Tag Archives: comfort

Guest Post By: Liz Fox

I’m 62, And So Are You

As I was checking a visitor into class the other morning, she was asking what style of yoga I taught.  It just came out of my mouth, “I’m 62, and so are you!”  She was likely in her 50s, but she totally got it.  As did I at that moment. I don’t really look my age, and I certainly don’t act my age, and I don’t really feel my age, but my body, especially in the morning, owns its age.

I never thought about it until I started teaching yoga. I would always do the class the teacher provided, inhaling and exhaling on cue, lifting this limb or that, reaching, bending, folding, etc.  It was all fine, but it was actually not fine. I was listening to the teacher, not to my own body.

Once I was in control, it all changed. I realized my body was not usually ready for what the teacher provided, and it was my responsibility to take this on. Let me explain: I remember the first morning I woke up in pain. I was about 28, and had been at an all-day horse show the day before, where I won the All Around. That was 14 classes, really pushing it. (I now wonder how my horse felt the next morning.) I woke up and felt stiffness, and it was really the first time in my life, and I said, “Wow, this is what they are taking about.”

Now, every morning is a form of that first experience. The first thing I do is lower my 14 pound dachshund from the bed. (I try to limit his jumping, which is hard on his long spine.) That experience, which I do every morning, I compare to every other day that I begin with the same movement. Even with super safe lifting technique, I feel it in my back. I joke to myself that I will now move from being a cripple and transform into a yoga teacher.

This is normal for most of us, right? Our bodies have been used, enjoyed, pushed, tested, and that is life.  But many of us, in our 2nd or 3rd acts, are in the best shape of our lives.  I could to a backbend in a doorframe when I was 14, but so what. Those amazing photos on Instagram of young girls doing backbendy and strength moves are impressive, and impossible for most of us. Inspiring, but like a trip to the moon. Yet, we are taking much better care of ourselves now, and appreciate each breath in a way we never could in our youth.

Hence, Morning Yoga.  Sonya told me a story once about a guy in her classes in Mysore. The poor guy was in his 40’s, and the Mysore practice was a strong, early morning Ashtangha practice, so he would get up 2 hours earlier, which was like 3 am, to do Feldenkreiss, to prepare for yoga practice. The point being, that Ashtangha was designed for bodies much younger, like teens and 20’s, the first act of life.

That story resonated with me. First, because I am not that responsible to really get up that early to take care of myself. But wow, yeah, that is what I need. Sure. (Nothing against Ashtangha, not at all. There is so much wisdom in that practice, but it is not for everyone!) But it also gave me total permission, as if I needed it, to look into my own body, and prepare what needs to be prepared, and I saw the value of this.

It is an open secret that yoga teachers teach what they are experiencing. If my shoulders are hurting, I will likely gravitate towards a shoulder opening practice. When my hips feel tight, I will go to that. And since my body is stiff in the morning, it is natural for me to teach to that.

My injuries have been spinal, so for me, a long slow, consistent, somewhat predictable spinal warm up works best. Others might have knee injuries, and need to attend to that. We all have stiff shoulders.

Morning yoga, the way I teach it, assumes we are all 62, or older, and our bodies do not spring out of bed ready for an strong practice. We might get there in half an hour, and might do the most lovely utthita hasta trikonasana of our lives, twisting our spines, lengthening our limbs, lifting our hearts. But first, we listen to our bodies, offer them some time to unwind, and recover the bloom of youth.

Yoga is a journey, often one without goals. Sure, we have goals, and sometimes the goal is to feel better in our bodies, in our souls, to more deeply connect to ourselves. Sometimes the goal is to face reality, putting our limitations into context, yet seeing what might be possible.  For 6 years, I started each class I took with the intention of “I will not get hurt.” Nothing wrong with that, but now I am learning, and hopefully teaching, more thoroughly, that precaution.

My favorite book title is Pema Chodron’s “Start Where You Are.”  Duh, but so profound.  Even if you do not know where you are going, or where you want to go, or where it is possible for you to go, find out where you are now, and start there. Take care, let fear go, and trust yourself.

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Legs.

Legs.

Loving on our bodies in general is not exactly encouraged in our culture. The pressure for us, as spirits in form, to perfect the form, rather than tend to the formless, is real. We live in a weird time and place where the focus on the external is far sharper than support for the depth of process it takes to look at what lies beneath. Pockets of pure perspective (like a community at your local yoga studio), do exist. Seek them out. Find a yoga teacher who inspires you to look with respect, rather than mistrust, into your body, as a step on the path of awareness. The following practice is all about dissolving the confusion and negative language around legs. Let’s call it “leg-loving-life-giving-practice”.  See what twenty minutes or so of exploration, stabilization and gentle stretches can do for your legs, those amazing limbs that carry you about all day long.

Put your feet up.

Legs up the wall helps to drain excess pressure, like the kind that builds up after a lifetime of mostly living on your feet, from your lovely legs. Lie down on the floor and kick your feet up. Five minutes.

Fold forward.

