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Body-Positive Yoga: The Aging Yoga Body

in Featured, YD News
charlotte-bell-body-image-yoga

Photo courtesy of Charlotte Bell.

by Charlotte Bell

I found my first grey hair when I was 22. It wasn’t completely shocking. My mother’s hair was “brindled” grey-black for as long as I could remember before it transitioned to luminous white.

I never thought seriously about dyeing it. I knew it was an option, of course. Many of my friends were coloring their hair by their mid-30s. I just didn’t want to put chemicals on my head and couldn’t think of reasons to do it that outweighed the reasons not to.

Then when I was newly single in my early 30s, well-meaning friends tried gentle persuasion to encourage me to dye my hair. “There are guys that won’t give you a second glance if your hair is turning grey,” they said. I considered their advice for a moment before reaching the conclusion that I probably wouldn’t be all that compatible with a guy who would automatically shun me because of my hair color. I decided my greying hair was a good editing tool.

That led to my questioning the pervasive cultural denial of and aversion to aging. It shows up everywhere, probably even more so now because we Boomers are taking over senior territory. For most of our lives, we’ve dominated popular culture, and we don’t seem to be giving that up easily. In large part, we’re not quite ready to use the “s” word (senior) to describe ourselves. Most of us remember The Who’s famous declaration: “Hope I die before I get old.”

We’re not the first aging-averse generation though. In my lifetime it has always been rude to ask an adult their age. I know a spry 96-year-old that swears to people that she’s in her early 70s. Every decade we pass—40, 50, 60, 70 and beyond—is marked by greater shame.
Yes, shame. We’re conditioned to feel bad for … well … not having died yet.

What is a Yoga Body?

Yoga culture is not beyond this. Despite declarations that, “we are not our bodies,” what our bodies look like seems to be of paramount importance in yoga culture. Selfies of fancy poses, performed to perfection by mostly young, svelte, mostly scantily and fashionably clad, white women dominate social media. While these photos may be pleasing and even impressive to look at, their demographic does not represent the population at large or even the majority of people practicing yoga. They may draw some people to practice who aspire to look like these models. They may also scare people away, when they misinterpret yoga as being available only to those who are young, thin, fashionable and impossibly bendy.

The good news is that conversation around body positivity is growing. It’s been bubbling under the surface for a long time, but influential bloggers such as YogaDork and it’s all yoga, baby have taken up the cause, along with Curvy Yoga founder Anna Guest-Jelley, who’s been advocating for body positivity for years. Even Yoga Journal, long criticized for their young, thin, white female cover models and plethora of diet ads has dipped a toe into the conversation.

I’m very encouraged by this development. I think it’s a huge step in the right direction.

What Happened to the Boomers?

But this is one area where the voices of the Boomer generation have been largely silent—or perhaps silenced. With the exception of Cora Wen and Linda Sama-Karl, few over-50 yoga teachers speak to the blogosphere about the relationship between Yoga and aging. When did the system of Yoga begin to espouse the philosophy of youth over experience? When did Yoga adopt the idea that once your body begins to age that your mind, heart and accumulated experience become irrelevant? And why are we made to feel ashamed of the inevitable, even beautiful, process of growing deeper, wiser and more equanimous just because our bodies no longer fit into a shallow, limited and completely arbitrary cultural idea of beauty?

My theory is this: We are a body-oriented culture. We are our bodies. Our bodies are our Selves. We judge ourselves by our appearance and our body’s ability to perform. When our bodies change—as they inevitably do—our self-worth goes with them, for better or for worse.

When the prince, Siddhartha, ventured out of his palace for the first time, he was shaken by his first glimpses of a person bent with age, a person wracked with illness and the body of a person who had died. Seeing the inevitable path of all our bodies to our final demise caused him to inquire into how he might transcend the suffering he had witnessed. This led him to realize that in order to transcend suffering, he had to transcend his attachment to and identification with the body. He had to look deeper, beyond the pleasures and suffering of the body for lasting happiness.

