Today I discovered Lois Steinberg (Roads To Bliss) discussing the importance of Iyengar Yoga Classes designed especially for those of us on the Wise side of 50. Those of you reading this already know, we call this Elderbliss! Our classes on Tuesday and Thursday mornings in Dunkirk NY lead us on this glorious journey.
Roads To Bliss rocks! I’m sure you’ll enjoy her video; I sure did. Here it is:
At some point around the middle of our lives, most of us begin to look at ways to prepare for our death. We begin to think of what our legacy will be as we review what we have already accomplished.
Beyond any career accomplishments we may have achieved, we yearn for a life of meaning. And we hope for happiness and peace in our final days. As His Holiness, the Dalai Lama tells us in this video by Peter Holloway, and as Christ said two thousand years ago, it all boils down to compassion or “Love One Another.”
We can make a regular practice of compassion in our daily lives, when we incorporate it into our meditation and yoga practices by setting an intention every single time we begin, to expand our compassion. And by mindfully being aware of when and how our compassion slips away during practice.
What happens as we age? Does the body give-up …. or is it the mind? Does the heart grow tired and old as it learns more and more of the negativity we humans are capable of? Are the aches and pains eventually simply too much to bear? Is the loneliness a ticket to living Hell?
What happens when we surrender and open ourselves to a power greater than ourselves? A power that can unify us with the larger field of Life that upholds and supports our existence. A power that blows through us with love and compassion on every single inbreath. A power that we all share, if we choose to surrender our egos and join forces.
MindBodyGreen put together a lovely list of Yogis in their 90s for your inspiration. I assure you that inviting the Life Force into our lives, as we practice in yoga and meditation and deep relaxation, and breathwork, can indeed keep you, body and mind, fresh and young for a long long time. You can watch the video here. Hope you enjoy watching these elders as much as I did.
How many inches have you lost? Hmmm, yes. Shrinking happens. We grow shorter after 50. On a recent visit to my Doc, she informed me that I had lost an inch. An entire inch of my beautiful height. Not happy, I grew increasingly unhappy as she listed poor posture and lack of juice in the spinal disks as the usual reasons. But I’m a yoga teacher, I protested, verbally listing all of the reasons I should not have shrunk.
It felt as if a part of my body had disappeared into the ether. My spinal disks were floating in space, and I imagined them singed from the recent solar flare, or frozen stiff on Pluto.
Taking the news as a reason to bolster my posture practice, I began as soon as I hit the shower the next
morning. Yes, the shower is a great place to practice and explore Tadasana or Mountain Pose. Drawing the chin in towards the neck. Lifting my ribs off of my hips. Widening through my collarbones. Engaging the arches, inner and outer, of my feet. Softening my shoulders. More softening of the shoulders
Try it yourself and see if you find yourself walking and sitting a little bit taller. It’s a daily part of my routine now.
And by the way, I also practice Forward Fold (briefly) while standing beneath the warm running water. While I don’t want to waste water, most elders can use the wet heat as therapy to assist in loosening muscles that have stiffened after sleeping.
We’d love to hear how you are growing in the shower and out.
The yogis in my Village Elders Yoga class cracked up this morning when I suggested they find joy in the pose. “What is holding you back from being happy in Camel (Ustrasana)?”
“JOY–you gotta be kidding me!!” Al asked incredulously and laughed harder. I suggested he widen his knees so that his shoulders wouldn’t need to work so much &/or curl his toes under to raise his heels a bit higher. Still he laughed……laughter is good; I join in what has now become a near hysterical class. I see their point. How CAN we find bliss while the body screams for mercy? Yoga is not about adding tension to lives already strained thin and brittle. BUT, when I feel as if my back is going to split into a hundred little pieces or my quads are going to rip off of my torso, I am NOT thinking “joy” AT ALL. I am probably cursing the teacher (as Al probably was this morning) &/or hyperventilating.
However, I believe it was the SUFI poet RUMI who said that laughter is the voice of God. I love to hear that voice. Laughter is always a release and the goddess knows we all need release! The act of chortling your way through a pose that is hard for you is an effective means of taking your mind off of your pain. It’s a release. It’s speaking in God’s voice.
While my students continued working the pose as if inebriated, I said that we find joy in yoga poses the same way that we find joy in any other activity. “How do you find joy in weeding your garden, or washing the dishes, or grading student essays, or….?” It was a little sneaky since Al had already told me that he’d wrenched his back over the weekend while working in his garden.
Back to the asana: First we release any excess tension. I had noticed the muscles along the right side of my neck tensing- unnecessarily-so I sent breath and softness into that area. I recognized that THAT strain was not going to improve my pose, but would give it a blocked quality and would keep me from finding SUKHA.
Since a major intention of my practice is to cultivate SUKHA, I went for the release. Figuring that my students would also appreciate more bliss in their lives, I blathered on a bit. “You know that some people don’t enjoy the sense of stretch in their muscles. They NEVER find Sukha in yoga practice. But you all have been coming for several years, so I know that you do-at least at at times- enjoy the stretch. What I am suggesting now is that you simply focus on what you love and release what you don’t.”
Heads were nodding and as students released from Camel into Child Pose, I noticed a satisfied look on their faces.
I LOVE sharing yoga and am ever grateful for this gift in my life. My intention for this blog is to deepen our practice as we learn to live our yoga. May the words expressed be of benefit to the readers and authors.
