Why are so many yoga teachers and serious yoga students “old”, as in past their twenties (sorry Tiff, I mean Gumby or whatever!)? As far as teachers go, I know that I wouldn’t particularly want to be taught by a young teacher (again, sorry Tiff). I like the wisdom and experience that comes with age in a yoga teacher. In vinyasa classes, there’s a lot of philosophizing and talking about life during class. I wouldn’t want to be philosophized to by someone younger and less experienced than me. In some Bikram classes I’ve been, too, same problem, only worse. I’ve heard the worst kind of drivel coming out of the mouths of some of the young Bikram teachers – stuff like, “if you do this, you will never get cancer”, and even if I had never had cancer, I would still think that to be idiotic.
In Ashtanga, the teacher is very much a therapist of sorts. Maybe not a psychotherapist. I mean, there’s not a lot of talking going on at all. But an Ashtanga teacher needs to read his students, to understand their needs in a very personal way, in a way that requires an abundance of skill, skill that can only be acquired over years and years of life, yoga practice and yoga teaching. I feel that Ashtanga teachers NEED to be “ripe”. I wouldn’t want one from “straight off the vine”.
As for Ashtanga students, well, the reality is that there are many young Ashtanga students, but because it is such a demanding practice, many young people can’t do what it requires. Forget staying out late. Forget partying. Forget promiscuity. Forget long gossip sessions. All of that stuff saps you of energy that you need if you are going to practice Ashtanga. Ashtanga requires a commitment of three to six days a week, and when I say three, I am being nice about it. In reality, it should be practiced every day except Saturdays and moondays. You can’t do that if your energies are all dissipated by a wild, youthful lifestyle. Of course,, if you are young and committed and determined, you can have a wonderful Ashtanga practice and take advantage of all of the youth that your supple body has to offer. But I find that Ashtanga is the type of practice that you grow into. It isn’t something I was ready for in my twenties. It’s something many people come to later on, when other things don’t work, when running gets old, when there’s a hunger for something more than just lifting a dumbell and logging miles on the elliptical.
The life experience that we oldies have under our belts reinforces our commitment to the yoga and tells us what we need to know to keep going: that practice and all iIS coming, that dedication and commitment DO matter, that the body is a wonderful thing and should be honored, and a demanding physical yoga practice like Ashtanga is a rewarding way to honor it.
So, that’s why we’re old.
As to fatness…Ashtangis tend to be among the skinniest of all yogis. You can’t look at Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and point him out as an example of fat ashtangis. Guruji is a portly man of 90 plus years. He no longer engages in the physical practice. His grandson, on the other hand, is a charismatic, supple-muscled, very slim man. His beautiful body reveals him as a devoted practitioner of Ashtanga. Look around at any shala – most people are slim. Most people are rather ageless-looking. Most people have heart-rates under 60 beats per minute and blood pressure at the low end of normal. Most people have enough muscle on their slender bodies to kick the proverbial ass of most casual gym-goers who outsize them.
I’m just saying.