I have been doing yoga for 50 years. My body told me this last Sunday, gifting me with a somatic memory of being taught the Sun Salutation by a young man who was flirting as he drew pictures of stick figures on lined blue paper.
I was naturally flexible and yoga seemed easy to do and I liked it. I bought books to learn more. There are many teachers of yoga now, however, once there were no teachers or classes.
When yoga became trendy, I started going to classes. But my body had already become my teacher and when I went to classes my body would not follow the sequence or instructions. My body refused to follow along.
I was not a good practitioner – I resisted and procrastinated. I would find a thousand other important things to do in my 20’s. I was a dilettante. I did not commit. I dabbled. I started running and yoga was a pre-running warm up. I am not sure I can call it yoga but i did poses that I had learned from yoga.
In my late 20’s I began to practice again. I was tighter and less fluid. My knees and legs were not flexible. I worked with a strivers attitude to regain flexibility. These were my Striver years.
In my early 30’s my cat and baby would flop on me when they found me on the floor. I had so little sleep and was so tired that I lay on the floor and would fall asleep. These were my Exhausted years.
And in my late- 30s I divorced and became a single mom. I began again. I watched VHS tapes. I bought a few new books. I learned new poses and the Sanskrit names of the asanas. I was diligent and my body took me seriously and began to teach me. I was able to listen and learn. These were my Learner years.
In my 40s I was a Yogini. I could do impressive poses and my balance, strength and concentration were strong. I was able to stand on my head and do a split. My ego relished the skill and gifts of doing yoga. These were my Ego-Does-Yoga years. (I still miss these years.)
In my 50’s my body started to change, hot sweats and night sweats, tiredness and wobbly knees. I cried every time I did yoga. A deep well of grief would rise up and I would cry, even wail. There might be a memory or an image that rose to the surface but mostly it was just my body grieving with no words or stories. There were just pockets of sadness, shame, anger or loss with no narrative. I miss these years too. Sometimes I am fortunate and tears come with a pose, but those years were a gift that have now passed. These were my Releasing Years.
Now I am in my 60’s and I practice yoga twice or three times a week. I have four sessions scheduled into my calendar. Something always comes up. Still, I manage to show up for two 60-75 minute yoga sessions. I humbly do my yoga practice and I’m grateful that I show up in whatever way I show up and with whatever resistance I have. These are Intimacy-With-Self Years.
After 50 years of doing yoga, this is the nugget of wisdom I offer:
It doesn’t matter how good you are, how flexible or strong. Yoga is about relationship. Let your body lead and be aware of your breath as it opens the channel of connection between mind and body.
The poses are powerful and useful external structures, much like a dinner date is when you are wanting an intimate relationship. The poses are meant to woo your body into an intimate relationship.
Yeah, there are perks – strength, flexibility, grace, calm, and the richness of a practice. All good things to cultivate. And ultimately yoga is a relationship forger. As I forged a relationship with my body, I could feel deeper, listen clearer, find balance and hear truth from a place of somatic resonance.
If you saw me do yoga now, I am not impressive. I don’t do fancy poses. I listen. And although you wouldn’t be able to see it, my body is like a cat purring. After 50 years I can’t imagine wanting anything else.