How does one find joy in a yoga pose? How does one find joy in life? Through experiencing this moment as it exists. By releasing the grip of unnecessary tension, including the tension created by attachment to the past and future, attachment to a fixed identity. Letting go of expectations and judgments. Letting go the hold of pain as well as the hold of happiness, knowing that every emotion is ephemeral and the seeds of every emotion’s opposite feeling exists simultaneously.
today’s mantra: BE JOY. To paraphrase Gandhi’s famous quotation, Be the Joy you wish to see in the world.
Today was the last class of Village Elders Yoga held at the present Grape Belt Senior Site. We’ve been meeting for seven years and so the move is a little wrenching emotionally. Fortunately we don’t have to believe our emotions or get swallowed in them; there’s another side to this move. So after a long session of inhalation with retention, we went to legs up the wall for a solid twenty minutes. Grounding. Being. Opening. Centering. Balancing the energy within and without. Then a prayer of gratitude for all we are now, for the space we have enjoyed and the space we will move into.
Then, a little magic happened as everyone began loading cars with our bolsters, blocks, sandbags, eye bags, blankets, golf balls (we’ll talk about them in a later post) and caravan-like drove to the new studio. Once we finished, everyone held together in a circle in the studio as we chanted deep sonorous OMS. The space filled with our energy and love. Thanks to Nan for suggesting this opening ritual.
Cathy invited everyone to her place for a scrumptious lunch of pumpkin soup, heaping platters of vegies and fruits, multigrain bread, hummus, and Grace’s perfect apple crisp.
What a grand way to transform the negative energy of being kicked out of our space and not supported by the town council who decided the seniors should take the budget cut, AND my nervous energy surrounding being able to pay the rent and make the yoga teaching a viable business.
Mike and I are finishing the shelving he (graciously!) has built for us and we’ll celebrate the first class on Monday evening. I’m looking forward to sharing the healing, awakening, and joy of yoga/meditation/breath practice with a wider audience. This is truly ELDERBLISS.
One of my teachers offered a teleconference course on sacred self-care. Oh, I thought, this is pushing things a bit, I mean, really sacred self care?
Furthermore, why should I sign up, I already teach self-care. Certainly I know how important it is to devote some time everyday to the important task and pleasure of taking care of myself.
Well, it was time for me to wake up to the essence as well as the deep importance of self-care practice.
The journaling and meditations I did highlighted long held resistance to my own self-care. Could I be hard-wired to NOT take care of myself? I wondered. Was it a genetic trait? Am I simply and incorrigibly lazy?
As the class progressed week by week, I found a deep well of pleasure arose in my bodymind whenever I gave myself a gift of self-care. It’s possible to tap into that well as a means of motivating myself to continue developing self-care practices.
This week, our homework was to identify one self-care practice to focus on and try to develop it. A small step it would seem, but progress and transformation happens in small simple steps repeated time and again.
So, what am I working on? My negative self-talk.
I’m growing my mindfulness around the times I call myself names or otherwise speak poorly to my beautiful self. It’s tough. Sometimes I catch myself disparaging the voice that catches, “Oh, there you go again, you idiot.” Yes, I can even use mindfulness against myself! So I’m continuing to practice softening and then softening again. I need a lot of practice. Unfortunately, it seems I’m giving myself plenty of opportunity. Grrr.
I do recognize how terribly important this is though. It forms the foundation of the spiritual path. Think about it. Better yet, conjure up the feelings in your body of an abundance of self-care. Then ask yourself what would happen if you had that available all the time.
Here’s hoping that you are floating in nirvana-land with me on this one. It’s just a little bit of self-care away!
If you are jazzed by the thought of floating on a cushion of wondrous self-care, register for ELDERBLISS in the upper left corner to be sure you are on my mailing list.
Students can choose to use a folding chair or to lay down on folded blankets at the beginning of class.
The teacher laughs and says this is NOT a “No pain, no gain” class. Listening to the body is stressed. If something hurts, students ask for an adjustment and/or come out of the pose.
One of the primary rewards of learning yoga is listening to the body and inner promptings. Having spent an entire lifetime working against the body and inner voice, making time to practice this deep listening over and over again rewards the student in myriad ways.
Regarding the anxiety that often increases with age: yoga has given us a great gift, breath work! We begin every class by watching the breath. It’s a simple but profound practice. By learning to control the breath, energy in the body becomes balanced, including the wild energy of anxiety. Simple meditation techniques build upon the breath work to develop a fuller and richer life.
After becoming relaxed and energized from the breath work, gentle stretching, balance, and strength training is introduced. Surprising things often happen in class. For instance, when a 65 year old rises into a modified handstand for the first time in her life. The entire class cheers!
Savasana with lower legs on chair (barefoot photos)
The class then transitions into what most consider the best part of class: legs up the wall. This is a classic healing and rejuvenating yogic pose. The students lay down on the floor and slide their legs up the wall. If they are not comfortable in that position,there is always the option of laying on the floor, draping their lower legs across a chair seat. This improves lymph drainage, venous return, and gives the heart a rest. It’s great for helping to lower blood pressure and alleviate varicose veins.
Finally, everyone stretches into the yoga pose that seems the easiest, but is actually the hardest: corpse pose, savasana. The students stretch out on mats, with a bolsters beneath their knees and folded blankets supporting their heads. The use of the eye bag or a covering blanket is optional. In this final pose for the day, the teacher gently guides with verbal promptings suggesting ways of dropping into stillness and peace. No matter what is happening in the world, there is always this place of quiet available, should anyone wish to access it.
After savasana, everyone sits again, and, while resting another few moments in stillness, practices gratitude.
The scariest part of yoga class is taking the first step through the door. Once there, students often grow blissful as they learn to let go of whatever is toxic to them, and enjoy a fuller, richer existence.