple exhale can make a movement feel so much easier, how an in-breath can create some space where you felt tight and with subtle adjustments what once seemed impossible starts to become a bit more accessible and dare I say it even comfortable.
As you begin to explore you’ll also start to move away from that “one size fits all” approach to Yoga and start to make your practice your own. And there will be times when you find that no matter what you do you can’t change a thing and it’s then that you learn a different and possibly more valuable lesson – how to be kind to yourself and accept things just as they are.
So what did I say to the lady who was so concerned about being too old and feeling out of place? The only thing I could – which was “I can guarantee you that won’t happen in my class.” After all in my books you are never “too old to come to Yoga” and for the most part we are always too young to die!
(Update – I wrote this blog a few months back and yes – the lady in question did come along to my class and I’m delighted to say she is a regular now!)