It’s almost time to drive to my yoga class, but I’m debating if I should go or skip the energetic 90-minute session and stay home to practice a few easy, restorative poses on my own.
It isn’t that I’ve grown tired of class or upset with my teacher or other students. On the contrary, I look forward to the weekly class. It’s one of the few times during the week when I feel unencumbered by the stresses of work and life.
But for the past few weeks I’ve nursed a sore right quad muscle and an aching left knee. They are, I suppose, the aches and pains of aging, and, luckily, they haven’t yet kept me off my practice mat. Yet I hesitate to go to class, unsure if I’ll be able to keep up with the pace of the other students.
At the last minute, though, I decide to take my mat and get in the car and drive to the yoga studio. I remind myself that I’ll be able to participate in the class if I practice with more mindfulness so that I can avoid further injury.
It was a good decision.
The class, as I’d hoped, turned out to be the perfect antidote to take my mind off the aches and pains of aging. Not only did I find myself able to forget the aches, I was inspired by the theme that my teacher introduced to start the class.
He read a quote about the wonder of life—“The world is full of magic things patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper”—and the quote (which some attribute to W.B. Yeats) helped me view aging and my aches and pains with a deeper appreciation for the changes that my body was undergoing.
As my teacher led us through each pose, I noticed how stretching and bending my legs and arms helped move me past the aches and pains. Instead of complaining, I felt grateful for the chance to age, for the changes in my body that I’d noticed lately.
Thanks to my teacher and his class about wonder, I noticed the magic of things like the new spidery lines spreading across my wrists, and the way the skin on my legs seems to have lost some of its elasticity, and the grayer hair that I see in the mirror each morning.
In an odd way, this process of noticing how my body is changing has become part of my yoga practice.
A sudden twinge in my left wrist, for instance, or on the back of my hand, just below the knuckles, can make it hard to remain in Down Dog for long, and I’ll begin exploring a different way to grip the mat.
An ache in my quad, especially on the inner thigh, while in High Lunge, or an unexpected numbness in my shoulder when I twist into Triangle, will change the shape of the pose.
These aches and pains usually disappear after I’ve warmed up, but sometimes they remain constant throughout the practice and linger after I’ve stepped off the mat.
If I notice the changes and adjust my poses, I can continue to practice with some slight modifications to accommodate my aging body.
I’ve learned to pull back from a twist instead of pushing too hard.
On days when my wrists hurt too much in Plank or Down Dog, I can add more standing balance poses.
All of us, as we grow older, are engaged in the yoga of aging. We need to learn how to switch gears, to tone down our practice on some days to give our bodies a chance to rest.
We need to learn to soften instead of pushing harder, to lay down with our legs up the wall for a restorative practice instead of trying to boost our heart rate with a series of intense Sun Salutes.
Each day, as I step on my mat, I remind myself that I am lucky to be able to age gracefully in my body, thanks to my yoga practice.
There are no guarantees, of course, that yoga will help us reach a ripe age.
But if we practice the yoga of aging—noticing how our bodies are changing and adapting our practice to nurture out ability to keep practicing—we may find ourselves feeling (and looking) younger than our age.
And that’s a good reason to keep practicing in the year ahead, don’t you think?
Practice Journal: How do you define “youth” and “age,” and how does yoga help you notice and explore the differences? Write: 10 min.