When the body can’t keep up

I am months away from being 58 years old and the 60-years-old milestone is just around the corner (“Do not go gentle into that good night…”). My generation may have been pioneers in introducing yoga and other Eastern disciplines in the States, but I don’t see a lot of them out on the mat. What lessons have I learned from yoga and fitness in general? None of the following is earth-shattering, but I just want to list them.

  1. A senior body is on a steady downward slope of entropy. Having a practice may slow the decline or, more hopefully, reverse it. Taking a week off can be a real setback to keeping fit. You need to do something everyday.
  2. Muscle strength is acquired more slowly than during early adulthood, and recovery from exertion takes longer. For me, that works out to taking two days of vigorous yoga and taking a day off for more restorative or yang yoga.
  3. Flexibility can be changed over months of work, not days or week. My sense is that it’s much harder to change fascia than muscle tissue.
  4. Balance seems to be the slowest factor to come around. I still feel that I need a wall nearby, just in case.
  5. The natural weight gain that comes with age is really hard to get rid of. My extra 15-plus pounds really weighs me down through a 90 minute practice, and even gets in the way of certain poses.
  6. My metabolism seems to function at a different level than younger practitioners. My breathing rhythm seems to be a lot faster than the pace given by instructors, too, especially once we’ve built up some heat. This may be due to pre-existing diminished lung capacity (I was a smoker for too long): I am still surprised by nuanced improvements from pranayama.
  7. The key qualities that I need to cultivate are awareness and acceptance — awareness because I need to perceive and know where I am and how far I can go, and acceptance because that’s the starting point for change and emotional release.
  8. Use it or lose it. Given these conditions, anyone should always have a fitness practice and never abandon it in the first place.

But in the end, yoga is yoga. Even if I cannot transform myself in the equivalent of Ana Forrest or Dave Williams, it will still reward me in other ways that have nothing to do with my body.