This is what our yoga practice is about. The squabbling about what is or is not the perfect yoga body has absolutely nothing to do with Yoga. Any person in a body who is practicing Yoga is living in a yoga body, regardless of age, build, gender or flexibility. And the deeper practices at the heart of Yoga—meditation—require a body simply as an anchor for awareness.

This is not to say that our bodies are not worth appreciating. They are infinitely worthy of our appreciation. My takeaway from three semesters of anatomy training is pure amazement at the elegant design of these vehicles in which we travel. That design is not a mistake. Nor is our genetically determined build, height, skin color, hair color and joint flexibility. And aging is not a mistake. We can take good care of our bodies so that we live more comfortably in them, but we can’t stop the aging process. It happens to all of us if we are lucky enough to live into old age.

Practicing asana is an intelligent and inspiring way to keep our bodies balanced and happy. Tending to our bodies mindfully, and with love and appreciation, cultivates a sense of grace that permeates not only our meditation, but the whole of our lives.

So please, give this body, the one you’re living in right now, a little appreciation for having gotten you this far into your life. Know that it will change, and that you can grow with those changes. Know that aging brings riches you can’t fathom when you are young. Yes, there are tradeoffs. While I might wish I had the hip joints of my 30s, I’m very happy to living in the mind and heart of my 50s.

Love your body. Love your mind. Love your heart. Ride their evolution with curiosity and delight.

~

Charlotte Bell is a yoga and meditation teacher, oboist and writer living in Salt Lake City. She writes for Hugger Mugger Yoga Products’s blog and Catalyst Magazine, and has published two books with Rodmell Press: Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life and Yoga for Meditators.

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Earlier

67 comments… add one
  • VQ2

    Nowhere in the sutras was it written that women over 55 were supposed to “act our age” …
    So, that is yet another reason why I finally left yoga.
    I wanted to act my age because I have succumbed to conditions of aging …

    More’s the pity that this echo-boomer “youthquake” has forced matles on others of us …

    • I’m sorry to hear that you can’t find a “grown-up” yoga class to attend. There are challenging, meditative, age-appropriate classes, but they’re not as easy to find as the more youth-oriented, fast-paced classes. I still practice most of the poses I did when I was younger, but I do steer away from the more extreme backbends and hip openers. To be honest, I probably shouldn’t have done them in my 20s and 30s either.

      • VQ2

        Yeah, well non-sleepytime, non-inversion classes are not easy to find outside of Middle America. There are two extremes in the big city (…”they’re gonna spend $20 and upwards on a class, it better be a gym-substitute, with attitude thrown in for free (specialty of the house)!”)
        I switched out to yoga-pilates fusion. (I’d secretly been home-practicing kick-butt yoga-pilates fusion – what I call breath-aware movement, for years. And, yes they cross trained me to my big city yoga classes.)

        No looks-back, no regrets. …

        • Old Yogi

          Yoga Pilates fusion WTF? That’s NOT yoga but just another American-ized fitness class… one more reason why I don’t participate in such nonsense

  • Julien

    Beautiful insight and so well reasoned !
    Thank you for that peaceful vessel of gentle thoughts 🙂

    • Thanks for your kind comments. I hope we can all lighten up on ourselves and each other in this conversation. The bodies we were born with are the only ones we have. Why not appreciate them?

  • Thanks so much for this blog post. I get so tired of the sexist and agist approach of most of the yoga media. I teach people in real bodies which come in all shapes. The soft core porn yoga pictures do not encourage people to seek out yoga.

    • Thanks for your comment. You are not alone in being tired of the sexist and ageist images in yoga culture. They not only scare some people away, but the also miss the whole point of the practice.

  • Have you ever looked at our blog Yoga for Healthy Aging? Because we write about the relationship between yoga and aging every day. And while we don’t focus exclusively on body image, we do have some material on that. (And, yes, Baxter Bell and I, who are both students of Donald Moyer, are over 50.)

