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sun salutationsLast week, I met my old lady body. Having always looked younger than I am (thanks Ma, for good genes), and having always been (mostly) physically fit, meeting her came as a surprise.

What is my old lady body, you ask?  It is the body that I will have if I stop moving completely and allow entropy to have its way. The process has already started.

Confession: I have not actively practiced hatha yoga in a while.  I have not even kept up my home practice.

Those who know me probably have a really confused look on their face about now. Really?  No yoga asana practice?  Isn’t this the Amy we know, the one who does yoga anywhere? – in the kitchen, in the car, on the train, in the sand and sea and snow, and uses asana to get her through the daily aches and pains and trials and tribulations?

But it is true. I have not practiced yoga asana since I stopped doing the Astanga practice somewhere back in … ahem.  October.

Here’s why:  My body simply stopped. My mind wanted to get up and go each morning, but my body simply said No.  A very clear NO.

I have been ill for a while and didn’t really know it.  All I knew was that my body was done, finished, exhausted.  I was incapable of physical activity beyond walking where I needed to walk.  I was going through the motions each day, getting out of bed, trying to push through the fog, trying to be productive.  To practice yoga on my mat at home – much less attend a class – was simply out of the question.

Call it a sickness of the spirit if you like, but it was clearly physical.  A couple of weeks ago, I finally sought help.  Funny thing about the right kind of help… it really does help.  Immensely.  I am not back to 100% yet, but I am getting there ~ feeling a little better each day.  Healing and resting.  Deep rest, I have learned, is essential for healing.

So, feeling better, I looked around last week for a beginner level yoga class, thinking a slower paced, gentler yoga would be a good way to get my body moving again.  I found one, a lovely class in fact, and that is where I met my old lady body.

Stiff, un-bendable, achy, and weak.  A humbling experience.

I am not a naturally flexible person. To maintain my preferred level of flexibility requires daily movement, daily stretching.  If I don’t move, I really don’t move.  My hamstrings quickly become solid rods, and my shoulders round forward, and my neck solidifies. Youch.

So in this class I fold over into uttanasana (standing forward fold) and discover I have to bend my knees deeply. I wobble around in warrior poses, and my right hip has no stability. My twists are tight, my hips are hurting, and I can’t hold any pose for long. And my balance?  Well, I am sure there are some folks who would call me unbalanced.

But it was all ok. It felt good to move, to stretch, to practice. And sure, I was sore the next day, but it was the kind of soreness that says “hey! You’re alive!” and makes me want to stretch even more in to the sensation.

It is easy to forget – when moving has been easy for so long – how hard it is to begin.  But here’s the thing – we all begin somewhere, and wherever we are is the perfect place to begin.  We all have young bodies at some point, and we all have old lady bodies (or old man bodies as the case may be), regardless of our age.  It is how we move and what we choose to do with our bodies that creates the sensation of young or old.

Sure, we age, and sometimes there are physical conditions that keep us from being in “perfect” shape.  None of that matters.  What matters is that we move in a way that makes our bodies feel good.  This is health. Our bodies were born to move, and movement creates flexibility and builds strength, not only in body, but also in mind and spirit.

I like getting older.  I love that I have more wisdom today than I ever did in my 20s, or 30s, or even 40s.  I love my old lady body today, as stiff and achy as it is, and I love being exactly where I am. This is my beginning, right here, right now. I know how I got here, and why. And I know what to do about it and which direction to go, even if I don’t know how far.

I wanted to write this post as a new starting place for my asana practice, but also for those of you who might think that you can’t do yoga because you are not flexible, or you’re too old, or you get discouraged because a warrior pose feels too hard, and you think you can never be strong enough even to hold your arms out to your sides.

Truth is, if you want to, you can, and you will.  Take it one day at a time, one pose a time, one class a time.  Practice at home if a class feels like too much, or find a teacher that is willing to work with you at the level you need. Or join me here as I go through my asana practice, gently regaining strength and flexibility.

Sometime less is more.  Even if you are energetic and strong and doing an amazing astanga practice every day, there will still be days when you need to slow down, to listen to your body, to give yourself some restorative time.  Getting back to basics is good for that. Learn to breathe, to pay attention to your breathing, and to listen to your own inner guidance.

And speaking of beautiful old lady bodies – Tao Porchon-Lynch is still dancing and doing yoga at the age of 93, and she believes that anything is possible.  She has brilliant wisdom.  I am having trouble embedding this video, so I am going to simply provide the link below.  Watch it, and be inspired.

Click this link to watch the Tao Porchon-Lynch interview.

A particular comment by the interviewer caught my attention. Note the place where she tells Ms. Porchon-Lynch that she had been to a beginner yoga class and the teacher told her that she did not belong there. “So what comes before beginner?” she asks.

Ms. Porchon-Lynch offers some sage advice.  But it makes me think that even in beginner yoga classes, there needs to be a place for pre-asana skills.  The basics.  The breathing, the tuning in, the oh-hello-this-is-my-body-pleased-to-meet-you experience.

Yoga is more than asana. Yoga can also be breathing and being mindful, being present. Tune in, listen beneath the mind chatter, see what the body is feeling like.  Often, it is very different from what our minds are thinking.

Tuning in to your body is a pre-asana skill. It is also a skill that can be learned.

Wherever you are, tune in, listen, and begin there.