Yoga: A Practice for the Ages—and for all ages
By JiJi Russell
Have you ever said to yourself, “Wow. I wish I would have known/done [fill in the blank] back when I was younger”? A lot of yoga students over the years have expressed that sentiment to me when they take up the practice of yoga. The statement reveals the possibility of remarkable discoveries and changes we can make when we slow down and listen to our bodies, minds, and spirits.
Of all the nagging “coulda, woulda, shouldas” that I can dream up, one thing I do feel grateful to have found at just the right time was my yoga practice. In truth, I think any time is a good time to begin yoga. The practice has followed me (or I have followed it) through many life stages, and it still captures my attention almost 20 years later. It is the most adaptable mind-body practice that I have yet to encounter in my [certain number of] years immersed in holistic wellness. To highlight some of the many oft-recited benefits of a regular yoga practice: improved focus and concentration; decreased anxiety; greater strength, flexibility, and balance; better sleep; more energy; a heightened spiritual connection; and even better digestion.
When I began a yoga practice in earnest in my 20s, I felt invigorated to find a full-body workout that offered something “more” than just a good sweat for me; something that stuck with me longer than simply the time I spent on the mat. The practice seemed to trickle into my life in the most curious ways, as it so often does for those who stick with it long enough to make their own discoveries.
The very first yoga class I can remember attending took place in the 1980s in a church recreation hall. The scene was typically Jane Fonda-esque for the times, women wearing headbands and leotards, with a smattering of funky vinyl mats spread around the room. I gladly threw my legs over my head into the “plow pose” that evening (not a pose I would ever recommend for beginners) and overall had a pleasant, if a little bit weird time (I was a teenager, after all).
It wasn’t until about 10 years after the church hall experience that I began taking a regular yoga class. The place was New York City, and the teacher was a lovely French woman named Sophie. I enjoyed her voice and her matter of fact delivery. “Dees pose will correct your digestion.” Not that I really cared much about my digestion at that point. But it was an interesting factoid that I must have filed for later on, because now I can’t stop thinking about good digestion. It’s a vital part of feeling well and energetic. But I do diverge . . . .
Fast forward through five years of dedicated study as a student of yoga, followed by an intensive yoga teacher training at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, and I find myself today about to close my 11th year of teaching. As I reflect, I feel no less convinced of the abundance of gifts that yoga can bestow to the aspirant. It does take consistent time and effort—no one but you can do the practice for you—but the rewards keep me, and thousands of others, coming back to the mat time after time.
As the regularity of my practice in the last six years has been whittled down quite significantly due to family and work obligations, I’ve been able to experience firsthand how many of the benefits I enjoyed while maintaining a daily practice have, indeed, slipped away. I try not to be too hard on myself, realizing that having to demote the priority of something that I love so dearly and then to beat myself up about it amounts to a double insult. Instead, I often look to the timeless philosophy that underpins the yoga tradition to guide me. The philosophy, like the daily practice, seems to have a super-elastic power to stretch into past and future generations and yet remain relevant. And so I do still arise at 5 in the morning several mornings a week to do my yoga.
After all these years, the place I’ve come to with my practice took even me by surprise. I wish now to hand this great tool for living down to the next generation, our children. I believe that these times we’re living in present great and mounting challenges to our physical, mental, and spiritual health. Since yoga, over thousands of years, has successfully woven in and out of numerous cultures and religions, it offers a great playing field for the expressive, curious, and playful nature of a child. It also offers something I believe we all, in some way, desire, which is permission to slow down and find peace within us.
Learning to tap into the power source of the breath; how to hone the mind’s focus; how to nurture the joyfulness that we find in the company of friends and loved ones: this is the stuff of a children’s yoga class. Yoga, at its best, brings the practitioner—old or young—into a more meaningful connection to oneself and awakens one’s connection to nature and the greater community of humankind.
In this hurry-up-and-go world we live in, giving our children a little time out might go a long way to uplifting the hearts and soothing the minds of our next generation.
As the Barns of Rose Hill expands its community-oriented offerings, look for new yoga class offerings, including an adult class on Tuesday evenings and my class, “Yoga Yah-Yahs,” for elementary school-aged children, coming October 1. The kids’ class will offer an opportunity to “get the yah-yahs out” while we discover the natural rhythms of our bodies, breath, and energy. With a sound tapestry of world music, we will move in and out of beats, rhythms, yoga poses, and stillness. Each class will end with a quieting down period, into the practice of “savasana,” or deep relaxation and meditation from the yoga tradition.
JiJi Russell, a yoga instructor and Integrative Nutrition health coach, serves as the wellness coordinator for American Public University in Charles Town, W.Va. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Resources for yoga adult yoga classes in Clarke County
Turi Nevin-Turkel: anandaverve.blogspot.com
Clarke County Parks and Recreation: http://www.clarkecounty.gov/parks/parks-and-recreation.html
For information on Yoga Yah-Yahs, for 5–11 year olds, see barnsofrosehill.org/events or call 540-955-2004.