Are older yoga teachers the best yoga teachers?

Sue GrbicThis article of mine was published in The Yoga Lunchbox on the 21st October 2013.  Hope you enjoy it!

‘So many younger people are taking to yoga these days as opposed to thirty years ago when I was cutting my teeth as a student and yoga was still considered way too esoteric for your average citizen.

And what an assortment of choices on the yoga menu today!

Back in the day you were either an Iyengar student (and this was truly cutting edge) or doing what my teacher somewhat disdainfully and condescendingly called ‘fruit salad’ yoga (or old lady’s yoga).

Nowadays there’s a dizzying confusion of yoga ‘styles’ to choose from.

 And precisely because yoga is attracting so many young people, hundreds of young yoga teachers are emerging and trying to get established.

I started teaching when I was forty-five, pretty old by today’s yoga teacher standards.  I’m now in my early sixties so I guess that makes me really old by today’s reckoning!

So how do I manage to compete with the flood of gorgeous young things, all of whom look a whole lot sexier than me?  And who may well be able to bend and stretch and pivot and hold and reach rather better than me?

 Do I still have what it takes?  Am I still relevant?  Do students want older yoga teachers?

I guess the answer is some do and some don’t.  It all depends on why the student is practicing yoga.

If a student has not yet dug deep and is still ‘doing yoga’ as a form of exercise like many beginners (and hey – we almost all start there), then chances are they’ll want a yoga teacher who’s a little more spicy than me.  Check out the hot and sweaty classes, the power classes, the Astanga classes – they’re full of young (and wannabe young) students.

There’s no way I can compete with those kind of classes.

My teaching can only reflect my own practice if it is going to be ‘true’, and over the years my practice has become less complicated, less physically demanding, less strenuous.

It’s much more about the breath, the mind, meditation and the notion that yoga is a twenty-four hour a day practice rather than simply the hour or two we spend on the mat.

But send me the student who needs a bit of therapeutic yoga for their back pain, or the one who suffers from anxiety or depression or is simply overworked and stressed.

 Send me the student who understands that yoga is a way of life.

This is where the older yoga teacher often shines.

Our years of experience have taken us from where we thought we knew everything (or at least we felt as though we needed to convey this notion to our students) to where we realize that in fact we know very little.

But what we do know we have learned through personal experience, so that knowing is deep and certain.

Society would have us believe that growing older is a bad thing.

 What I believe is that aging is a gift that not all of us are handed, and as such, it is a time to be treasured and exploited to the fullest.

Our priorities change.

We can see that life is far less serious than we thought it was.

We learn (hopefully) to take ourselves less seriously too.

We begin to understand that it’s not all about  ‘What’s in it for me?’ but rather ‘How may I be of service?’

We can say with certainly ‘This too shall pass’ for we have seen this to be true over and over again.

We begin to understand that life is about joy and loving and being happy with the simple things. And that if we want to be happy we need to look within.  We need to find that place where happiness abides.

And then we can invite all  our students to take their own journey with us.’

 

 

Comments

  1. Love the blog Sue – really well written and the points made too are great … and yes, when I got into yoga it was simply that the asana made me feel clearer and more energised, and it was a gradual process into realising that yoga can be for my whole life and is an endless journey … which means that we can let go of trying to reach a goal and simply enjoy the trip it takes us on … I guess I would never have understood that in my 20s … having a bit more experience and thus understanding makes yoga sooo much more enjoyable and relevant!

    • Thanks Neal 🙂 – and I absolutely agree that letting go of having ‘a goal’ in yoga allows us to enjoy it that much more. Because when we look very deeply into the question of why we do yoga we come up with something real simple, like it makes me happier.

  2. Marilyn Davies says:

    This was a good read, enjoyed. I’m not so old but suffer from osteoporosis with spinal compression fracture. Been going to Pilates now for 6 years and love it and have been told both to try Yoga and not to try Yoga as not good due to my spine. I know the Pilates work I shouldn’t do and what I should do and usually have one on one sessions due to, well, no real emphasis anywhere on a condition that is so prevalent which is a shame. First of all, can you please answer the question – is it okay for me to introduce Yoga or not ? Do you know anywhere that caters for the condition I have?
    Thank you
    Marilyn

    • Hi Marilyn
      Thanks very much for your comments – what you are asking is quite complex as every individual case is a little different. However to answer your first question generically – in my opinion yoga can be very helpful BUT (and note how big the ‘but’ is!) you need to have a well qualified and experienced teacher. And by far your safest option would be, like with your Pilates, to go for one-on -one. At least until you have been taught what is safe for you to do and what is not. Then you could probably attend a group class and still be able to look out for yourself well enoungh 🙂
      If you’d like to continue this conversation please feel free to email me on sue@waihekeyogaroom.co.nz

  3. Thank you for this great article, Susan! As a yoga teacher who started teaching 4 years ago at age 39, and in a very competitive market FILLED with young teachers, every word resonated with me. Blessings from Vancouver, Canada.

    • So glad you enjoyed it Siobhan. To be honest I worry about all these young teachers being churned out – I’m sure many of them are very dedicated to yoga in its deepest sense but for many others yoga is simply another form of exercise. So can the ‘genuine article’ survive long enough in this over-filled market to actually make a living and go on to fulfil their potential? With love from New Zealand 🙂

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