learning to live with risk, uncertainty, awkwardness
I am seeing more writing dealing with issues of older Ashtanga practitioners. Recently, I was thrilled by the resonating words of KPJAYI authorized teacher Karen Cairns. I must share some of her wisdom.
Karen and I both started Ashtanga very late. She in her fifties; I, much later. I think the advantage is that we cannot say, "Oh, my practice has changed (implied/stated: for the worse) with age." We have no comparison to an early practice self—It's ALL "progress!"
In Ashtanga Yoga: It’s Not Just for the Young!, I particularly relate to Karen's thoughts about empowerment from facing fears (including death), praying to stand up from backbend (oh yeah!) and viewing the practice as seva or service, free from monetary or teaching goals.
Thank you, Karen Cairns, for expressing your thoughts and feelings so beautifully and putting words to many of mine!
Here are three quotes for yogis and people of all ages from her essay (boldface, my addition):
Is my difficulty with this pose due to a physical limitation...or is it a psychological limitation or both? Many of my limitations have been due to fear, I know. Facing these fears empowers me beyond belief. So many things I do not know how to do and have never done. I am learning how to live with uncertainty, with risk, with awkwardness. And because of this I am less afraid to die- just one more thing I don’t know how to do and have never done.
Many of the challenges of this yoga are the same no matter what age one is: issues of youth and age, definitions of “progress” or what it means to be “good” at this yoga, facing one’s limits both physically and mentally, and facing one’s own mortality. What would be “success” for me with this practice? These are good questions, the best questions. For me my success is found in the quality of my daily life off the mat [but this doesn’t mean that I don’t pray, Dear Lord, please let me stand up out of a backbend!].
As an older student, often the oldest that has not been practicing ashtanga for years and years [since they were much younger], my ideas of personal success and my “goals” for myself may be quite different from younger students. Certainly it is easier for me at this life stage to live a quieter, more contemplative lifestyle; I am past the householder stage of life. Many young students want to teach in a yoga studio and perhaps own their own yoga studio or shala eventually. These are not my goals. I do know that I want to share this practice with others, however I can. At this life stage, since I am retired, I want to do this as some sort of seva or service with others, rather than for profit or to “make a living.” I know I want to continue my practice, to daily stand on my mat and face all my issues and questions about my life, death, body, mind, what do I consider a life well-lived, and what brings me joy. When I am at my clearest, most of the time, I know without a doubt that success is here right now for me with how I feel and how I am living. I am already blessed. Dhanyo aham. I am blessed.
—from "Ashtanga Yoga: It's Not Just for the Young. For complete essay, go to:
I am blessed.
We are blessed!