    • I hadn’t seen your blog. Thanks so much for pointing me to it. I just went there and looked through your offerings. What a great resource. I haven’t met you or Baxter Bell, but I do know Donald Moyer. How fortunate you are to have studied with him.

  • Here’s something I wrote recently about aging and body image: http://yogaforhealthyaging.blogspot.com/2014/06/without-mirrors-or-yoga-selfies.html

    (I was just smarting over the fact that you said “few over-50 yoga teachers speak to the blogosphere about the relationship between Yoga and aging.”)

    • I love your blog, Nina. I have a FaceBook group called Yoga People and I pass it on to them every day. I did a workshop with Baxter some years ago at an Estes Park conference. The information you post is very useful. I too am a 50 + yoga teacher, actually I just turned 65.

    • I apologize for the oversight. It certainly wasn’t intended. I will read your article now. Thanks for being an important part of the conversation!

  • Thanks, Charlotte! Nice to meet you. By weird coincidence, I had already started this blog post about body image today when I read yours. Well, I guess I read yours BECAUSE I was working on mine. See: http://yogaforhealthyaging.blogspot.com/2014/10/the-body-you-want.html. We do need as many voices as possible speaking up about this. I hesitated a first to talk about body image because I’m not a larger woman, but then I realized that I could speak to the aging side of it.

    • I agree with you. I was also born with what most would consider to be a “yoga body.” My dad was a gymnast, and I inherited his body. Like you I’ve been practicing yoga since way before the age of selfies. There weren’t even sticky mats when I started! I think it’s important that we Boomers have a voice. The folks that are currently all over Instagram doing fancy poses will one day be our age. Perhaps some of them would be receptive to learning from our experiences.

      • There are many young teachers out here who are incredibly receptive to learning from your experiences. I have been blessed with injury and pain to teach me how I want this body to always be like a well loved companion, not something to wear out and replace. The main thing that separates us from the ‘young-hot-flexy’ Instagram wave is, that like you and your cohort of teachers, I can’t spend that much of my time creating a loud voice on social media, when I would rather be watching a seed sprout, or taking a deep breath. We would rather practice yoga in life at all ages, and in all physical shapes, than to be documenting how good we are at it. I truly appreciated this article and look forward to sharing it with my students!

        • Thanks so much for your comment. I often wonder if things like Instragram had been around when I was younger and practicing fancy poses if I would have been posting photos of myself too. It’s hard to say. There was no yoga culture per se back then. Yoga was way outside the mainstream. I like what you say about wanting your body to be a well-loved companion rather than something to wear out and replace. My intention for practicing asana has completely shifted to caring for and maintaining my body. Pushing and forcing don’t even enter into it anymore.

      • VQ2

        So, you got your Daddy’s genes. I’ve got “Daddy issues” doing yoga because I’VE got MY Daddy’s genes. Real, actual, scientifically-proven Daddy issues. And he was NO gymnast. Sometimes a compulsive walker (on his FEET; and never, ever on his hands). His references to the martial arts were mostly from his brain to his mouth.

        Oh, and my mother never exercised.

        That admission makes me smile : D … forever …

  • Connie

    I dyed my hair with henna, all natural, conditions hair, and gorgeous fun. why not?

    • I’m an advocate for women dyeing or not dyeing depending on what they’re comfortable with. I got so much static in my 30s for not dyeing that I’ve never wanted to do that to someone else. I’ve had several friends who love the effects of henna and it looks really nice.

  • Thanks for this thoughtful post. I find that the happiest people are the ones who aren’t overly concerned about their bodies aging. Yes, they do what they can to keep their minds and bodies as healthy and active as possible. They also eat a healthy diet, avoiding fatty, processed foods. But they are not self-obsessed. They enjoy life but also think about others, do volunteer work. BTW, our pets never judge us for our aging 🙂

  • Like everything else, I think the key to graceful aging is following the middle path—neither denying the reality of aging nor resigning ourselves to decrepitude. Funny you should mention our pets. One of my aged cats who passed in 1996 was an impetus for me thinking more deeply about how we relate to aging. She had been a very beautiful, and rather vain, kitty when she was younger. When she got older, she lost the use of one leg and had ugly precancerous spots all over her skin. I loved how she just rolled with the changes. There was no shame. In fact, it seemed to me that her loving spirit got bigger and bigger as her body diminished. It was such an eye-opening experience for me.

