I recently celebrated another birthday, and I was reminded of something I learned in India that, this week especially, resonates with me greatly. It is this: in our “modern”, westernized world, we have lost the value of aging — instead of something beautiful, natural, and ultimately graceful, it has become a painful step in life we all must go through. Other civilizations have considered getting older as a sacred phase: the pinnacle of life, where you may reach the highest evolution of yourself. This knowledge allows you to live better each day, with a sense of wisdom and understanding.
The wisdom and experience that age lends
Every Saturday in Mysore, we had Sharath’s conference. It is an hour-long talk about a topic related to our practices; afterwards, there would be time for questions. I remember how one of the students asked about the aging process and how we should continue with our yoga practice. Her question was more about how and what yoga postures we should be cutting out as we aged.
Years ago, when I started practicing yoga, I noticed how very devoted and disciplined students and teachers would actually look better and stronger as years passed by. But this was not only due to the holistic practice of yoga (that is, the daily morning asanas), but everything the practice involves: clean diet, pranayama, and following the principles of the eight limbs of yoga.
I was lucky enough to study with two examples of what I just mentioned. First, Saraswati Jois — Pattabhi Jois’s daughter, who is 74 years old and moves and talks like a twenty-year-old. She practiced yoga in her early days, as I understand she currently doesn’t do asanas, but certainly all the years of experience and the philosophy behind the practice have left her with a lot of strength and wisdom. She is strong, wise, and joyful at the same time. Her energy is beautiful, and I especially love how she likes to joke and would sometimes even sing during our practice. She still travels all around the world, spreading the teachings of yoga — I believe she was going to be doing a tour where she visited Japan and several places in Europe and the United States. What an inspiration!
A few more of my inspirations…
My next great example of this was the other teacher in the shala, David Roche — he came as a great surprise to me. He is a well-known Australian teacher who happens to be studying with Saraswati and assisting in her shala. His knowledge, calmness, and strength amaze me. He is both a great student and a wonderful teacher — so approachable, kind, and humble all at the same time. Despite being in his early 70s, I have also seeing him practicing, and his strength, balance and flexibility are almost hard to believe. Yet at the same time, he also practices with the patience, kindness, and presence that only many years of yoga and life experience can give you.
I could continue with a very long list of practitioners and teachers who have been inspirational to me, like Richard Freeman, Dena Kinsberg, Nancy Gilgoff, etc. But I could not write this blog without mentioning a teacher that I keep so close to my heart, Tim Miller. It’s been a blessing to be able to pay him a yearly visit and practice under his guidance. More than his knowledge of the practice and outstanding and unique adjustments, his very presence has always amazed me. He possesses one of the best combinations of strength and tenderness I’ve never seen. Due to the strong practice he has kept for such a long time, when you look at him, you can’t help bus notice his strength and vigor. When he does adjustments, he applies a degree of intensity that only very knowledgeable and long-term teachers know how to do. And yet, when he is next to you doing this intense adjustments, you can actually sense his sweetness and kindness — almost like a child.
What an amazing and encouraging examples of what the yoga practice can do for you. I truly look forward to the decades to come!
The perspective offered by age
The other day, someone posted this image of a yoga teacher and practitioner with the below-mentioned message. I connected with it deeply, and therefore would like to share it with you:
If you were to write a letter from your 80-year-old self to yourself at the age you are now, what do you think you would say?
Do you think your 80+-year-old self will be chastising you because your thighs aren’t smaller? Do you think she will be angry at you for not eating less? Or spending more time at the gym?
I have a feeling that woman will tell you to enjoy every single moment that you have with your body from now until eternity. She will tell you to enjoy all that can do, and all that it can see, and all that it will do for you in your lifetime.
She will tell you to cherish every waking moment you have that you are healthy, and happy, and alive.
Take her advice. She’s a smart lady.