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Yoga Gets Better
with Age!

by Lilias Folan

As we get older, our physical, emotional, and spiritual needs change, and in many ways, yoga can help us through those changes

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Back in the 1960s, the hatha yoga classes that I both took and taught were quite different than they are today. There might have been 50 students on an outdoor platform, and we were all doing the same yoga postures, the same way. Ages 20 to 80, all different sizes and shapes, many different fitness levels, yet we were not offered any variation in the way we did our postures. Few cautions were spoken. Everyone inhaled to the count of five and exhaled to the count of five. Each student tried to perform the postures perfectly--no matter if their bodies complained. There was not a sticky mat, Lili Pad, belt, blanket, or block in sight.

During those years, I began to notice something very troubling. I was developing injuries where before there were none. My friends could do magnificent scorpion arm balances, but in private told me how painful it was to sit straight in meditation. Almost everyone had a callus or puffy bruise on the back of the neck from doing shoulder stands on a bare floor. Perhaps you might have tried yoga and experienced similar discomfort. How could yoga postures, so highly touted as vehicles of physical and mental health, cause such discomfort?

In light of these disturbing questions, I knew there had to be a better way. Some problems, I could figure out for myself. I looked at the parts of the body as if they were links of a chain. If one link was weak, it affected the whole chain. But I could only go so far with my own limited experience and observations.

At just the right time, two brilliant yoga teachers came into my life, both of whom had studied for years with the great yogi Mr. B. K. S. Iyengar. Bernard Rishi and Angela Farmer gave me new insight about bodily alignment, the use of props, and ways to help students avoid injury. They also encouraged me to find my own voice as a teacher. I began to develop the teaching style that has come to be known as “Lilias yoga,” a method that offers customized techniques and instructions for different body types and levels of fitness.

These days, many yoga teachers and reputable yoga schools are developing their own approaches to the practice based upon up-to-date information in anatomy, physiology, orthopedics, and other areas of medical science. Most good yoga teachers continually study to update their knowledge and increase their own skill. Much attention is paid to alignment, and students are instructed in safe approaches to every posture. The use of props is common to help students ease into postures, as well as to aid relaxation. As my swami from Madras predicted, over these last few decades, we have taken yoga to new levels.

This evolution has been not only in the physical realm; many Westerners are seeing how yoga also affects their spiritual, emotional, and mental selves. For me, yoga has been a journey into the many layers of Self, a profound tool for helping answer the question, “Who am I?” I’m learning that part of getting to know yourself is being able to look at your life as both an inner and an outer journey. I picture my outer journey as horizontal--I’m walking along and I can see the horizon, and all the familiar landmarks along the way. It is what I’m doing and where I’m going. My inner journey is vertical--with no horizon, no specific goal. In this journey, I’m taking one step at a time. I don’t look backward or forward, but experience each moment. I am not doing--I am being.

The joy in the journey does not necessarily come from reaching a goal or from attaining the summit. Joy comes from what transpires along the way. Probably the most fascinating thing I’ve discovered is that my yoga journey gets better with age. And age gets better with yoga. As I’ve gotten older, my physical, emotional, and spiritual needs have changed, and in many ways, yoga has helped me through those changes. My practice of yoga has changed too, and now more than ever, I find that it is just what I need--in my body, my mind, and my soul.

Excerpted with permission from Lilias! Yoga Gets Better With Age ©2005 by Lilias Folan, published by Rodale, Emmaus, Pennsylvania. Available in stores or visit www.rodalestore.com.

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