Practical Yoga Advice From the Far Side of 40

April 6, 2014 by  
Filed under Yoga Articles

When Yoga Journal ran an article not long ago suggesting modifications for yogis over 40, I’ll admit that I was a bit put out at first.  As a quadragenarian with over a decade of practice under my belt, I was not about to cede all the fun poses to the twenty-somethings. My outlook may have been skewed by the fact that I often practice with a wonderful group of women of about my age who are strong and flexible, despite being a little gray about the temples. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Our bodies are not the same at 40 as they are at 20. Even the most consistent, dedicated yoga practice can’t prevent the aging process, though it may help alleviate some of its effects. I also began to think about people who want to start doing yoga after 40. While most are not quite ready for the senior citizen route, they have a different set of concerns than younger students of asana. So let’s take an honest look at how yogis over 40 approach their practices. 

You’re the Boss

If you think you’re too old to start a yoga practice just because you’ve seen the far side for 40, think again. All of my advice on how to start a yoga practice and find a good teacher applies to you, with a few extra precautions thrown in. One of the joys of getting older, especially for those who are people-pleasers by nature, is the ability to say no more often. In a yoga class, this manifests as seeing our teachers more as guides than as authority figures. One of my own teachers, Keith Kachtick of Dharma Yoga, often tells his classes to take his instruction as a suggestion rather than a mandate. Exploring and putting faith in your own experience of what feels ok (and what doesn’t) are ultimately going to serve you better, especially when it comes to avoiding injury. The longer I do yoga, the more I see the value of a long-term, consistent practice. One of the corollaries of this is a strong desire not to get injured. If I’m hurt, then I can’t do the yoga I want to do.

Writer Neal Pollack, the author of several books and many articles about yoga, agrees. “I find myself working a lot more slowly in my 40s, jumping back a lot less, twisting less aggressively. I practice just about every day, but not for as long, necessarily. At this point, I look at my body as a used car. I want to take care of it to make sure it still runs, but recognize that it’s more about maintenance than anything else.” Pollack also says he prefers to do his yoga in private these days. “I also usually practice alone, at home, instead of in the big yoga dens like I used to. It’s a lot easier to practice how you want when no one’s watching.”

Play it Safe

A woman with whom I often take classes recently mentioned that she’s given up doing handstands in the middle of the room after turning 50. Although this may sound like a problem a lot of us would like to have, it does make sense for older people to take precautions against falling, especially those who have osteoporosis. Inversions can still be safely practiced in most cases, but unless your inversion practice is well established, I advise taking your trickier poses (handstand, forearm stand, headstand, in some cases) over to the wall. Since glaucoma is more common in older people, it’s also not a bad idea to get yours eyes checked regularly to make sure that inversion aren’t posing any risk to your eyesight. 

Enjoy the Ride

As my own practice has aged (right along with me), I find myself actually able to practice what I have long preached about non-attachment. Any acquisitiveness that I once had in relation to “getting” more, harder poses has faded. Sometimes I surprise myself with the ability to do something new, but just as often something that seemed easy at one time becomes more difficult. Whereas I used to crave a linear, progressive path, I have been led in circles that ended somewhere unexpected enough times to at least begin to surrender to the journey instead of fixating on the destination, both in yoga and in life. This doesn’t necessarily come with age, but it is born out of experience. 

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