Ask the Experts
Is age slowing down my practice?
I’m 52 this year and have been practicing Ashtanga for 12 years. This year, more than others I have sensed that my practice is slowing down. There is this rumor going round, that Richard and Mary are over 30, so I was wondering if they had any insights into this process, had had similar experiences, or could advise on how best to distinguish the aging process, from laziness.
Given that we’ve had our studio for over 25 years, and didn’t meet before we were 5, your assumption about our ages is correct. Both Richard and I do have experience with the myths and realities of aging as it relates to our own bodies and those of some of our sangha members who’ve been with us from the start. The bottom line is that a sustained and intelligent Ashtanga practice is a huge benefit and support in the aging process.
Our aim is that we practice until the day we die and even during the process of dying if the circumstances allow it. That doesn’t mean that we do one long, last inhale and pull gracefully into an arm balance before exhaling, and lowering down into urdhva kukkutasana while shifting the gaze to see if we’ve successfully exited through the crown of our own head. Instead it means that we’ve taken the time to cultivate the internal forms of the practice (breathing, bandha, mudra and dristi). Within the context of a steady and uninterrupted practice over many years we begin to see through the delusions of mind and habitual patterns stored within the layers of the body so that again and again we can “wake up” to what is actually arising.
More specific to your immediate question, is that of course the aging process changes the body. It can take longer to recover from an injury or a “tweak” that may have occurred due to misalignment in a pose or outside of the practice. The body takes longer to warm up, and one’s natural flexibility may decrease as we get older, and so on.
But a fundamental reason we practice is to bring deeper and subtler levels of awareness to the body, mind and emotions on a daily basis. A foundation of the practice—beyond the particular poses we might be practicing—is watching changes within these fields of experience, and catching oneself sooner when the mind is “being lazy,” when we’re believing our presuppositions rather than observing what’s actually arising, when we’re trapped by samskaras or overrun by the obstacles that are constantly tossed in our path. Our minds all have one part of them that wants to rationalize its way out of practicing—that can convince us it’s hopeless to adjust alignment or take a second look with a teacher at a persistent injury or mental state that is blocking the path that might deepen our insight.
So as you age you may find it harder to do certain poses like you’ve always done them, to move so swiftly through the forms as you did 10 years ago, or that you are actually feeling lazier than you used to. All that’s good to see and to work with, with a sense of kindness and curiosity within the context of breathing, and an integrated practice. Once you’re hooked, (and 12 years counts) yoga is with you forever—it’s already ruined your life! Short answer: Always look again.