The famous Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw said, “You don’t stop playing because you get old. You get old because you stop playing”.
I take “playing” to mean not only having “fun and a sense of humour”, but also “moving your body”. Do you remember how much fun it was to turn cart-wheels when you were eleven? Or how much fun it was to dance the night away when you were nineteen? Moving the body helps to make us feel good about ourselves and about living and about the world.
How many times in my ten years of teaching yoga have I heard someone say, “I can’t do that. I’m too old”! I’ve heard it from people in their forties and fifties. Interestingly, the people who are in their seventies who come to yoga seem less likely to say that. Many people just give up. They write on their yoga registration form that they want to become more flexible, but balk at doing – or trying – the very practices that will help to make them flexible.
I believe it’s not our age that stops our “flexibilitiy”, but our thinking that we can’t be bendy!
One of the best things about the Satyananda style of yoga is that for many of the asanas (the physical practices) there are different levels of difficulty. For instance, Bhujangasana (the cobra pose) starts by lying face down, then bending the back so that the arms are straight, navel close to the floor, front of neck extended and eyes looking up at the ceiling. Most people can’t do that. So an equally valid version is to bend the back just enough so that head and shoulders are off the floor and eyes are looking forward. In time, and with practice, the arms will become stronger and the back more flexible, so the whole body become more “bendy”. I would humbly suggest that the people who don’t like this asana are those who would most benefit from practising it often! Of course, the same applies to most of the asanas, unless there is a physical/medical reason for not doing it.
Getting back to George Bernard Shaw – in yoga it is said that “the body is the gross form of the mind, and the mind is the subtle form of the body”. So if your mind says that you are too old or too fat or too thin or too anything, your body will reflect that. If your body operates as if it’s too old or too fat or too thin then your mind believes that and continues to allow your body to remain too old or fat or thin. But your body won’t change until your mind changes.
S0 . . . change your mind.
That all sounds very “New Age-y”, but in fact all the New Age stuff is in fact ancient. It’s just (thankfully!) getting recycled. So. . .. our minds are in charge of our bodies, BUT . . . we have to be in charge of our minds. Our minds like the patterns they’ve become habituated to. And it’s much harder to change our minds than to change our bodies. But once we’ve changed our minds, our bodies will respond.
It’s called “will power”.
It know it’s a bit of a cliché, but old age really is a state of mind. I had an aunt who, in her fifties, thought she was old. Not surprisingly, she died before she reached 60. And yet I have an 85 year old student who can hold a planking position for longer than a minute!
There’s an excellent book written about 20 or 30 years ago by the “Guru of the Stars”, Deepak Chopra. it’s called “Ageless Body, Timeless Mind”. There’s a copy of it among the books I lend to my regular yoga students. I recommend that you borrow it, or buy your own copy – it’s chock full of examples of how our mind rule our bodies. Not only people! There are examples also of animals who perform certain behaviours because their minds have been trained that way. (Obviously I have not trained my dogs – they still bark way too often!)
If a person thinks she’s too old or too stiff to do a physical exercise… it would be useful for that person to ask herself, “How do I benefit by NOT doing that exercise?”
There is frequently a “pay off” for NOT getting the body moving. One example comes to mind. A woman who is very over-weight and uses a “wheelie walker” to help her get around came to a few of the “chair yoga” classes that I conduct. She was visibly and quickly improving in her mobility, excited that she could now do things she hadn’t been able to do for decades. Then she stopped coming. There have been a myriad excuses for not attending – there’s a meeting to go to; her daughter might visit; she has a sore hand/shoulder/foot; the weather is too hot, or too cold or too wet… I suspect the REAL – but totally unconscious reason – is the fear that she’ll stop getting the help (“attention”) she gets from being immobile.
Please, examine your motives for pleading too old (or “too” anything else) to do certain things.
So if you’re interested in yoga, but thinking that you wouldn’t be able to do it because you’re not strong enough, or young enough, or flexible enough, or … remember that our minds can change our bodies, and that nobody ever started doing yoga at the advanced level!
Follow George Bernard Shaw’s very sage advice and START PLAYING!