Ashtanga: Aging and Fatigue

By Chad Herst

A friend within the Ashtanga community recently reached out to me because she has been struggling to find a way into her practice such that it supports her fatigue and depression.  She wrote, “I have had chronic fatigue for many years, and used to find my practice helpful with my energy levels, but lately, I’ve been struggling with the intensity of the practice… And now that I’m in my mid-40’s, I’ve been asking myself, “How am I going to maintain this?” I have the sense that many practitioners within our tradition silently struggle with these very issues: fatigue and how to maintain the practice as we age or as life changes on us, like when we have kids.  And I do not believe that our teaching community adequately speaks to these issues.

Often the instruction students receive is, “Keep practicing.  It will change.” And so many fatigued and frustrated Ashtangis just keep doing the same practice over and over hoping for a different outcome.  Many, however, quit.  Ashtanga is a powerfully transformative practice, and there can be an ethos within the community that is relatively unforgiving.  There doesn’t happen to be a lot of space for those who need to deviate from the standard practice.  It is not uncommon for students to essentially get the message: “You either do it the way it’s taught in Mysore, or you’re not welcome in this room.”

Many within the tradition we come from, unfortunately, promote the notion that we should be able to maintain a vigorous practice no matter what stage of development we’re in, no matter how healthy or unhealthy we are.  And that’s just not a viable, life-long approach to practice.  Ashtanga Yogis that are “lifers,” so-to-speak, do not keep practicing the same way.  As we change, so does our practice. The practice that suited me in my early 20’s, for example, no longer fits for me in my 40s. A mature perspective on practice recognizes that yoga should support our health and well-being no matter where we are in life.

Balls-to-the-Wall in Our 20s and Early-30s

When I first started learning the practice, I was 19 years old, so it helped me immensely to have a place to direct all of my energies, both positive and not so positive.  Without it those anxious times might have been met with a lot more self-destructive patterns, like drinking, drugs, and self-loathing.  Having the structure to get up early each morning, to show up on that mat and practice strongly each day was the perfect solution for all that anxiety, self-doubt, and agitation that seemed to be central to my 20s and early 30’s.  But as I’ve gotten older, practicing like that zaps me.

Sustaining our Energy in Our 40s

I’ve recently stopped practicing Advanced A.  I find that it stresses me out physically and emotionally.  As I transition into my early 40’s, I notice that all of the arm balances make my neck, shoulders, and upper-back ache and tax my energy. I am at the stage of life where I want to have enough energy to give to my wife, our family, my clients, and my community, and it is a lot to manage.  At some point in the last few years I woke up to the fact that I did not want to keep giving all my energy to my practice.  I wanted my practice to be able to support me, to support my life, to support my pursuits.

And these days, I’m just starting to be okay with the fact that my practice might look different each day.  I tend to stay on the six day per week schedule, but I no longer beat myself up if I don’t get to it that often.  If I, at the very least, get on my mat four days a week, I feel like I’m on track.  After all, I’m not trying to “kill it.”  I’m not pushing into the next pose or the next series. I’m maintaining my health, vitality, and clarity to face my life.  While I practice primary and intermediate series most of those days, I may or may not complete the whole series of postures.  I usually jump back between sides, but when I don’t have the energy, I don’t push it.

I especially don’t push it when I have an injury, am sick, or don’t get enough sleep.  Melissa, my wife was up all night with the flu last week, which meant that I was up, too.  When I got on my mat the next morning, my head was spinning.  I wasn’t sure if I was coming down with the flu, myself.  So after the Ashtanga Invocation, instead of starting Suryanamaskar A, all I had the energy to do was to take padmasana; do ujjayi pranayama for about 30 minutes; and then take a 45-minute savasana.  Yep, that was my practice.  And, yes, I still consider that Ashtanga Yoga. I did not, in fact, get sick.  I had eight clients that day, and had I not taken care of myself, I would have been a mess.