Find the position of your pelvis that allows your spine to move toward the earth with gravity in a forward fold. Start standing, using the strength of your legs to rock your pelvis forward and back, and get familiar with both actions, as they are both useful. Then, apply the forward tip of the pelvis to your forward fold. That means that your lower back is below your tailbone as you reach to touch the earth. Bend your knees as much as you need to maintain that alignment. Your back will thank you and your legs will actually be stretched (not stressed). One to two minutes.

Strengthen.

Harvest the power of all the muscles from your feet to the core of the pelvis. Hug muscles to bone and draw, like you are pulling on spandex, from the furthest points (toes), to the nearest (pelvic floor and base of spine). Play with keeping the muscles strong, and softening skin around them, to avoid over-strengthening, or becoming rigid with power. If you can breath and move, the power is good. Thirty seconds in a couple of standing poses with this fluid strength will build confidence and grace.

Lengthen.

For legs that go on forever, connect them to your solar plexus. Rather than the very limiting idea of legs ending at the tops of the femur-bones, give yourself an extra foot or so of gam by expanding the concept to the center of your body. It’s a literal connection, you don’t have to make it up, just change your mind about where things begin and end. From right around there, the psoas muscle extends, giving freedom of mobility and stability to your legs. See how it feels to move from here (above your navel, below your heart, deep along the center-channel of the spine), and allow your spectacular gams to grow. Take some time to shift your perspective, on and off the mat.

Relax.

Either with your knees over a bolster, supine, or returning to legs up the wall, give your limbs another sweet respite. Five minutes.

Yours,

Suki

The Four Keys.

Patanjalis Yoga Sutra 1.33

Matri karuna mudita upeksanam sukha dukha punya apunya visayanam bhavanatah cittaprasadanam.

By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion toward the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains it’s undisturbed calmness.

Life is a constant push and pull, ebb and flow, navigation of calm and rough waters. Maintaining balance while riding the roller coaster of life is not easy to say the least. It is because of this that religion and spirituality have become so prominent or necessary over the centuries of the history of human beings. It is in adhering to the formulas set in religious or spiritual practices that we humans find solace, and keys to maintaining peace of mind and spaciousness of spirit. Patanjalis Yoga Sutras are some of the oldest of these formulas and still widely practiced because they have proven to provide lasting personal peace.

Yoga Sutra (thread) 1.33 is said to “hold the four keys to lasting happiness”. Regular practice of the principles set forth in these four keys has a direct and positive effect on ones perpetual search for peace of mind and joyfulness of spirit. The Sutra states that there are only four types of people in the world, the happy, the unhappy, the virtuous and the wicked. Alongside these four types of people are four keys to use to obtain and maintain successful and harmonious relationships and interactions with these people; friendliness, compassion, delight, and disregard.

Life constantly presents each of us with opportunity to be better people, or not. These opportunities are what make life exciting and challenging. Whether in familial relationships, student teacher relationships, work relationships, romantic relationships, or relationships with acquaintances and strangers, the other person is a reflection of oneself. These reflections, being the attitudes and actions one chooses to bring to the table of life in any moment of interaction, are always a reflection of our inner perception of the world.

The offering of Yoga Sutra 1.33 is that of a practice of perception followed by action. By offering attitudes of friendliness toward the happy we move away from feelings of envy. Moving away from envy not only creates inner spaciousness but also allows the free flowing delight of enjoyment when any and all people are happy, and this is often reflected in personal relationships when you are happy as well. In offering compassion to the unhappy, by remembering “once I was like that and now I am like this”, brings great inner peace in times when we are asked to relate with unhappy people. Delighting in the virtuous is recognizing the value of the standard they hold for all and the opportunity to meet that standard oneself, as opposed to berating one for ones human mistakes while living this fallible life.  This perspective allows for patience while ones own journey toward virtue unfolds with authenticity in relation to ones own needs and desires.  The offering in this teaching, of disregard to the wicked, is perhaps the greatest offering of spaciousness and peace to oneself of all four keys.  By disregarding the poor, base, and down right wrong behaviors of others we not only get closer to the true embodiment of unconditional love, we also hold space for our own steady and clear peace while riding the waves of life in relationship to an always changing animate world.

When we meet our own inner waves of comfort and discomfort with emotional empowerment, and maintain peace of mind, then we find as a result of our own inner harmony the reflection we receive in relationship with others is calm and constant.   It is this calm constant inner harmony that we should strive toward on a regular occasion, and in practicing the four keys of Yoga Sutra 1.33 we can attain this goal.

Truly, it is not easy to be emotional creatures, we are always presented with challenges and obstacles. When we remember that life is full of ups and downs, then we find that we create more personal ease when we attend to making the arch’s of the waves smaller and closer together, in essence, not so extreme.  Like other religious and spiritual practices Yoga Sutra 1.33 is a reminder that people always have responsibility for, and the ability to, control their emotional landscapes, and ultimately through disciplined practice can grant themselves steady peace of mind and spaciousness of spirit.

With Love, Always, In All Ways, For Giving, In Joy,

Genevieve