    • We can learn a lot from our pets. Sounds like your kitty was a love.

  • What a wonderful, and thoughtful, post. Yay!

    I’m 38. I’ve been heavily grey since my early 20’s. I’m also a hair dyer, mostly because I like the fun of it. I have considered leaving the grey a few times because then, just maybe, people will stop mistaking me for a much younger woman, and give me the respect I feel my age and experience warrant.

    Ten years ago, when I first started teaching yoga, I hated to tell people my age: I was so young, how was anyone going to believe I had enough experience to be a teacher? Plus I had a baby face and a high pitched voice.

    It’s been disconcerting to notice the gap grow as I’ve gotten older: I am more experienced, and with every passing year, I look less like the mass images of yoginis. I probably fitted the mould to some extent when I was younger, although my crippling body image issues clouded my self-perception quite badly.

    But now? I have a red afro and a big ass. Plus I am almost 40. And I don’t like being in videos (especially videos) because I know I ‘don’t look right’ compared to the marketed ideal.

    I love that we are having this conversation more and more. Yay!

    • Nice to hear from you, Nadine! As I said above, I think whether you dye your hair or not is a personal choice and should be based on what feels most comfortable for each individual. I always thought that if I ever dyed my hair I’d dye it something fun like purple or blue so that there’s no question that it is dyed.

      Funny that you were afraid to tell people your age because you were young. Now youth seems to be a prerequisite for a certain demographic to even consider coming to your class. A few weeks ago, a guy came to my class and left because I was older and there were older students in my class. He admitted it to me later. It is ironic that the more experienced we become as yoga teachers, the deeper our knowledge, the less we are taken seriously. It’s basically the opposite of the Yoga tradition.

  • The irony will be when yoga ceases to be a fad in the US, just as jogging of the 70s and aerobics of the 80s, the only people who will still be doing yoga will be the older practitioners who were doing it before it was a fad.

  • I don’t doubt that yoga is here to stay in some form. But I’m pretty sure that the trendy forms are not going to be sustainable for most people’s bodies over the long run. I’m sure there are some people who can do fast-paced, hot room yoga and never have deleterious effects. I have a few friends who run a grueling 100-mile race every year and swear by it. Different bodies have different capabilities. But I think the average person can’t sustain pushing his/her joints the way people are currently practicing without experiencing some damage down the road.

    • VQ2

      I’ll tell you THIS, and then be outta here. Insofar as my intro to yoga back in the ’70s had been womblike in comparison: If I hadn’t found myself subjected to the commercialized yii-yii-yiii that passes for “yoga” here (via over 100 or so live classes), instead of finding my own fusion practice, I would have been stuck doing Rodney Yee forever …

      There, I said it. Sixty and I was subjected to the sneers, the hate, the sizism, the ageism.

      You CAN come out the other side. You may, by default, enrich the coffers of the young, too-greedy, too in-a-hurry studio owners.

      But the market has a way of shaking them out. Even their fellow/sister young are not stupid. If they’re overambitious, they do find their rocket-acro-ashtanga classes, which “serve” them, for a time …

      Now, no one instructor can ever claim my practice–whether live or dvd or anything in the ether …

  • NJacana

    Hey, I turned 65 this year and it is the first birthday I celebrated–free bus rides, free YMCA membership, monthly senior yoga discount. I started yoga at 63. Two years and a couple months later, I am looking and hoping to run into some peers in the classes. Not many so far. Got no problem with the word old. Certain poses I know I’ll never be able to do, that bugged me for awhile. But having done 200 hours of teacher training, just may teach Chair Yoga, maybe I’ll find some peers there! What I like about yoga is all 8 of the limbs, from Yama to Samadi. All that trendy hair-do body-shape make-up stuff doesn’t interest me, just seems like approval-seeking. I like focusing on intention and projection and meditation and all the stuff that goes on the mat in class. They taught me right at Studio34Yoga.