Practicing into Our 50’s and Beyond

It is my sense that the practice continues to evolve as we get older.  When I was in Mysore in 2005, I was told that someone I was practicing with in the shala in his mid-50’s was taking anti-inflammatory drugs in order to continue practicing Advanced A and B.  His practice looked quite acrobatic for someone his age, but was that practice supporting him or was he supporting it?  What’s clear to me is that as the body evolves, so should we.

Sri T. Krishnamacharya, Pattabhi Jois’ teacher, divided yoga practice into various categories, called krama, which means a step used to achieve a particular goal.  As we get older, our orientation moves from athletic perfection (siksasana krama) to maintaining our health and preserving our youth (raksasana krama).  Eventually, our orientation moves to adhyamatya krama, or spiritual matters. (1) We tend to move our practice in this direction in the time of life we in the West tend of think of as retirement.  It occurs in our culture when we are in our late-50’s, 60’s or 70’s.  Our focus turns toward questions about the meaning of life. And so the orientation is less in the way of getting and staying strong and flexible in the body. I am not suggesting that it is unimportant to maintain health and vitality as we age, but that the late-50’s onward are about developing wisdom, and that comes about primarily through stillness practices, like meditation. (2)

I cannot personally speak about this stage of development because I am not there. I do know several Ashtanga practitioners in their late-50’s and 60’s who do not keep the same practice they kept when they were in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, but they’re not very public about how their practices have changed; in fact, about a year ago, I asked an old friend who has been practicing since the ‘70s if he would be willing to be interviewed for this very question, but he declined.  He did not want to expose himself to criticism.  I completely understand his perspective.  When someone speaks about altering the practice to even the slightest degree, some people who have elected themselves to be the “yoga police” within the community launch in with vitriolic abuse. Nevertheless, I do sense that it would be very healing for all of us to learn how our teachers and mentors evolved their practices to account for the physical, emotional, and spiritual changes that occur with aging.

 How to Modify the Practice to Meet Your Personal Needs

As far as I can tell you can take the practice we’re taught and break it into component parts that support you energetically and spiritually.  Maybe one day you skip all jump-backs and jump-throughs to prevent fatigue from setting in.  Maybe on another, you practice only a few postures paying particular attention to your breath and bandhas and only go as far as you can keep your attention.  When you notice it flagging, you stop. Maybe on another day, you wake up feeling ungrounded, so you just do the standing sequence, holding each posture for 10-20 breaths.  Or maybe the mood needs lifting, so you focus on back bending, chest openers, and emphasize inhales and inhale retentions.  The variations are endless.  What’s required is the willingness to take the dive, to experiment.

Yes, it can be helpful to have a teacher who has already walked down this path, someone who can show you the way, and it can also be extremely helpful to have a place with group support where your experimentation is welcome, but there are not many Mysore rooms or teachers that are ready for students to experiment or alter the practice, not yet, at least.  So you have to be willing to develop a home practice and then also be equally willing to take risks, read a lot, and just keep showing up on your mat with curiosity.

Trusting the Need to Evolve

In closing, I recently heard about this experiment called the Asch Paradigm where they put 10 people in a room.  9 of the people were shills.  1 was not.  They showed all 10 cards with lines of different lengths.  Two of the lines were clearly of equal length (Exhibit 1 and B) while the other two (A and C) were not.
chart
The researchers asked the nine shills to claim that two badly mismatched lines (B and C) were actually the same, and that the actual twins (Exhibit 1 and A) were total misfits. The one person who was not a shill almost always went along with the other 9 members.  Why?  When they quizzed the victims of peer pressure, it turned out that many had done far more than simply go along to get along. They had actually shaped their perceptions, not with the reality in front of them, but with the consensus of the multitude. (3)

In short, what I’m suggesting is that it is not weird or unusual to experience fatigue from the practice; in fact, it is pretty common.  My question to the reader is whether you have the guts to trust your own intuitive sense when something is off and find an approach that supports your well-being and that sustains you.  That can be a huge challenge, especially if you’re used to the support of the Mysore room to carry your practice as well as the support of a teacher and friends who share a mutual love for the system.  It’s hard not only to stand on your own, but to trust your innate knowing when everyone around you is telling you that you’re crazy but, in fact, you’re not.

