Growing Old and Growing Up

Barely a week goes by without the thorny issue of age cropping up in the media.  A movie star or singer turns up at an awards ceremony with strangely puffy cheeks or lips; someone is said to be having a relationship with someone older or younger; an article on the radio or in the newspaper bemoans the fact that women of a certain age are invisible in the media.  Somebody dies young.  Someone else lives to a magnificent age.  We can't go long before confronting the aging process and how we, as humans, handle it.  To listen to the dominant culture in the West (and perhaps elsewhere, I have only ever lived here), age is a slow decline into less: less physical capacity, less value in the workplace, less mental dexterity.

That's another reason that I love yoga.  I can do things now with my mind and my body that would have been impossible for me at 17, or 30, or even 35.  I can sit to meditate for an hour or more, with patience, curiosity, perseverance and commitment and quite without impatience; I hold my handstand for longer every time I practice it; I couldn't do ardha chandrasana (half moon pose) until a few years ago; I am more aware of the strengths and weaknesses in my body and have the quiet diligence to notice that and to work on those places to make them strong; I am more attuned to the way I feel and what I need to do to keep myself well and whole and more prepared to make sure that I give my body and mind what it needs.

Recently I watched my sister do her first solo headstand, in the middle of the room on her mat - on her 40th birthday.

In yoga we just keep on learning, no matter what our age: we learn how to succeed and to grow in physical and mental strength and flexibility by virtue of simply doing the work; we learn how to flow more with the ups and downs of life and how to accept the things we cannot change by learning fortitude through meditation; we learn how to deal with adversity with grace when we are injured and have to alter the way we work, or when we bring the lessons of mindfulness to times of great life-change.  We get wiser and steadier and calmer (or else we ask ourselves why we are not getting wiser, steadier and calmer and seek practical solutions to achieve those states).

And we have such wonderful role models: Vanda Scaravelli, Indra Devi, BKS Iyengar, Patthabi Jois, Mr Desikachar all vital and emphatic, teaching and learning until their 70s, 80s, even 90s.  These are positive, cheerful, strong people, who inspire with their wisdom, their vigour and their contentment; they call to us from our own futures, telling us: this is the way it can be through yoga.

There is no age limitation in yoga, there is no physical constraint that can keep one from this philosophy, because there is a practice for everyone and each of us has a unique and individual path: we all have our own road map, yet every one of us is travelling together towards the same destination.  In yoga, we positively seek out those who have been on this path for a long time, because they are the ones with wisdom and knowledge to share, they are the ones with advanced levels of compassion, gained over years of practice, with which to guide us.  My own three teachers are 66, 65 and 62.

In yoga we don't fear growing old, because we know that it is only through growing old that we get to grow up; it is only with age that we attain the insight, kindness and empathy that we see in our own teachers; and only after a good deal of practice do we learn to share those blessings with everyone we come across.  Yoga is slow.  We're not meant to do this quickly.  That's what our whole lifetime is for.
'We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.'
TS Eliot


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