Old Man Yoga

Neal Pollack isn't quite ready to join the senior league, but he's happy to give up the faced-paced yoga of his early years.
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Neal Pollack isn't quite ready to join the senior league, but he's happy to give up the faced-paced yoga of his early years.
older man mature yogi arm balance astavakrasana eight angle pose

The other week, I went to a Tuesday lunchtime yoga class. There were 20 or so people there. Immediately upon arriving, I realized that I was the only one under 60 years old. It was as though I'd brought my mat to a Sun City activity room. From the beginning, the class was very easy, almost ridiculously so, a series of simple bends and twists. The teacher actually had us practice crawling for a couple of minutes, as though we were doing some sort of infantile regression therapy. Yet at 42, I felt as though I belonged in old man yoga. My spine crackled constantly; my pelvis felt like a locked steering wheel. This was what I needed now.

I used to do the hot sweaty vinyasa with the sexy young Southern California things, took the Friday night candlelight DJ class, practiced the Ashtanga primary series until my vrittis nirodah-ed away. Yes, I was a trendy young yogi once, too. And then I got hurt.

My knees buckled. I walked with a cane on occasion. Sometimes my left hamstring felt like machaca,  a kind of Mexican shredded meat that I like to eat more than I should. I tried to find something to blame for my physical troubles, but yoga was the logical culprit, as it's my only physical activity other than walking the dog. My yoga practice was making it hard for me to practice yoga. So I had to make a change.

Last summer, we moved cities, not because of my yoga injuries—that wouldn't have made much sense—but because we had to cut costs. I had an opportunity for a fresh yogic start. For a few months, I eagerly sampled my new city's wares, like a hungry stoner at a salsa bar. I encountered some good teachers, others not so good. There was a bit too much whipping my leg around behind my head from Downward Dog. I strained a knee tendon doing Eagle Pose. Finally, though, I settled into a routine: a couple of days of Ashtanga a week to keep my arms taut, some home practice, a Saturday morning yin class, meditation here and there. It wasn't intense, and it wasn't six days a week like the books recommend, but it was enough for me.

I started going to classes with one senior teacher who, though he would have been welcomed at any yoga joint in town, instead chose to quietly give his sessions at dance studios and martial arts centers. He didn't do things in the usual order. Often, the first Down Dog didn't occur until there were 10 minutes left in class. One session, he spent many minutes showing us how to lay across a bench. Some of it made sense to me, some of it didn't. Regardless, I found his classes strangely compelling. I felt really good when I was done.

And so I ended up in his old-man yoga class. I think he saw that I was bored that day, because he continually came over and gave me some more challenging options. He could see that my body, and my ego, needed more of a workout. That eased my fears. It wasn't time for me to practice at the senior center yet.

But we're not all going to be able to do our fancy practices forever. I've now seen the path forward. Yoga waits for you in whatever stage of life you find yourself. It's nice to know it'll be there when I'm old, to help soothe my aching joints. At the very least, it'll give me something fun to do on a Tuesday afternoon.