Footnotes:

(1) So for example, B.K.S. Iyengar reported that “In 1978, after my 60th birthday celebration, my guru (Sri T. Krishnamacharya) advised me to devote time to meditation and to reduce my physical strain.” (Iyengar, B.K.S., Astadala Yogamala. New Delhi: Allied Publishers Limited. 2001)

(2) I’m not suggestion just because one has reached a certain age, they should stop doing the Ashtanga series.  If someone has the inclination, time, and energy to devote to progressing through the series and they’re no longer young, by all means, I think it is important to follow that urge.  It can be incredibly life affirming to practice advanced postures and to push the limits on what’s possible in this human form.

chad2Author: Chad Herst

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Visit Chad’s Website: http://www.herstwellness.com

Chad Herst first became hooked on the “the practice” on a hot and humid Maui summer morning in 1993 when David Williams introduced him to his first Sun Salutation. One year later, he boarded a plane at the age of 20 to meet his primary teacher, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. He received Jois’ blessing to teach Ashtanga and has been doing so since 1998. In addition to teaching yoga, Chad is life coach and acupuncturist in San Francisco.

Here are other articles by Chad that are posted on this site:
  • The So-Called Tradition of Ashtanga March 18, 2013 By Chad Herst I have noticed that as the Mysore-style Ashtanga method becomes more popular over the years, the individual connection between teacher and student is disintegrating. The practice, which was originally designed to be individualized, has become increasingly supplanted by a one-size-fits-all approach. This is a natural outgrowth as more and more people both learn and ...

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48 Responses

  1. w says:

    Chad, thanks for this article. I am 61 years old and practicing 3 days a week. It has taken me a long time to get here as I had illness and fatigue. This feels like it supports my health rather than depletes it. Maybe I will get to 4 days a week occasionally…..

  2. Carmela says:

    Hi Chad, thankyou so much for writing this article. I have been an Ashtanga Yoga practitioner since 1997 and teaching since 2000. My practice has definitely evolved over the last 4 years. I am 44 now and have had to make modifications to my practice depending on how my body is feeling and aging. I am fortunate enough to have my teacher who is in her 50’s experience the same, so having support and guidance certainly helps. I am fortunate to also teach and pass on my experience to my students, giving them modification when needed. I do feel there is a shift happening around the ‘traditional’ Ashtanga asana practice. Not every BODY is designed to contort themselves into some of those advanced postures and we need to be open and accepting of that. The commitment and dedication to the practice is not only about asana, there are so many other facets to explore and en JOY. NAMASTE 🙂

    • Monica Gauci says:

      Hi Chad. I am Carmela’s fortunate teacher! : )

      Thank you so much for having the courage to write this article. The beginnings of it have been on my ‘to do’ list for quite a while. I am 54 and have been practising Ashtanga Yoga for 21 years (other forms previously). It is so important for Ashtanga Yogis to give themselves permission to listen to their bodies and modify their practice as they need to. Sadly, I witness much guilt, shame and fear around this issue.

      Carmela is right, change is in the air. It is positive and necessary for this tradition to survive.

      Your in Yoga
      Monica

  3. I only started my practice in my early 40s and it felt great to get flexible and strong as never before in my life. For quite some years I practiced vigorously – though probably never like a twenty year old would – and it felt good. Now I am in my mid 50s and yes my practice changed also due to menopause. There is not a lot of public talk about this either. I tried Hormon Yoga but not fullhearted because it didn’t feel right. I do love my ashtanga practice and I felt that this practice can as well support these years of a woman. So I started experimenting and yes some mornings it’s only the standing postures and some finishing asanas but it feels good to keep connected to the practice. Also the breath became even more important to me as did Chanting. Interestingly enough practicing this way I am not only counterbalancing the effects of ageing but still keep progressing in the practice at my very own pace and that feels wonderful.