    • VQ2

      In New Jersey?? That’s like hitting the lottery! 🙂

      Of course, my meditation teacher has run a yoga studio wherein I did feel at home; but I’d also sustained my first-ever yoga injury (gotten while not in a home practice) over there.

      Now, he has to diversify his holdings and is going into the restaurant business. 71 years old. The now 72 years old doesn’t-act-his-age Dharma Mittra influenced (through a shameless derivate-vinyasa studio, at that time) the bulk of what I do. Because default.

      • VQ2

        Apologize. You drive from Jersey to Philly. Now, it is true!

        Some things are worth leaving town for …

        Too bad it has to be hatha yoga classes.

    • Congratulations on turning 65! I hope you find a niche in your teaching. I think it’s important for people in their 50s and 60s to seek out teachers who can relate to the changes that naturally happen with age. And I think age gives us an even greater opportunity to integrate all the limbs of Yoga, not just the physical practice. Good luck!

  • Kevin Casey

    Yoga teachers like Lilias Folan and others, largely ignored by the youth culture of contemporary yoga, have been having this conversation for many, many years.

    • Yes. Lilias has been a an incredible advocate of yoga for all ages for decades.

  • NJacana

    VQ2, NJacana is my moniker, Northern Jacana, a species of bird. I will not assume VQ is Vision Quest. Studio 34 has a lot more than Hatha if that is not one’s jam. I like it there. Peace.

    • VQ2

      I’d felt at home only in an at-that-time “hippie yoga” (a.k.a. “old school”) place. Dharma Mittra is nowhere NEAR “old school” and probably never had been. So it is not one and the same with the Dharma Mittra derivate in case I confused anybody here.

      The master swami knew when it was time to diversify, as the “old school” derivate “hippie yoga” stuff was not working out (see also: my injury; but despite that, I felt the yoga worked for me, and the teacher was continuing to work with me; main reason is it also costs too much.)

      I think his new restaurant will be my match.

  • VQ2

    Isn’t it even more curious, though, that Beryl Bender Birch (referenced on this very blogsite, this very minute!) – proponent of “soft and strong” power yoga (ashtanga-derivate that it is), a.k.a., yoga for those “athletes”, etc. ad nauseam … came out with a book called Boomer Yoga a few years ago … because even she couldn’t keep teh arthritis from affecting her body.

    Aging people who threw it over, who still appeal to many edge-playing young people; and many of the rest of us, too.

    Though there is still a fine line between the sleepytime stuff (restorative yoga and gentle yoga: I’m talking only to you) and the actually physically engaging stuff; and between what’s old school (some people don’t want to identify with “old school” for the very reason that it is “old school”) and what panders …

  • Ashtanga has been “aging” yoga teachers that are still huge so it is a part of our community. Pattabhi Jois was the lineage holder all the way into his 90’s

    • Thanks for your comment. It’s true that Pattabhi Jois continued teaching into his 90s. As I understand it, he quit practicing Ashtanga Yoga long before that. When I taught in North County, CA, in 1989-90, he came to the studio where I taught and offered three weeks of classes there. The students in his classes told me he hadn’t practiced Ashtanga for 20 years or so at that time, because he felt it wasn’t appropriate for his age.

  • I am from the Central Valley of California. I trained in Ananda yoga. I find that this style is what many folks in my area are looking for. The other styles of yoga are well represented here in the Central Valley so we have plenty of options to follow our own yogic path.
    As for aging, I was a runner, now I am a walker. I intend to stay active all my life, so that means caring for my body so it can come along on the journey. My yoga reflects what I need as I age: flexibility, strength, focus and serenity.

