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Making Peace with Your Age: Patricia Walden's words of widsom
Yet as more and more women became practitioners, they worked toward creating a discipline that would help women shed society’s destructive and inappropriate messages of the perfect body and the ideal women (buxom, flat-bellied, submissive). That allowed them to become strong and powerful and secure in their femininity, grace and individuality.
Dr. Geeta Iyengar, daughter of B.K.S. Iyengar, one of the fathers of American yoga, revolutionized the way many women practice yoga by emphasizing two things: First, she introduced restorative poses, modified versions of classic poses that often include some form of support, to bring a sense of calm and clarity to otherwise hectic lives. Second, she devised new ways of doing poses and put them in sequences that would enable women to honor their cycles, to practice according to what their bodies and minds needed at any given moment, and to reap the health benefits associated with becoming more integrated and balanced. Her sequences helped women go through the various stages of life gracefully and mindfully.
This feminization of yoga gives women the vehicle to move through and honor each stage of life — from the early years of adolescence and young adulthood to the hectic times of childbearing and career development; from the midlife changes of perimenopause to the wisdom of our elder years. It shows us the deep, abiding connection between our cycles and the cycle of the universe; it allows us to silence the outside chatter, the shoulds and shouldn’ts of life, and to hear and respond to the sound of our own voices.
Relieve the Pressures of Puberty
Adolescence is a difficult time for a young woman as she navigates the rough waters of puberty, filled with societal imperatives and peer pressures, while she struggles to find her own voice. No doubt you’re well aware of how the media shapes (and warps) your sense of self, how it bombards you with unrealistic images of sticklike women who have perfect skin, teeth and hair. All this makes the new body you’re discovering — with its acne, braces and sometimes expanding hips — that much harder to handle.
The greatest gifts yoga brings you are those of strength, awareness, and self-love or acceptance. No matter how awkward you feel in “real life,” a yoga class offers you a safe haven from your own insecurities and the judgments of others. The poses teach you to stand firm in your power, to reach out to the world from the core of your body. The strength you derive from yoga is emotional as well as physical. During yoga class, you are free to explore your own body, your own emotional needs and your own thoughts, unencumbered by the outside world.
Move Gracefully Through Midlife
In her 30s and 40s, a woman fights to define her place in the world, establish long-term relationships, and give birth to children or new ideas; she also feels alive, in motion, full to the brim with possibilities as she builds a life for herself. The midlife years may be a confusing time of raging hormones, depleted sexual energies and precarious body image, but these years also bring a woman more time to discover what she truly wants, more energy to speak out against injustice, more opportunities to speak her truth.
You straddle a fine line between being present in the world and being swallowed up by that world. If you’ve entered this stage in balance (and with your inner voice intact), you come ready to explore what the world has to offer and ready to share your gifts with that world. If you have lost touch with your inner4 voice, this stage of life brings lots of challenges, both physical and emotional. Not surprisingly, the most common physical complaints from women in this age group are stress-related. Tension headaches and migraines make you feel like you’re literally bursting at the seams. Back pain comes from tension, stress, doing the wrong kind of exercise and working too much. And even joyful occasions such as pregnancy stress your body and emotions.
A consistent, mindful yoga practice offers you a respite from the world, a break from all the responsibilities you shoulder, and a way to come home to yourself. Yoga gives you a chance to focus on your core, refuel, fill up your tank of compassion and put things back in perspective.
Age Healthfully and Youthfully
For many women, the time from their late 40s to their late 50s is not unlike going through puberty all over again. It’s not surprising, given society’s obsession with young, thin, beautiful women who are smart, agreeable, sexy and loving, that women whose bodies are softening and widening, who can no longer bear children, and who increasingly feel less agreeable and more critical, would succumb to depression.
A woman’s yoga practice during this time has much to offer. Physiologically, yoga can keep your endocrine system in balance. The adrenal glands must now produce the small amount of estrogen the body needs to function properly, but if they are depleted through stress, smoking, poor eating habits or compromised immunity, they can’t do their job. A variety of yoga poses, most specifically forward bends, twists and backbends, work to pacify and then activate the adrenals. Yoga also helps you overcome the fatigue, insomnia, anxiety and hot flashes that often characterize perimenopause.
Meanwhile, as the wise older woman may fear the ravaging effects of osteoporosis and heart disease, she is ready and willing to celebrate life in much the same way she did as a child; she combines the spirituality and intuitive nature of her preadolescent self with the wisdom and power that come froma lifetime of experience.
If you’ve succeeded in reaching 65 in good health, gerontologists say you have a good chance of living another 15 to 18 years. Your challenges at this important stage — and how you choose to handle them — will determine the richness of those additional years. Your body and mind need stimulation in order to stay strong and alert. Staying active in your community, doing a daily yoga class, reading, writing, keeping in touch with friends — all of these activities bring a sense of well-being, usefulness and joy that increase your ability to keep growing and age gracefully.
Make Yoga Your Change Agent
An ongoing yoga practice has a lot to offer no matter what stage of life you’re in. Physically, it can help to improve your strength, flexibility and balance, and to address specific problems, such as PMS, back pain, hot flashes and poor digestion. Yoga can also bring a spiritual and emotional element to your life. It requires that you focus exclusively on the present moment, which can help clear your mind and bring you a sense of peace.
We want yoga to become your companion for life — something that can sustain you when you’re well, shore you up when you’re depressed, and support you when you’re sick. Yoga can teach you to love yourself from the inside out; that reminds you each time you step onto the yoga mat that you are already perfect exactly the way you are. We want you to take the lessons you learn on the mat and use them in other aspects of your life. Think of your yoga practice as a mirror to your soul, as a barometer by which to gauge your feelings, and as a prescription for healthy action.
We can’t promise that yoga will fix all your physical, mental and spiritual ills, but if you make the commitment to a regular practice, we can promise that yoga will change your life.
An excerpt from "The Woman's Book of Yoga & Health" by Patricia Walden and Linda Sparrowe. © Shambhala Publications, Inc.