Beyond asana: how yoga helps us through the ageing process
Living with yoga through the many phases of life becomes a deep and intimate relationship with yourself, your body, other people and with all of life itself.
I experience a genuine joy through a regular yoga practice which enables me to, amongst many other things, live fuller and deeper – and to embrace changes and insights.
Standing , sitting or lying down regularly on my yoga mat gives me a “check in” with myself in many different ways. During my travels, the mat is always with me like a symbol for that moment, the meeting with myself.
Yoga as a refuge
When I was younger, the mat symbolised different challenges physically, mentally and spiritually, as well as being a safe and restful place. It was also to conquer asanas, gain control of the body, move on and learn more. All that was very intense when I was younger, more ambitious and a very keen yoga practitioner. I was more than that of course, but the mat also became a security, a place I gained peace from my inner and outer demands. A refuge. A place to go deeper into myself. An oasis in life.
As the years go by and the body begins to change both inside and outside, the intention has also changed with my yoga practice. The practice on the mat is still important but other aspects in life have also been given more importance. Ageing with yoga is to mature in life, realise that everything is changing and nothing exists beyond that depth within and that’s just for you and God.
It’s not always easy to accept the body’s changes in terms of both the outside and the inside. But with the help of yoga, this becomes a process of insights as well as challenges, and to accept what we know with certainty – one day we will leave the body.
Beginning the acceptance of the body’s changes while we live is also a way of preparing for death. To start letting go of challenging asanas. To relinquish the desire for more and more postures and perhaps to let go of postures that no longer serve you in the current phase of your life. This is one way of preparing for letting go of the body.
Gaining insights and blossoming
Instead, we can look at the insights, experiences and wisdom life provides us, and as the years progress all that will be transformed into deep knowledge, wisdom and light, something attractive and positive.
Unfortunately, I often experience here in the West and even within how yoga is presented, that youth and beauty is somehow more attractive than the wisdom and experience that age gives you. In India people say that after you turn sixty you will gain more and deeper insights. You will blossom as a teacher.
Ashtanga and awareness
Within Ashtanga yoga, the asanas and breathing are a tool in order to move deeper. Getting to know what prevents you living fully. As we grow older, the body changes and it is important to be able to modify what you do on the mat. If we do not, there is the risk that our practice of freedom instead becomes a hostage with rules that take us away from a life in freedom where yoga prevails.
Remember that rules are here to make us free and serve a higher spiritual purpose, not the opposite.
To dare to prioritise the inner movement instead of the outer. The soul’s liberation from the desires of the body. Then the changes in the body are not as disturbing. Getting stiffer and the positions getting tougher do not mean that yoga practice is worse or in some way valued as bad.
Guruji always said that the Primary Series is the most important of all six series available. Also, that it’s very advanced and one day will be too tough for the body.
Letting go of perfection
If yoga is a mental state of harmony and balance, acceptance and complete presence in what is – so every moment in life becomes a reflection of a yoga practice on the mat. With that intention, daily asana practice becomes even more important as the years pass. To dare to let go of the idea of a so-called perfect practice with all the different challenging positions and instead focus on what’s happening within. This is the most important part.
What steers or rules my reactions, my attitude and thoughts towards the changes in the physical body? What are the sensations at the depth of the asana and at the depth of the physical movement? To move deeper with the breath into other dimensions of the experience of being human. To dare to modify the postures to honour the body is essential and a necessity if the asanas will continue to be a part of our yoga practice.
Embracing the eightfold path
Other aspects of Ashtanga yoga practice emerge and take more space. Pranayama which calms, cleans and clarifies has become an increasingly important part of my yoga practice and helps to ground me. This is the eightfold path, embracing all the limbs of yoga not just the asana.
It is important to actively see myself in relation to life inside and outside. To let the different phases of life be as important. Daring to change and let go of ideas, requirements and what we need to do, means that every phase of life can become a phase where new flowers grow up and old ones wilt.
All flowers bloom in one and the same soil, but with different types of nutrition depending on where we live and the season we are in.
Dare to listen inward. Dare to modify. Dare to let go.
Be the person you are and enjoy all phases of life. All this is just the beginning.
Ageing with yoga is to bloom during each season.
Life is an adventure of our own design, intersected by fate and a series of lucky and unlucky accidents - Patti Smith