    • Thanks for your insights. I feel that it’s important that we practice in partnership with the bodies we have at a given time. Walking instead of running is one example. Also, practicing asana in a way that feeds the body rather than depleting it is important. It’s a process that I suspect will last the rest of our lives.

  • I’m in the UK and I took over teaching a class 10 years ago that started about 20 years’ before that. Many of the original students are still there. Every week I am awestruck and humbled by their zest for life, wisdom and wicked sense of humour. Students are mixed ages from 21 to over 80 and share without barriers. I definitely learn as much from them, as they from me! Jx

    • How fortunate for you to have been given such a gift! I teach a few classes I started in 1993 with many original students still attending. It’s a true community. We know about each others’ lives and have been through so many ups and downs with each other. Like you, I learn so much from all of them I wonder who’s really teaching sometimes.

  • Kevin

    I rarely comment on the web, but I can’t resist on this one. At the age of 66, I am teaching four or five yoga classes per week. currently, my oldest student is 89 years old and another is 88. In fact, most of my students are over 50. And my classes are consistantly full. We have 20 to 40 students in every class. The only complaints I get are about adding more classes so the room would not be so crowded.

    Not saying this to brag. Just saying this because there is a huge demand for yoga that acknowledges the fact that our bodies age. Just because we are not 25 year old acrobats does not mean that we cannot do real yoga.

    For all you aspiring teachers out there, develop a class of real yoga, done in a safe, slow and gentle way. You will be rewarded with classes full of grateful people.
    Namaste
    Kevin

    • VQ2

      But why segregate? A non-acrobat’s $$ are as green as anyone else’s.
      Any teacher that has pretensions to teaching hatha, ashtanga, raja yoga; or a so-called all-levels class. Any from a “drop” of spiritual-orientation to its main event. As long as the class does not spend the lion’s share of itself with hand-walking, State Fair first prize-looking poses, I’M game for saying to the instructor and any “star students”, “It’s okay if you go on and ‘fly’ without me. I’M taking the train …”

    • Congratulations on the success of your classes. I feel that many Boomers venture into the more popular, well-publicized classes and feel out of place. The studio I opened a year ago has brought together Salt Lake’s most experienced teachers, all of whom teach a more careful style of practice. I felt that there was a need in the community for choices other than the fast-paced, hot-room options that all the other studios offer. I agree that you don’t need to be doing fancy poses to be practicing real yoga. We practice standing poses, inversions, backbends and arm balances, but we build up to them so our bodies are prepared to do them safely.

    • Old Yogi

      I’m 60 years old and would NEVER take or teach a class with 20-40 people packed in a room. That’s the very antithesis of yoga IMHO. Yoga was certainly NOT meant to be taught to 40 people at a time

  • Cathy G

    I am 66. I have practiced and sometimes taught yoga over 40 years. I still do the ‘hard stuff;. I heal a bit more slowly, I have wrinkles and loose skin. I never quit and I never will. There are some forks in the road for me recently: I mastered side crow, but lost it after a weight/yoga class injury! I still don’t get handstand. Younger (in their 20s) yoga teachers listen to me- some act on what I say and others nicely nod. I haewn’t dyed my hair but I might! I write about yoga on a few sites- there is so much one can study and practice. Older people who have not practiced yoga, who haven’t been active or who have had injuries need thoughtful, gentle teachers with skill in laddering and teaching accomodations.

  • Thanks for your comment. In my classes, comprised mostly of people 40 to 80, we practice standing poses, backbends, arm balances and inversions, but we spend time preparing for them rather than just throwing our bodies into them. I also encourage mindfulness every step of the way, not just while we’re in the formal poses, but from the moment we set the intention to practice a particular asana. That way my students can know for themselves whether or not a pose is appropriate for them at a given time.

    That said, we balance active and gentle practice, because the gentle practice is probably what most of us need to balance the busyness of our lives.

  • I think what we all need is a little bit of media awareness. The media has ALWAYS skewed things. They like to show us unrealistic images to sell us products and ideals. Yoga is about connecting with your true self, the inner you. Don’t be bothered by what the media is pushing, do what feels right for your unique self. You hold the power of your thoughts and actions. You are beautiful because you are you and there is no one else out there that is you.

