Sometimes when I teach yoga in a new place, I tell my students a little about myself. First of all, I explain that my yoga practice started late in 2001, and that I was never a dancer or an athlete. Many of my students see me in my role as yoga teacher and have already told themselves a story that explains me and the physical person they see. Needless to say, many are also surprised to learn that I'm in my mid fifties, already having definitions in their heads about age. I am amused by that, since my new line of work is giving me a healthier aspect than I even had when I was much younger!
I've chosen to take on a deeply physical job as I approach 60 years old. The work I am doing is changing my body, changing my way of life, changing my concepts. If I use the word "transformation" it sounds so new age, but in fact, yoga practice is a transformation. As my body ages, it is gaining strength, flexibility and ease. I can notice the muscle aches, the joint creaks, the dry skin, whatever it is that is naturally happening as I age, and at the same time feel so integrated, balanced, healthy, and sound. It's great to have work that makes me feel so whole, inside and out. The actual effort I make while teaching, the reading and research, the personal practice, the constant ongoing investigation, seminars and experiences, and increasing hours of work are all benefiting me, directly. This is definitely a case of loving what I do and doing what I love, but it is also an eye opener into the assumptions about aging and the "decline" I expected in myself. Of course my body has its limitations, the way a joint moves, the particulars of flexibilities and structure, and I am discovering this as I go, rather than expecting and assuming what I can and cannot do.
My students and peers are every age, and I love the open space in which we relate and connect. Each of us knows that every body has its limitations and structures. It is up to us how we allow our perceptions to define us. Perhaps surgery has altered something, or genetics gave me a certain set of conditions. These are as easily my strengths as they are my weaknesses. How I feel about it makes so much difference, and how I feel comes directly from what I perceive about it. As long as I remain trapped in definitions and judgments based on stories rather than direct experience, I will not realize the fullness of my being. I can remain stuck with being "old" or "not like I used to be" or I can stick with the open inquiry "what is this? what is this now?" Even previous experience can steer me out of my inquiry in this moment. Investigating a cranky knee can unlock the secrets to supporting the knee in motion, can eliminate the worst of the pain or joint degradation, can bring clarity to years of continued successful motion.
Each of us is unique in our questions and answers, but we are all on the same path, and the path is open. Learning to stay present in the inquiry is the transformation. Who imagined that a girl who could not do a cartwheel would be a middle-aged woman who can stand on her head?