Having discovered Yoga at the age of 50 has sometimes felt like a handicap to me. If I allow myself to feel competitive (which is my nature) then its easy for me to go to Yoga classes and feel waaaay inferior to the skinny little 20-somethings that are bending themselves into all sorts of positions that my 50+ year old back would never allow. My back that suffered a herniated disk about a dozen years ago (water-skiing accident), my back that has carried three amazing babies, my back that worked at a corporate job for 24 years, my back that now keeps me standing about 5-7 hours per day on average. I actually have a lot to thank my back for!
The fact that I have come to Yoga at “mid life” (shall we say) means that I will practice Yoga with a different intention than say, a 25 year old going to her practice for a workout! In my case, I seek strength, flexibility and balance, yes, but I also seek mindfulness and the calming breath that I usually find only on my mat. My ideal, and that which I try to share with others, is to develop that breath, that mindset, that strength and that balance in a way that I can take with me into my daily life.
Balance to me, doesn’t only mean doing postures on one leg at a time. It means when I am confronted with a situation that aggravates me, that I take a moment before I react, that I take a few deep breaths, and that I react “with balance” to the situation. I have become better with time, at using my breath to calm me. I have learned that a long, slow exhale will send calming signals to the nervous system. Breathing is not only a system that brings air into and out of the lungs. If done properly, it becomes a form of meditation. It is said that if you worry a lot, then you’d be very good at meditation. The only difference is what you focus your attention on.
As a self-admitted “control freak”, taking flexibility off the mat is my most challenging task. If it were only as simple as doing a wide-legged forward-fold, or attempting to do the splits, it’d be a piece of cake! Once again, I take a few breaths, and let someone else do things their way (even when I’m sure my way would be better!!!) I take a few breaths and allow someone else to have the last word (even though I still have the last word in my head!!!) I’m making light of this last topic, because it’s such a challenge to me. It is something that I keep working on every day, in an attempt to let go, in a world where everything is mostly black and white, right or wrong, democrat or republican, etc. On and off my mat, I encourage myself to “let it go”. That’s my Yoga.
All this comes “back” to my being grateful for my bad back. It has made me more appreciative of the things that I can do. It has made me more understanding of others and of their individual limitations. And it has made me focus more on the aspects of Yoga that are not “Instagram” worthy. There is no sexy picture to go with the thank-you notes I get for helping clients to breathe better, or to feel more at ease with themselves, knowing that whatever they do, on and off the mat, is “enough”. There’s only the knowledge that Yoga is doing its thing, and affecting people, one bad back at a time.