    • Chad Herst says:

      Hi Heike, It sounds like you are finding your way, taking the essence of the practice and modifying it for your circumstances. And in so doing, it seems that you’re still discovering progress. Bravo!

  4. yogasanas says:

    Hi Chad, I think you are spot on. I practiced from ’99 at age 35 to 2013 age 48 up to 4th series kapilasana. I had to quit all postures last year after 3- 4 years of trying to manage the resultant low back pain. Essentially, my back is mangled for life now. Good news is I have a better sitting and pranayama practice than ever. Letting go of the postures has been very hard and I have gone through (and then back again and again) all of Kubler Ross’s stages: denial, bargaining, anger, depression and acceptance. Thanks for putting out there the reality for some of us who in good faith followed these teachings fastidiously for many, many years.

    • Chad Herst says:

      Wow, yogasanas, my heart goes out to you. It must really be something to have progressed so far and then to have to come to the point where you have to drop it altogether. That sounds painful, physically and emotionally. But it also sounds like injury is opening up a doorway for you. Not only are you connected to the essence of the practice, breath and stillness, but you’re also learning the art of dying, which is essentially, the art of letting go of all the ways we become ego identified. It must be really challenging to have made it all the way to 4th series and then to have to drop it. We can’t help but wear the series on our sleeves like a badge of honor. And yet the real work, as you acknowledge, is letting go. Hats off to you, my friend.

  5. Nicolas says:

    Hi, I’m 38 , and I started my practice at 33, the practice have helped me to have flexibility and feel vigorous ! But I think it’s important what to do out of your mat, I mean .. Food ! Good sleep !, practice it’s important but if you wanna feel an integral benefits you should be care what you eat and sleep good. I’m 38 and I feel like if I was 28 years

  6. yogamom says:

    as someone practicing the “seventh series” i appreciate the perspective on modified practice. just a pointer on the Asch paradigm though. the way you describe it sounds unbelievable, as though the study participants reported that B and C were the same length as each other. that is not what the studies showed. the task was to find the line from exhibit 2 that matched the line in exhibit 1. so even though A is the right match, the “shills” were saying that B matched exhibit 1, or that C matched exhibit 1 (not that B and C were the same length, which is obviously false since they are right next to each other). it still makes your point, but isn’t so crazy to believe! also it’s important that before giving the wrong answers to mislead the participants, the “shills” first gave the correct answers for a while, to build the necessary trust.

  7. yael kedem says:

    Why to apologizes? each practitioner has to practice in the way it match to his body and soul. free thoughts and flow it’s very important part of yoga (even Ashtanga!).

  8. sophcleere says:

    Hi Chad…thankyou so much for this article. More and more learning to ‘trust’ my own wisdom about what my body/mind needs, rather than pushing myself through a brutal practice no matter what. Injury has been my greatest teacher so far. Yes to a practice that supports us. Soph xx

  9. ekadasa says:

    Thanks for your interesting article. I remember reading somewhere a quote from UG Krishnamurti, ‘give the body it’s due but no more.’ Sometimes it seems to me too much emphasis is given to the body and looking around the Ashtanga scene and seeing how much of many peoples’ identity is based on being an Ashtangi I can’t help thinking the best thing they could do for ‘their yoga’ would be to give up asana. It seems obvious that SPJ would at some point have seen the irrelevance of it all. I’m just thinking that as the body becomes older the mind becomes wiser and certain things are let go off.

