Yoga Teacher Training at 56 (385 in dog years)
This afternoon I went out on my deck with a cookie in one hand and a glass of water in the other. Paige, my seven year old neighbor, was on her deck directly across the way and we looked at each other. She had a snack in one hand and a glass of water in the other. I blinked. She yelled over that she had a snack, then asked what I was doing? “I’m snacking too,” I told her. Then she went on to pursue a line of inquiry in the typical seven year old way, asking me where I would live if there were no houses? (my car), if there were no cars? (under a bridge) if there were no bridges (her house?) No! Under a tree, silly.
I welcomed this foray into my seven year old self because today I was actually giving myself permission to quit yoga teacher training IF I needed (wanted) to. That is how hard it is for me. At 56, I am the oldest student in the class. And truth be told, these classes are geared for people in their twenties and thirties. The upside is my arthritic right knee and my arthritic neck don’t hurt anymore because I’ve strengthened my muscles doing all of this yoga. I’m meditating regularly again. I’m reading The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Bhagavad Gita, but Lord have mercy, this work is hard.
I’ve been doing yoga on and off for 35 years. In my twenties and thirties I could stand in Vrksasana (Tree Pose) easily. Until very recently, I’ve had to lean against an $80,000 refurbished brick wall in the studio to hold it. I’m thinking 56 is not the new 36. I’m thinking 56 is the new 66. Because that is how I feel. And the fact is, I am 385 years old in dog years and I’m 660 months old. So, work with me here, people.
I decided to take yoga teacher training for a lot of reasons. I was carrying 40 extra pounds. My work life is sedentary. I was getting short of breath on hikes and having trouble seeing my feet in the shower. I attended the Breathe Yoga Festival in June and didn’t take one yoga class. My hips hurt, my lower back screamed just from sitting on the ground all weekend. I had invested in extra-large yoga pants. Really?
Last year, in a yoga class (not a beginners class because nobody does beginner classes!), our teacher was a skinny, beautiful, strong, hip yoga teacher. She was having us hold a pose and in passing, mentioned that often, older people have numbness in their feet. Well, yes, my friend Clarissa and I do get that. She said it’s because they are slowly leaving their body, getting ready for their final transition (she meant death, friends). I slowly turned my head until my horrified look was reflected in my friend’s face. Welcome to yoga in your fifties! Not only do you lean against walls because, frankly, you are quite incapable of balance, but now your teacher is absent-mindedly reminding you that your next step in life is death. What’s not to love?
I made the decision at the Breathe Yoga Festival that I would take yoga teacher training starting in September. That meant committing to showing up two to three times a week at yoga classes to get my strength back.
All summer long, no matter what, no matter how I felt, no matter how early the class was, I Just. Showed. Up.
By the time training began in September, I had a good solid 3 months of yoga classes behind me.
The first class back to yoga after the Festival wasn’t easy. It was the first class since November 2015. It took me a while to remember that because of all the dizziness, nausea and knee pain I was feeling. It was a 9am class. By 9:05 am we’re already going to into downward dog. I’d been up since 4:30 am, had coffee, water, a bit of breakfast and I immediately got dizzy. And nauseous. I should have told my friend, Clarissa, a safe word to use in case I thought I was 1. Dying 2. Having a stroke 3. Fainting. Something simple like: “help!” before I dropped. But we never plan ahead. And besides, she hid so far in the back row, I couldn’t even see her.
The fact that I was wildly uncomfortable in this class only spurred me on. I was not to miss ONE class all summer and added a third on Sunday mornings. So I thought, you know, this yoga teacher training would work out. But truly? It is ridiculously hard.
Choosing to turn to yoga teacher training and yoga itself is about going inward. I’m an introvert. These days I have quiet aspirations: do yoga consistently, become a registered yoga instructor, finish my degree in psychology and think long thoughts. Oh, and be the person my dog thinks I am. I want to age gracefully, more Susan Sarandon than Barbara Bush.
This upcoming weekend is my third weekend of yoga teacher training. My body is changing. My thighs and abs are tightening up. I am sore most of the time (all of the time) and yesterday my soreness was sore. But sweet baby Jesus, I believe in miracles because I think my butt is getting smaller! Yoga teacher training is definitely the personification of “one step at a time.” If I even dare look ahead to future weekends, I whimper like a baby. So I’m forced to live in the now. Each day. Tonight I can manage 3 hours of practice and lecture. Tomorrow morning I will be able to manage what tomorrow brings. I can’t look back. And I definitely can’t look forward as it would scare the hell out of me! I’m like an alcoholic saying, “Today, just for today I know I can show up to yoga teacher training. I don’t know about tomorrow. But today, yes, I can.”
I am practicing holding the light for myself; prayers, meditation. Today, did I give myself permission to quit if I needed (wanted) to? Yes. But as Anne Lamott likes to say, there are only 2 types of prayers: “Help, help, help. And, thank you, thank you, thank you.” I live here now: Help! At the end of this weekend I hope I’ll be saying: thank you.
photo: Catherine Just
Deborah Coyote lives in the rocky mountains of Colorado and is finishing her degree in psychology.
She is a writer, yogi, singer and ridiculously decided to take yoga teacher training at the age of 56.
She lives with her rescue dog Kai and enjoys having profound conversations with her seven year old neighbor, Paige. While eating cookies.
You can follow her on Instagram