Yoga & Ayurveda: Aging in your Yoga Practice

Eww. yuk. Here’s something we don’t want to talk about. Aging. It’s a dirty, ugly, disgusting word: aging.

Nah. It’s a good thing. We’re growing. We’re becoming different versions of ourselves. We’re becoming wiser and more in tune with our own true nature (yoga is super helpful with this part).

“As the practice of yoga matures, desires cease to be the expression of need and become instead the spontaneous unfolding of love.” –Alistair Shearer

Tao Porchon-Lynch. She’s 100 and still practicing yoga. (photo: Huff Post)

There are challenges for us as we age.

Friday YaYa: we talked about over stretching in the older body (we’re not talking “old”, we’re talking as we head into and beyond our forties). This is the time that our Ojas (juiciness/estrogen/yin/brahmana) producing parts of the body begin to slow down. This reduction in juiciness has whole body effects. The elasticity of tendons and ligaments begins to become compromised. Our joint capsules and the cushioning parts in our joints dry out. Our skin and hair dries out. We begin to loose elasticity and juiciness. (This does not just apply to women, so men, keep reading)

This is Vata. The biological dosha of deterioration (yuk, sorry, now that’s an icky word…say it again: deterioration, one more time: deterioration). With age and wisdom, comes deterioration in some way, shape, or form. Especially if we’ve actually used our body, which we all have. Used and/or abused. What’s that quote? Ahh, here it is:

As we age, these qualities of Vata naturally rise up in our physical body: dry and cold. Dry and cold is deteriorating. Here’s another thing, if Pitta is high in transition, then we get a double whammy; Pitta’s overheating quality will dry out Vata even more. Think about hot flashes; we sweat and we lose water, which means we’re losing juiciness. If we are blessed with a lot of Kapha (the dosha of juiciness) we may experience less deterioration. Kapha is naturally juicy and less hot. If we’re naturally high Vata, we’re going to experience more of these dry, cold qualities. This is where the interplay of your Doshas becomes important.

The other BIG thing about Vata is that is rules Movement. When there are dry and brittle places of the body, the natural flow of the body doesn’t move quite as easily and freely as it does over well lubricated channels (think about electricity/nervous system: it moves better over water).

If we have tissue that is distorted, overstretched, or broken the natural movement doesn’t flow as well. If we have blockages, things don’t flow as well. If there’s tingling or pain, you can bet Vata is at play. Movement is super important in the body. Without movement, there’s no animation at all.

This is why maintaining movement through ALL stages of life is so vital for health and wellness. We need to find the right movement for our personal constitutions and Vata, Pitta, and Kapha also rule the stages of life, so there are universal times for appropriate movement for each. In general, the early stage of life is the time for more vigorous, sweaty, get moving movement (Kapha). The middle stage of life is about staying cool and balanced through the hot chase your dreams stage of life (Pitta).

The later stage of life (menopause timeframe, and before if you’ve worked your body hard: chronic disease, chronic stress, chronic anything…) is the time for more gentle practices. I didn’t say easy. I never said easy. Gentle as in cultivating more awareness of what you are doing with your body. Really knowing where the Edge is in your personal practice and working with that, not against it. Using your practice to move not just the physical body, but the subtle body as well, learning the deeper nuances of You and your body. It becomes, because we are deeper and wiser, a deeper practice of mind, body, and spirit. It becomes a wise practice.

Aging doesn’t mean you have to give up your favorite challenging classes. Your practice is to be more mindful of your needs and work harder to maintain a better balance of depleting practices with nourishing practices. Nourishing is key; it’s the antidote to depletion/deterioration.

When we overstretch (injure) a young body, we can recover faster OR we can manage (ignore, perhaps; mask, perhaps) the injury, but it will often come back to bite us later in life (Ayurveda calls these: weak spaces). Think back on a few of your former injuries that are coming back to become weak spaces. The more injuries, pulls, strains, over-stretching through our life, the more we have to deal with as we age. Movement keeps our weak spaces from becoming stuck and clogged.

Tension. Tension and stress are biggies. When we constantly hold tension in our bodies (over the long term), we begin to compromise our tissues. These already dry, cold, stagnant tissues get more and more stuck. They don’t move as freely in these areas, and we can be more prone to injuries and stickiness in these tension prone areas. We might build up “protective” tissue that doesn’t normally belong there. Tension has a tendency to create habitual misalignment. Movement is important to ease out tension, break up excess tissue, and realign the body (break habits).

Joints. Joints are a universal ‘weak space’ and the more we use them, and use them in the wrong way (misuse), the more wear and tear they build up. This means that just as we need more juiciness to support bones and joints that are being worn down, we have less juiciness to support the basic needs, let alone a compromised need. Movement is important to bring in juiciness and warmth.

Be sure to have extra supportive, nourishing poses, as part of your daily practice. Grounding practices that are calming and stress reducing to help alleviate those tension places. Watch alignment. It may not hurt today or next week or next month, but when we consistently hold poses in misalignment, we put undue pressure on the joints.

I believe these practices are for everyone, especially to balance our society’s love of over pushing. Yes, strive, push, chase dreams, but balance it with stress reducing practices. Trust me, this will serve you later in life, simply by cultivating, sooner rather than later, habits that are nourishing AND teaching our children that Radical Self Care is not a selfish act.

With age comes wisdom. Truly. (yoga helps).

Supportive Ayurvedic Tips:
Nourish the joints, places of tension, injured/overstretched places, tingling places, and dry places with massage oil. A go to oil for Vata, bones, and joints would be Mahanarayan. If you’re feeling overall depleted or weak Ashwaganda Bala Oil is a great choice. Plain sesame is a simple & lovely option. Avoid coconut, as it does not have the deep nourishment of sesame or sesame oil based herbal oils.
Nourish from the inside out. Ghee is a great tissue nourisher. Make ghee, and other healthy oils, a part of your daily food intake. Golden Milk is one of the best way to get ghee and an array of supportive spices into the body (you can even tweak the recipe to your personal imbalance/needs/support weak spaces).
Bone broth can be a great boost for weak bones, joints, and deep weak immunity/chronic autoimmune imbalances. Some of you might be wondering why I would suggest meat in a yoga setting, but Ayurveda is about overall health. A more depleted Vata body needs more nourishment. A good (I suggest home made) bone broth is one of the best bone, joint, and deep tissue (all the way to the marrow) nourishers there is.
Drink plenty of water (warm is best) or warm herbal teas. Vata is dry and cold. The tissues are losing elasticity and juiciness,. Water is the Juice of Life.
Oil your whole body. You can even oil your hair. This can be a nice, weekly oil treatment or add some to your shampoo and conditioner, depending on your hair type and time of year (fall and early winter is Vata time-it’s also a time of cold, dry, and depletion).

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