    • VQ2

      But it’s bad when the commercialized yoga purveyors themselves internalize these images and sell it back to we who may be later adopters or not quite the economic demographic they are actually going after.

      After all, there is now a lot of competition for their business.

      That being said, I reentered this world, having thought my departure was permanent; the exact same way I started. Via remote control …

  • Ian

    What a WONDERFUL WONDERFUL article! Body positivity in relation to age, ability level, gender, ethnicity, etc. are integral in order to achieve the most beneficial practice and receive the best physical and meditative results. One of the great things about Yoga and Pilates is that they are not determined by age, superficial beauty or elitism, rather they are natural engagements within the body and mind that can be performed by diverse individuals at a variety of ability levels. KEEP PRACTICE POSITIVE!! 🙂 if you want to read more articles like this fantastic one above, I run a mental health and body positive Pilates blog, alotofpilates.blogspot.com 🙂

  • Donna

    I love this article as I have been thinking a lot about how, as we age, society “neuters” us. I am 60 and still run marathons, which are much improved because of my yoga practice. My back doesn’t ache any more and my IT bands feel great. I no longer feel that I have to be able to stand on my head or do backbends and I am learning to appreciate how I look and to release myself from the stereotypes of “women my age”. It seems that we spend the first part of our lives figuring out who we are, and then the second half either getting over it or accepting it gracefully. Thanks so much for writing this

    • VQ2

      It is not lost to the larger cultural world, the advertising world or the fitness and commercialized yoga worlds, how inextricably linked yoga and sexuality are and always have been.

      What has changed, is that despite the countercultural ’60s and ’70s–replete with young images in the news, advertising and the performing arts; and an era in which Boomers have lived through; it doubly comes across as a slap in the face, that yoga and young/youthful sexuality and yoga and ableism are, respectively (and never respectFULly), inextricably linked in the media’s eyes …

  • deb

    Thank you Charlotte! I am 61 and attend class regularly. My body has definitely changed but I believe my Yoga practice keeps me in the best possible shape both physically and mentally!

  • ann williamson

    Thank you for your article on the aging body and society’s approach to aging. I took up yoga five years ago at the age of 62 and, keen to know more about this huge subject, last year decided to undergo Vinyasa Flow teacher training. I can honestly say it was one of the best things I have ever done (and I have done many things). I had a huge sense of achievement and this body in which I travel has responded so well. I feel so well, so loose and free and know that with yoga, I will always continue to learn, to be challenged, to feel peace and a sense of oneness. My whole being has changed but most of all, I celebrate what the years have given me, and allowed me to do. What lies ahead is a glorious mystery – appreciated more because of my time of life. Many of my friends have not achieved the years I have so that too is a cause for celebration. I love this rollercoaster ride on which I find myself.

  • This wise and nimble reflection on yoga and the body inspired me to my first-ever comment on the web. Yoga and the spirituality of embodiment are a major theme in my upcoming book, The Earthen Vessel, an author-illustrated collection of poems of yoga and meditation. The irony is that, even as our culture obsesses over body image, we have increasingly lost intimacy with our actual physical bodies. A great part of yoga’s transformative power comes from the way the asanas reground us in these bodies, our earthen vessels.

  • Gail

    I must admit, I read everything I see addressing yoga and aging. I’ve been practicing since
    ’66, got certified as a teacher in 2012, and now, at age 70, continue to spread the word
    and the moves. I am quick to proclaim that IMHO, yoga is the answer to everything.
    I allowed my grey to RULE (against the similar protestations of my friends), when the
    chemicals in the dyes my stylist was using, caused a dramatic, allergic reaction. Next, I made a large collage of images of ‘accessible’ ansanas, as I observed how the contortionist’ pictures so misrepresented the true jewels of a yoga practice and were often repelling rather than attracting, potential students. Thank you for your beliefs, your words, and your decision to post them.

