Recently a former high school classmate posted a meme that caught my eye. It went something like this: “At my age, when I drop something on the floor I have to decide whether it’s worth the trouble to bend over and pick it up.” Many other former classmates chimed in to commiserate. I was stunned. I never even think twice about bending over to pick something up off the floor. In that moment, I felt such gratitude for yoga practice.
I started practicing in the early 1980s, when I was in my 20s. At the time, I felt so fortunate to have been born with a hypermobile body that could do pretty much any pose. For years, I took full advantage of my natural bendiness to practice lots of the “fancy” poses. I enjoyed the praise of my teachers and fellow students. Of course, my flexibility wasn’t something I’d worked for; I was born with it. But no matter, the praise felt good.
Everything Changes, Even Yoga Practice
I’d always thought that I’d be doing poses like Hanumanasana (Monkey Pose) and Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (Full Pigeon Pose) for the rest of my life. But my 50s brought a rude awakening. The cartilage in my shallow hip sockets (aka “hip dysplasia”) had worn down to nothing. Those hypermobile hip joints that had given me so much ego satisfaction had reached their expiration date.
No amount of yoga practice could save my hip joints. In 2015 and 2016, I had both sides replaced. In the years preceding the surgeries, I experienced a bit of what my classmate wrote about. As time passed, I lost simple functions that I’d previously taken for granted. I had to use my hands to pick my legs up to get them into a car. I couldn’t sleep on my left side. If I dared to change positions in bed, I experienced searing pain. Getting up off the floor was awkward.
Living with Ease
After the surgeries, the return to normal function was almost immediate. Decades of yoga practice had cultivated strength, agility and balance in my body. I was walking without crutches five days post surgery. Within a week, getting up off the floor was easy again. I could turn over in bed without pain. My rapid recovery inspired undying gratitude for yoga practice.
I no longer aim to keep practicing Monkey Pose or Full Pigeon if I make it to age 90. In fact, even though my body can still easily form these shapes, I’ve stopped practicing them.
Instead, I’ve fashioned my practice with the intention of living my best life in this body going forward. My yoga practice is now designed to allow me to live gracefully in this body, so I can negotiate stairs, hike in nature and squat in my garden. I never want to have to think twice about picking something up off the floor. And of course, there’s the mind-body side of practice that underlies it all—that feeling of calm energy that allows me to meet life’s challenges with more grace.
Gratitude for Yoga Practice
Most of my yoga students are in my age range, many of them much older. Every single one of them can bend over and pick things up, and practice yoga on the floor without fear that they might not be able to get back up. We’re all pretty much over the idea that there’s any benefit to wedging our ankles behind our heads. What’s important is being able to enjoy living in these bodies, even as they evolve with age.
Fancy poses can be fun. But direct your focus to those simple standby poses that will allow your practice to evolve with you. And every once in a while, remember to reflect on your gratitude for yoga practice and the commitment you’ve made to keeping your body strong, agile and balanced.