Ageing (dis)gracefully through Yoga

Ageing (dis)gracefully through Yoga

Published June 13th, 2019 By Jo Stewart

‘Yoga is for sharing: not comparing’

#ageingdisgracefully #strongsilvers #seniorsyoga #nevertooold #yogapracticenotperfect #olderandbolder

The beauty of yoga as a practice is that in can change and evolve as you do, and support you through each stage of life. Yoga teacher Maggie Turner Miguel does an amazing job of sharing her practice and inspiring others with her in her classes and online - her instagram profile reads ‘Now 70. Still a playful Senior Yogi. Get on board and give it a red hot crack.’

I’m always honoured and delighted when Maggie makes the five hour round trip to attend one of my aerial yoga classes - she lights up the room with her energy and enthusiasm, and when I don’t get to see her in person I love that I get to follow her yoga adventures online.

I wanted to share Maggie’s unique point of view, so I asked her some questions on practicing yoga throughout the different stages of life.

How long have you been practicing yoga?

I’m a late starter. I played with yoga in the 1970’s but it was hit and miss and I became bored. Over the years I would try again with the same outcome. Life took another turn and it was over 20 years before I recommenced any structured exercise. I was in my 50’s when a gym instructor invited me to join her on a yoga training course. I was ancient compared to the rest of the students and had turned 60 when I finished training in 2010.

What do you love most about practicing yoga?

I love how it is multifaceted allowing me to practice on any level or in any style at any given time without pressure. It gives me all the physicality I need to be functionally fit. It was a gradual evolvement for me, but it also keeps evolving making it interesting; it challenges and motivates me every day.

What do you love about aerial yoga?

Aerial just popped into my head. I did not consider there would be drawbacks or difficulties – perhaps this was naivety – but I wanted to experience some funky moves. After a disastrous first class I found Garden of Yoga where Jo encouraged me to give it a good crack and voila! It wasn’t long before I bought my own hammock and Jo’s feedback helps with my home practice. Aerial gives complete support enabling experimentation in regular yoga moves while expanding and diversifying to create added dimensions. I now indulge in the fun and funky stuff, but am also embracing the slower yin approach with sound therapy. And meditation in a hammock is absolute bliss!

How has your practice evolved through your life?

I was unaware of what may evolve but continual practice has broadened my approach ie less gung ho and more breath control. The more I practice the more I notice changes; physically and mentally. This has transitioned into my daily life; less fight/flight reaction and more stepping back until I can look at things differently with a calmer demeanour. So dare I say I think I am a better person, more patient and tolerant; it’s steady evolution that continues to grow.

How has your relationship with your own body evolved through your yoga practice?

I always took my body for granted in both work and play. Now I am much more aware. I make a conscious effort to fine tune how I sit or stand, and I attempt to be as posturally aware as possible. At my age this is important because often when people reach 60 they start to drag their feet and slouch. I try to walk tall and even if I drop something, rather than bend and twist to pick it up I will squat. This is imperative because I do have bits and pieces that do not move as they once did. I also nurture my body with vegetarian foods along with an increasing number of vegan recipes which I am still ‘mastering’. (And wine gets a consideration too!)

How important is it to continue with strength building practices as we get older?

It is important to continue with strength building in age, along with working on flexibility and balance. Whatever shape we are in we still need to work in whatever way we can, in whatever limited style that might be, something that science has now validated. Doing nothing is completely ineffective but yoga can offer options. Embrace the use of props – chairs, walls, floor, straps, bolsters, even the pool! – whatever supports your journey.

What are the benefits of trying new things?

I am of the opinion that trying something new keeps us young at heart, and bright in spirit, plus I am hoping that it helps the grey matter as well. This is not meant to sound arrogant as I am fully aware that I am extremely fortunate to be able to do what I do at this age and not everybody is so lucky. It is not always easy for me but I am prepared to make the effort because the benefits are massive on so many levels. And it makes me joyful.

Are you ever too old to start yoga?

It is never too late and you’re never too old. Yoga for ageing is important for self-care. It does not need to be all physicality; yoga for the mind is another approach and there is possibility to attend specific ‘yoga for age’ classes. It’s nothing to do with how fat/thin, strong/weak, young/old you are. Senior people like me can still be youthful – we may not look it – but most of us have some wisdom that we are willing to share. Why would a person think that they are too old to better their life, improve their mobility, or to become more peaceful? Quality of life is paramount. This is the only body/mind that you will ever have so nurture and protect it, and definitely enjoy it. Get busy living!

Any advice for people who are curious but scared to try?

I was soooo scared and nervous. One day in a class I freaked out and lost my nerve. Everybody else in the class was more youthful by far and I wanted to shrink away. The excellent instructor came across to me and told me gently but encouragingly – “don’t stop; don’t give up” – and I have thanked her since because her words still resonate with me. So if anybody is scared remember that it is normal. Everybody is scared and yoga is for sharing, not comparing, so find a class where it feels like a safe place for you and get on the mat.

Are there any other older yogis who inspire you?

I do not know any personally but I am drawn to the honest older yogis on Instagram who share helpful hints, videos, and even their face plants. It doesn’t take long to sort the genuine from the shallow (avoid images of airbrushed youth doing the impossible twisty poses on cliff edges), so for me that has been both inspirational and educational. And I do have some ladies who are a smidge older than me who practice Restorative Yoga with me. They have told me that the small bits they do have benefited them immensely; physically improving their mobility, but importantly emotionally.

Anything else you would like to add?

For my first two years of practicing yoga in front of a class I used a different name because it gave me a false sense of security. At the end of the class if they liked it then I would confess who I really was, but it took a while for that to happen and much longer for any confidence to shine through. I still have times of self doubt so I need yoga to prevent me from shrinking into a corner.

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