“Progress in the practice of yoga postures de-ages us, peeling away the years.” – Rolph Gates.
This is not, first and foremost, about looking younger. Although that happens too. In Meditations from the Mat, Gates reflects on his transformation, through yoga, from a heavily muscled soldier and body-builder, to a leaner, more pared down practitioner of yoga. What does it mean to be so heavily armored physically – with muscle, with excess weight – and what does it mean to let that go?
As we age, moving from childhood to adulthood, we are driven to layer over the innocence and vulnerability of our youth – with sophisticated habits and manners, expensive possessions, by bulking or modifying our physical appearance. This doesn’t happen in a vacuum: the fear or defensiveness that leads to this behavior is greatly exacerbated by a bombardment of media images and messages aimed at us, day in, day out.
If we and what we own are physically impressive enough, perhaps we can protect our tender hearts.
But the weight of this ages us. You see it in our faces, in the way we move physically, in the absence of a light spirit when we wake up in the morning. In the tentative way we express our love for each other.
I did not begin to practice yoga thinking about any of this. But eventually, if you keep at it, this shift starts to happen. One day you wake up and look in the mirror and the person looking back at you seems like someone you once knew, a long time ago. Younger, more hopeful. It is an experience that is both wonderful and unnerving.
People often mistake my age, thinking I am younger than my 52 years. In my journey along the winding path of yoga, much has been set aside that was finally too heavy to carry anymore. Intractable relationships, large and multiple homes, possessions that required too much of my attention. My inclination to use alcohol and my New Yorker’s pretense of sophistication as my “armor”, have also finally been cut loose.
I am lighter. It is easy for me to laugh, to be more silly and ridiculous, which in some ways feels like my natural state. I love my friends intensely and they know it, and I am finally able to tell my family that I love them, too. Romantic love …. still a tough one. But it seems to me now that anything is possible.
A woman I work with recently commented that she had me pegged as “a free spirit”. Even five years ago I can’t imagine “free spirit” and “me” having anything to do with each other. But through this physical prayer that is yoga, I have come to glimpse my own tender, youthful heart. And little by little, I let myself release all those things that are just too heavy to carry any further along this road.
Artwork by Mara Friedman, from ShamanTube