Ashtanga at 60

March 18, 2018 Opinion, Tradition

I turn 60 this year so the physical demands of Ashtanga have been on my mind a lot lately. It is, in my opinion, the most physically challenging Yoga practice there is. It’s not just the level of strength, balance and flexibility one needs to get through the practice, but the added stamina it takes to do it early in the morning before most sane people have climbed out of bed. And I’m just referring to primary series (there is intermediate series and then four more advanced asana practices after that).

One of the main goals of the primary series is to detoxify the body, to make it strong and healthy so that the mind functions optimally. According to the tradition, only then can higher states of awareness be realized.

In primary every muscle, every tendon, every ligament is stressed. There is a rejuvenating process that occurs at the cellular level that keeps these soft tissues healthy when stressed properly. The spinal rotations wring toxins from internal organs. The forward and back bending increases mobility and energizes the central nervous system. Our relationship with food changes. It becomes important what we put into our body because we are reconnected to it in such a profound way.

The conventional wisdom is that we become weaker and less flexible with age. I even play the age card in my head from time to time, thinking, “Dude, stop, you’re almost 60. Go play Bocci Ball.” But as I dive deeper into my practice I wonder how much of this loss of strength and mobility is real and how much of it is perceived. That is, our perceptions on aging inform our beliefs, and our beliefs inform our actions. We are told we slow with age. We believe we slow with age. So we do slow with age.

I love how my practice has changed as I’ve gotten older though. It has slowed in a sense. Progress is glacial compared to when I started. I’m less driven to conquer the next pose. I’m more relaxed about the process and less interested in aesthetics. I’m more focused on the quality of the breath than the particulars of the asanas. There’s a kind of surrender. But I still surprise myself even now by going further into certain postures than I thought possible (at any age). And it seems to happen unexpectedly, when I’m not even trying.

This has become a personal curiosity. It seems that when my practice is done in the form of devotion I tap into a reservoir of energy that would be inaccessible to me if I were just doing it for physical fitness. Where does this reservoir of energy come from? What is “That”? That is what I’m trying to find out. That’s why I do Ashtanga at 60.

Mantra of the day: So Hum.

Sit comfortably. Close the eyes. For 20 minutes silently inhale So and exhale Hum. So = I am. Hum = That. I am That.