True confession: when I practiced yoga as a younger woman, I always had a subtle agenda that my years of yoga would inoculate me and protect me from the effects of aging.
Humans have always had the desire to conquer old age and death. And unfortunately, many of the messages in the yoga sub-culture tell us that youthful beauty and capability are most desired and valuable. There is an underlying assumption in these messages that being vulnerable means failure, and that the body breaking down is a defeat of some sort.
The physical manifestations of time and change I have experienced in my own life have been surprising and humbling. I’m reluctantly realizing that my loved ones and I will not escape the vulnerability of the human experience, no matter how many downward facing dogs we have clocked, no matter how pure our diet, no matter how dedicated our meditation practice.
Nature teaches us the beauty of the seasons. In her wordless intelligence, she knows when to burst forth youthfully, when to succumb to change and when to go underground and rest. My deepest wish is to align myself with her wisdom, which for me is what yoga is all about. For humans, this is astoundingly difficult, as we have become accustomed to being able to control so much of our environment. Aligning with nature, especially in the process of aging, means somehow learning to make peace with chaos, unpredictability, loss and pain. This is very advanced yoga.
I remember a spiritual teacher I admire saying to a woman who was bemoaning the loss of her youth, beauty and energy: “That time is over. This must be seen.” Although this could seem like a harsh perspective, it is one that we must all, as we age or deal with sickness and the limitations of the body, eventually accept. And in that surrender is freedom.