I’ve always loved Wheel pose. I loved how, at age five, with no instruction or help from a coach, I popped right up for the first time as if it were as natural as putting one foot in front of the other.
I kept at it—backbending through gymnastics practices in my teens, pressing my hips even higher to the sky in Ashtanga classes in my twenties and thirties – ever grateful for the natural ease I felt in a pose that others frequently struggled with.
Now in my mid-forties, despite daily practice and a healthy, active lifestyle, Wheel pose isn’t coming so easy. Nor are many other poses I once rocked. And it sucks.
But as a teacher, and student trying to follow her own advice, I’m learning that with an aging body comes many gifts, including mindfulness, patience, and wisdom. Consider these guidelines to keep your practice strong, safe, and joyful as you age:
1. Choose Your Classes Wisely
I rarely take Power Hour classes anymore, unless I know the teacher well and feel comfortable with their pacing and style. These days, I prefer slower Salutations and a longer, sweeter Savasana (hey, at this age I’ve earned it!). Consider also your teacher’s skill level with aging bodies – are they competent offering a modification for an arthritic joint or tricky knee, for example?
You might also want to consider your fellow students – you might be more mindful practicing alongside similar ages vs. 20-something college athletes.
2. Start Every Practice In Child’s Pose or Sukasana Pose.
I need this time to get quiet and figure out what my body is trying to tell me. Taking time in the beginning to listen to the signals your body is sending out will result in a stronger and more joyful practice. Let that dictate your practice instead of whatever agenda you came to class armed with.
Choosing an agenda rife with expectations over your body’s needs is guaranteed to lead to frustration and even injury. A healthy Bridge pose will feel a whole lot better than a busted Wheel on those days you wake up with an achy back.
3. Eyes On Your Own Mat.
Oh, how I’d love to say I never check out what’s happening on the other mats in the room. As enlightened as I think I am about not comparing my practice to others, especially the young pups in the room, I still catch a glance every now and then.
It’s a tough habit to break – from past distance running competitions to whom among my girlfriends could grow their nails the longest – one upping the other felt like a harmless game of fun. But yoga asks us to look within, not outward, to find strength and wisdom. Resist the urge to glance around the room and commit to honoring your practice and maturing body in all its glory.
4. Lose The Bank Account Mindset.
“But I’ve invested at least a thousand badass handstands! Why can’t I keep on rockin’ it upside down?”
I get it. Not a day that goes by that I don’t feel some frustration over why now, after years of practice, my handstands are less stable and scarier than they were 10 years ago. But I’m recognizing that life doesn’t work that way. I’ve learned to stop viewing my practice as a bank account stored with guaranteed results. Try changing your perspective to one of gratitude over what you can do, right now, versus what you used to do.
I can’t think of a more direct route into a strong, mindful yoga practice than through powerful Ujjayi breath.
Allowing your breath to guide you from one pose to another, and to tolerate the natural discomforts that arise in long holds will keep you present, powerful, and all around awesome as you age gracefully through yoga and beyond.