Can you be too old to start Ashtanga?
It could be because my birthday is on Monday, but I’m thinking about age lately.
(Warning: Possible downer post coming!)
I noted when going through the second Confluence schedule that once again one of the topics involves “how one’s practice changes over time in relation to the aging process.”
Because the “over time” of my practice is about three years, I’m not sure this applies to me especially well. Instead, what I’m wondering about is how beginning the practice in earnest is different or changes depending on how late in life you start.
Guruji included “old people” in his list of those who could practice Ashtanga, so it’s safe to say that there is no official barrier to beginning Ashtanga. But it surely affects the practice.
The most obvious issue, I suspect, is physical: by, let’s say, 40, your body might be tight and resistant to the heat and loosening of the muscles and tissues. (I, ahem, heard this from a friend.) For my “friend,” though, I am unsure that had he begun earlier he could have kept up with the practice. He didn’t have the mental discipline to stick with it given the physical challenge (i.e. a stiff body all along, but one that only got stiffer over time, probably).
For the young and bendy, though, that’s not a challenge. By the time they reach 40, perhaps they’ve been practicing for 15 or 20 years.
There are more “extreme” examples. David Swenson began practicing yoga at 13, and last week he turned 56. That’s 43 years of yoga, conveniently enough how long I’ve been around (this time). David’s been practicing yoga for 43 years (perhaps with some time off, I’m not sure, given his biography); I’ve been alive almost 43 and practicing, seriously, for three years. Our practices clearly are quite different.
The next obvious question is: Would I have a “better” practice (and a more flexible body and perhaps mind) had I started earlier? Well, taking my “friend” as a model, I doubt I would have stuck with yoga when I was 25. I was no where near touching my toes then, either, and apt to say “this yoga’s only for flexible people” before giving up. Fifteen years later, I had a better perspective on what the yoga was good for and why it was worth the challenge and, yes, hurt and hardship.
Would that perspective have been even better in another 15 years? Surely, though, at 55 starting yoga would have been a daunting physical challenge, perhaps too daunting.
In the end, I’m reminded of the saying, “The Guru appears when the student is ready.” Before 40, I wasn’t ready — even if perhaps the physical asana practice would have been easier — and therefore the Guru hadn’t appeared. When the will was strong enough, and the body not too much of a hurdle, it was time.
Which doesn’t mean I wish I couldn’t travel back in time and give my 25-year-old self a healthy kick in the asana.
Posted by Steve