As a teacher of yoga for almost two decades, I have seen many students’ practices fluctuate over the years. I’ve also experienced a similar fluctuation. Since I began practicing 40 years ago, my now 57-year-old body isn’t moving as fast and fluidly as it used to. I’m tighter and not as strong as I once was, old injuries get cranky, and I find I need a lot more time to warm up and cool down.
Giving up my practice is not an option. But neither is pain and discomfort. Which is why I have recently begun a re-evaluation of my approach and relationship to yoga, realizing it is time to adapt to and reorient around the aging process.
During this contemplation, I was reminded of the classical yoga tradition of Sri T. Krishnamacharya and his philosophy of the stages of life. Each day, the sun rises, peaks, and sets. Our lives can be viewed through this lens of the various phases of the sun: Sunrise is considered a period to cultivate development and captures our youth; mid-day might be considered a therapeutic stage, which happens mid-life; and sunset is a time for self-reflection and self-realization, which happens as we approach the end of our lives.
I believe that with a clearer understanding of the life phase in which you dwell, a yoga practice can be designed that will most appropriately meet your needs and disposition. To show you how, I’ve broken down one of the most common asana sequences—the Sun Salutation—for each of the three stages of life.
8 Poses for the Sunrise Phase of Life
During this period (which lasts until about age 25), our communication, intellects, and bodies are developing. This is a time when we are bursting with energy, adventure, and curiosity. To facilitate this growth and exhilaration, a personal practice designed to cultivate strength and vitality is best suited to a developing young person. Asana practices such as Power Yoga, Ashtanga, and Hot Yoga are appropriate.
In conjunction with asana, the study of yogic texts, such as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, is encouraged. These sutras (short, concise pearls of wisdom) were originally passed on from teacher to student through chanting and memorization. In fact, students had to learn how to perfect the Sanskrit chanting before ever learning the meaning behind each sutra. This technique not only helped developed a fierce memory, but also initiated the study and inquiry of the philosophy of yoga. Through this inquiry, students were primed for the challenging ups and downs of a full life.
8 Poses for the Mid-day Phase of Life
This phase—which begins around age 26 and can last until 70—is also known as the householder phase. An appropriate yoga practice would be one in which an individual is supported in his or her ability to fulfill obligations and responsibilities within the work environment, to the community, and to family. Stability needs to be cultivated at the level of physical structure, physiological health, as well as emotional well-being. During this phase, it is imperative to focus on injury prevention and rehabilitation, energetic replenishment, nervous system regulation, and stress management.
An ideal asana practice would include adaptations of poses to accommodate anatomical imbalances. Viniyoga and Iyengar Yoga are ideal methodologies for this stage in that they support the individual to achieve maximum benefits without depleting energy or compromising structure. In addition, it is at this phase that a regular practice of pranayama is nurtured. Asana is no longer the focus, but is the vehicle upon which breath travels. Through breath control, vitality is cultivated and maintained.
8 Poses for the Sunset Phase of Life
As the obligations and responsibilities of the householder start to wane, we begin to contemplate the meaning of life, share our wisdom, and prepare for a merging of the soul back to source. The Sunset phase starts around 70 and goes until the end of life. It is a time when connection to Spirit is deeply developed and embraced in anticipation of the final moments of life.
If you’re going through a yoga asana practice, modify your Sun Salutation as you did in the Mid-Day phase. But keep in mind yoga practice now moves further away from asana and grows in refinement of pranayama, meditation, prayer, and ritual. Ideally, fear of death is conquered—and a peaceful mind and heart can be nurtured. The poses here are a modification of the traditional Sun Salutation, designed to prepare the body to sit for meditation and pranayama.
About the Author
Ellen Patrick, E-RYT 500, is a yoga teacher and certified yoga yherapist. Learn more at YogaSanctuary.net.