Last week I shared the most common myth about what a yoga body looks like. You can find that post here to catch up on why we don't all have to be super flexible, as well as how our assumptions and comparisons prevent too many of us from trying yoga at all.
Today I want to share my chat with Susan Hartley, a newly trained yoga teacher at the wonderful age of 68. She has a lot of insight to share about how yoga has changed for her over the past 40 years, and definitely takes aim at the myth that yoga is only for the young. Welcome to Part 2 of What a Yoga Body Looks Like.
T: So you've doing yoga for a while!
S: Yes, so I'm in my late 60's, I'll be 69 this year. As I was thinking about it I realized that I was exposed to yoga, well transcendental meditation, when I was in college. Yoga has kind of come in and out of my life since then. I graduated in 1973. I think it was after college I was first exposed to yoga through a volunteer organization in a church, but I didn't really start doing yoga until we moved to Denver, and then I was in my 30's, about 1983.
Some friends and I started doing yoga with a teacher and there were just 3 or 4 of us, so I didn't do yoga in a studio like I do now. I learned how to do the poses correctly with her, but I was always really interested in spirituality and so yoga has always had a spiritual focus for me, maybe because meditation came first.
It was in my early 60s that I first tried hot yoga. I really liked it and did it a couple days a week until I fell out of pose and broke a metatarsal in my foot. Then I was out for three months with a boot and I happened to be having a lunch with a friend when I found Mind Body Life (the yoga studio where I teach and Susan & I met). I loved the level of yoga they were doing for my age.
T: What do you love about it?
S: It isn't heated and it's challenging, but in a different way. I think as you get older you don't want to get injured. At this point in my life I don't need to do anything where I feel I'm going to hurt my body because then I can't do anything, right? It's just perfect for me. It's five minutes from my house, I've always really loved yoga, and so I just started coming and literally the past three years I come every day if I'm in town.
T: What was yoga all about for you when you first started? How did it help you in your life at that moment?
S: I was part of the hippy generation and there were a lot of things changing then. People were trying new things and exploring different ways of expressing who you were. I was raised Catholic and so even meditation, I wasn't sure it was ok to do it when I first started out. That time period was a really unique time and there was a lot of soul searching. Not that people don't do that today, but it felt different then. And for me, that's what it was about, soul searching, exploring who I was at that time.
T: How has yoga changed for you over the years?
S: The spiritual aspect has always been strong, but the physical aspect has changed, for sure. I think when you're younger there's probably a little more ego involved because you want to do the poses well. Now I want to do the poses correctly and I just do what I can do because I don't want to get injured.
"If I can't do something I don't force it and I don't get caught up in the fact that I can't do it. I just do what I can do".
S: Sometimes I go to more difficult classes like the fitness fusion class because I know it's important to continue to do weight exercises for your bones, but I pay attention to what I can do, not what everyone else can do.
T: You recently completed your 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training. Congratulations! That is quite a commitment. What inspired you to take it now?
S: My daughter had just done a yoga teacher training and I thought I would just love to learn more about yoga. It was a little intimidating to me to teach in front of people with a group of people that I didn't know, but really it was the perfect situation because it was a small group, a really loving environment, and I know the teachers well.
I'd been practicing yoga for years, I loved the calming of the mind and all that, and I knew the spiritual side existed, but I had never really studied it. So for me, the last four months were really about diving in to that aspect of yoga. I feel like I understand so much more now. I used to feel intimidated to go to other classes, but now I don't. For me yoga is about the experience, not just the poses.
T: I completely agree. I often think too it's not about what you can do on the mat, it's about how you feel when you're done. Whether you're coming for the physical workout or the inner work, the feeling you leave with is the more important part.
T: Often as we get older we start to notice new aches, pains, or limitations that we never had before. Many people shy away from yoga in later years because of this. Has this ever been an issue for you? How have you dealt with it in your yoga practice?
S: Well, I really hurt my knee because I was trying to do full lotus, and so I don't do that any more. I pay attention to how my body feels and I do what I can do. I have more trouble twisting in my lower back, so I'm more careful about that. Most teachers give variations and help students find what works for them, or invite them to pay attention to how their body feels in different poses.
T: What would you suggest for someone 60+ wanting to start yoga for the first time?
S: Well, I think it depends on the person. I have friends in their 60s who are really active and are in great shape, so the class they might choose or I might suggest for them might be different than for someone who isn't as active.
I think it's more important to know yourself and what you need no matter what your age.
S: I do think that when someone wants to start yoga in their 60s it might feel more intimidating to come to yoga and just jump in if they've never done it versus doing that when they're younger. So maybe trying it out one-on-one might feel more comfortable for some. Maybe starting with a gentle yoga or slow flow class would be a good idea, and definitely not being shy about talking to the instructor. What do you think?
T: I was thinking about my dad and mother-in-law, both recently in their 70s. I think staying mobile and flexible is really important especially as we get older because it's so easy to slow down or let aches and pains stop you from being active. My dad always says he sets up like cement if he sits too long, so he is really active with a bicycle club in his community. My mother-in-law tried a chair yoga class, which I think is a great place to start to get comfortable with poses, yoga language, and even have something to hang on to for balance as that can be affected too as we get older. I think it's about finding your comfortable entry point, whatever that may be.
S: I've never done chair yoga. Yes, some people will want to have one-on-one focus and others wouldn't want that attention just on them. I think the community is important too. I love that our yoga studio has such a welcoming community, the environment is social, and you get really good yoga.
T: I think the social part of it is important too. Yoga means union, right? It's not just union with yourself, body, mind and spirit, it's union with other people. When you're in a yoga class you're practicing with a group. A studio or teacher supports the forward progress of everyone in that community physically, but can also support people mentally, emotionally, or spiritually through how they teach their class, even if that's not necessarily what you came to yoga for. What a great side benefit!
T: How do you think yoga will change for you over the next 10-15 years as you move into your 70s & 80s?
S: I think that I will continue doing yoga as long as I can. Who knows what will occur in terms of my health, and I could maybe have to accommodate my level of yoga. I have really good genes in my family, my dad is 95 and my mom is 90, so I’m hoping to be doing yoga as long as I can.
T: Lastly, what do you think of the myth that yoga is for the young?
S: I think yoga has been around for so long, and I don’t really think it’s just for the young. Yoga is a really ancient tradition in India, and I think there’s probably been small pockets of people in the US that have been doing yoga for a long time. Perhaps the fact that it’s kind of trendy right now one thinks it’s for the young, but I think that really is a myth. I have a pocket of friends that do yoga, and I think it’s more from the spiritual perspective like I mentioned earlier. Maybe I would speculate if people are doing yoga when they’re older, it might be more for spiritual reasons than just for a physical exercise.
Thank you so much Susan for sharing your insight and experience with us!
1. What do you think? Is it ever too late to start practicing yoga? Leave a comment to share your experience
2. Catch up on the first post in this series What Does a Yoga Body Look Like? if you haven't already
3. Stay tuned for Part 3 next week as we delve into what a yoga body looks like at any size.
4. Stay connected through my email list for future blog posts, updates, and healthy living inspiration. I share weekly-ish info, tips, and notes with my VIP email community. You can subscribe to my newsletter at the top of this page.
In love & light,
I'm Tonia, a Midwesterner transplanted to Colorado. I'm a mom of two lovely littles, a yoga instructor, DIY-er, teacher, stay at home mom, and a doTERRA Wellness Advocate. I blog about a little bit of all of these and everything in between!
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