|pic by Alessandra Tisato|
Today I read a very interesting post on Elephant Journal on being a woman and an ashtanga yoga practitioner. The post was focussing on respecting our feminine in the practice especially for future mothers – I would like to expand the concept and look at the longevity of our yoga practice – considering that I have been practicing Ashtanga and Jivamukti Yoga for almost 20 years now and looking forward to practicing till I exhale my last breath. I regularly attend Yoga Shalas the world over and almost everywhere the great majority of practitioners are women. Some of them are outstanding elderly women quite advanced in their practice with amazingly young looking bodies, and a lovely attitude in their daily lives. Others are much younger women with a long list of injuries, a very stiff mind and strained expressions on their faces – very similar to those marathon runners approaching the finishing line. Is the practice to blame? I absolutely think not. My opinion is that if there is a culprit, this is our western goal-oriented approach to it. Over the years, I dropped my “next pose” attitude in favor of a practice that is beneficial to my life in every aspect. If, in order to achieve a pose, I have to sacrifice hours and energy that I could dedicate to creating a better relationship with my students, my family, my friends, my environment, I would definitely choose the latter. I believe the purpose of our practice, over the years, is to maintain our body healthy and our mind steady and calm. We have to come to term with aging as a natural process that we can slow down, make easier, but that we cannot stop. In our culture, there is an obsession on appearing young at all costs and this attitude often transfers on the mat. Therefore I see women and men well over their 50s straining themselves to the point of injuries, forgetting that the first rule to apply when practicing is ahimsa – non violence – first and foremost towards ourselves, since the way we treat ourselves becomes the way we treat others. This does not mean that we cannot challenge our body – and our mind – in an intelligent manner. The key is learning to listen to our bodies more: honoring rest days and walking into our practice with a sense of respect for who and where we are each day, remembering that we are in constant transformation and that we react with stiffness and flexibility to food, whether, emotions. With age, we tend to produce more free radicals over exertion and we should therefore put more emphasis on controlling the relationship between our breath and our movement. Our muscle mass tend to decrease, and our bones loose density. Practice can help in slowing these processes and inversions positively affect our endocrine system and the production of healthy hormones – what matters is that we approach our mat every day with a deep sense of responsibility towards ourselves. We can maintain a very Yang practice like Ashtanga and any dynamic form of Yoga as long as we cultivate a Yin attitude towards it – being receptive and nurturing, strong but not violent, with ourselves and our students. I believe it is particularly important since we face a society where the senior practitioners grow in number, and many among them have no experience of physical exercise. I try to teach imagining to be in their bodies, figuring out their daily movement patterns, creating or adapting sequences in a way that can improve their lives.
I am looking at practicing till the very last day of my life. I make a commitment to get on my mat every day, with the strength that comes from kindness. This in itself is a practice – that of listening to what happens within day after day.