  • You touched on a critical point – but almost missed its deeper significance. “Yes, shame. We’re conditioned to feel bad for … well … not having died yet.”

    Age bias seems so bizarre, especially in our current times. Why are we so deeply invested in it? I’ve never heard a decent explanation. After all, who’s hurt by a 70 year old in a mini skirt? The clan is hurt, that’s who. The ancient brain inside our own screams loudly on this one – and yet we never seem to know why.

    My theory: nature provides clear physical signals to potential mates when a female is reproductively risky or completely nonviable. The clan needs healthy progeny to continue. Older females have a higher risk of producing less-than-perfect offspring. Alternately, if they have gone through menopause, they can no longer reproduce at all. So the males need those physical signals to tell them not to waste their reproductive energies on a bad risk or a reproductive void. Males, on the other hand, can reproduce successfully for many more years. They remain more useful to the clan for a longer time. In addition, females who “disguise” their reproductive inviability face derision. For centuries, women who used cosmetics, dyed their hair, or wore “age inappropriate” clothing received open derision. They still do. Why? Because they are in competition with those females who can still reproduce successfully. It’s against the clan’s interests to allow that “competition” to go unchecked. Seen in that light, there is an answer to your question “And why are we made to feel ashamed of the inevitable, even beautiful, process of growing deeper, wiser and more equanimous just because our bodies no longer fit into a shallow, limited and completely arbitrary cultural idea of beauty?” Because, in a very ancient way, we are a draw on the resources of the clan. Our contribution declines. Our value decreases. We know it. We feel it. Everyone does. But we don’t know what exactly we’re feeling, or why ….. I think I know why, as outlined above. It’s the only thing that makes any sense. It’s not arbitrary at all, nor is it limited to modern culture. All cultures have had their ways of marking the crones – setting them apart. It also explains the dual standard that males become more “dignified” while women just get old.

    With this lens, and the lens of yoga, I can look at society’s limitation – and smile. “You poor, unevolved thing ….” Then I put on my mini skirt.

  • This article and thread is fabulous!! how can i post it to my fb page? looking forward to making a longer comment soon!

  • MS

    Charlotte, thank you for this post…and I love your book Mindful Yoga/Mindful Life. Donna Farhi’s Yoga for Life book changed my life…somehow through reading her I found your book…can’t remember exactly. 🙂 I wanted to share that my first teacher, Anne O’Brien, was on the cover of Yoga Journal a few years ago and I think Anne is in her early 50’s. My current teacher, Tony Briggs, is 70. I also go to Richard Rosen’s classes when I can, and love his book Yoga for 50+. Those are some strong teachers….but so thoughtful and wise in their approach — challenging but sustainable. Thank you again for the interesting article and conversation…

  • Michele

    Love this article.
    I finished my 200 hour YTT in April at age 61, turned 62 yesterday.
    My training was in a strong, vinyasa krama flow, and I loved every minute of it. That said, that style is not necessarily what I want to teach; Yin Yoga has my heart. But I am very happy teaching flow class too.
    I consider myself exceptionally lucky to have found a yoga studio that is accepting of any and all body types and skill levels. I live in Los Angeles, like NYC a center of the body conscious, ageist and competitive instagram yoga types. There are some studios to be found and teachers who have knowledge of anatomy and the aging process and can shepherd us through this part of our lives.

    I’m both sad and glad that there seems to be a dearth of more mature yogic voices out there, it certainly tells me that I can make myself useful in another way in these years of my life. I will be checking out a few of the voices that are being referenced here in these comments.
    I have spent my life being completely un-athletic, nothing resonated. I have no idea why I waited so long to try yoga, but from my first class I was changed, and continue to be every time I sit on my mat, whether to meditate or to practice. I am so grateful to have found yoga and everyday I find myself touting it’s benefits, both mentally and physically, to anyone I can. As I begin to teach I can see all that I have learned manifesting in my style, which is as open, body-positive and any age relatable as it can be. What a gift!

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