We talked to student Helen about her experience as an older woman beginning a Mysore-style Ashtanga practice.
What was it like the first few times being in the studio?
The very first time, I was a little nervous and pleased that Rob and Ann were there. I made sure I was up the back of the studio but quickly realised no one really cares about anyone else because they are focused on their own practice. It was comforting to be put at ease by you when I arrived. I immediately loved the atmosphere of the studio – I appreciated the quiet, the sound of people’s breath, the dawn light, the intensity of people’s practice.
The fact I could go slowly, take my time, repeat, ask questions made me feel that it was just what I needed after many years of following a teacher’s class, without real instruction. However, I was so sore and so many parts of my body ached that I wondered what I had actually been doing in those classes! I really loved the opening chant and even now when I return, I think it is a very special part of my practice.
How has the practice influenced your experience and beliefs around aging?
This is a great question. The answer is Ashtanga practice has profoundly influenced my beliefs around aging. I know surely that the practice of the asana keeps me feeling strong, flexible and even though it’s difficult, maintains my balance. All these physical traits are perceived by many to decline with age. However, I am certain that with constant practice I will maintain physical strength and agility. No doubt my body feels sore at times but it is a positive soreness – a soreness that comes from focused exercise, not soreness or creakiness which comes from inactivity and atrophy. It is obvious to me when I have a time without practice – my body tells me “Hey get back to it”.
Before Ashtanga (I started when I was about 61) my knees hurt, my lower back ached and doing a shoulder stand gave me headaches from the stiffness in my neck. Now no more. With the focus on considered, supportive, often humorous individual tuition and progress, I can see myself at 80 hopefully maintaining and improving my physical body.
I think the study of yoga, the philosophy also helps as I age. The importance of pranayama and meditation helps me to try and stay joyful, alert and focused.
In my opinion, Ashtanga is my best method of aging well!