    • Chad Herst says:

      Ekadasa, I think I get the essence of your message: We Ashtangis tend to be overly obsessed with our asana practice and overly identified with the physical form. This is one of several possible pitfalls associated with a practice that requires so much strength and flexibility and that is also organized in increasingly challenging bodily contortions. It’s really, really, really hard for one’s sense of self not to be suffused with one’s capacity to attain great physical feats; in fact, it can be like a gordian knot for many of us, me included.

      And it doesn’t help that our teachers, the one’s who disseminate the system, tend to be agile, strong, and maybe even a little superhuman in the physical sense of the word. Just look at photos and Youtube videos of Ashtanga teachers grabbing their knees in backbends. One can’t help but wonder in witnessing such incredible feats whether something more magical takes place in a body that can move, bend and torque in incredibly unusual ways. But as you aptly imply in your message above, that’s a deception. It’s mistaking the form for the formless, of mistaking our capacity to perform asana sequences for the clarity, presence, and wisdom it is meant to generate.

      This reminds me of a portion of the dialogue that took place between the mythologist, Joseph Campbell, and journalist, Bill Moyers, that was recorded in the film, tapes, and book titled The Power of Myth:

      Moyers: And then there is the final passage through the dark gate?

      Campbell: Well, that is no problem at all. The problem in middle age, when the body has reached it’s climax of power and begins to decline, is to identify not with the body, which is falling away, but with the consciousness of which it is a vehicle. This is something I learned from myths. What am I? Am I the bulb the carries the light, or am I the light of which the bulb is a vehicle.

  10. juana says:

    here is a perspective from the another view of the life numbers. I first began a yoga practice in my late 40’s and found mysore about 5 years later – age 53 or 54. I was tired and happy and also working full time (with almost grown children). In my mid-to-late 60’s I stopped Astangha. Why I stopped, I can’t say for sure, but I missed the practice although I continued yoga with hatha and Kundalini. At age 70 I thought, if I don’t go back to mysore now, exactly when will it happen – what was I waiting for? Delusion for sure – all our preconceptions and ideas and ..so forth. So I went back to Mysore – 3 x a week – and again I am tired and happy. As far as the asanas, I do what I do – as simple as that – for mind and body. It continues to be transformative. I just try to work with the physical limitations, not fight them.

  11. Chad Herst says:

    Juana, Thanks so much for sharing your journey here with us. I like this quote: “I just try to work with the physical limitations, not fight them.” That’s very useful instruction.

  12. thintri says:

    I started yoga in 1975, Ashtanga in 1993. I’m not typical, I neuromuscular problems (post-polio), and I don’t do it well at all, but for me, nothing does for me what Ashtanga does. Nevertheless, from the beginning (I’ve always practiced 7 days a week), I’ve had to take at least a couple of days per week on a non-vinyasa routine to get rid of the tightness I get from Ashtanga. Nowadays, the balance is at best 4 days Ashtanga, 3 days non-vinyasa, but injuries, illness, etc. can make it even less than that. I still consider Ashtanga my core practice, but the non-vinyasa aspect allows me to restore and prevent further injury, and it feels optimum in terms of results. It’s in the non-vinyasa I get the most opening. At 61, I feel I’m still improving my practice, there’s only a couple of poses where I find I have less strength, like UD and handstand. As time goes on, I suppose the balance will gradually shift more permanently to non-vinyasa (I may explore Iyengar) but I suspect my focus on a balance between Ashtanga and restoration is helping me. I hope this makes sense.

    My hope is that someone of Jois’ caliber will come along and develop a set of routines specifically for older Ashtangis, rather than forcing us to work it out individually.

    Also, I recall reading an interview with Iyengar, where he talks about how Sri K told him to stop asana and focus on meditation. He tried it, regretted it and said it took him a very long time to get back in shape. At least that’s what I remember from the interview. That’s why I’m afraid to take a break.

    Great blog.

  13. jacquie says:

    Thank you, Chad, what a well put article, I started practising in my mid 30s, now, I’m a few months short of 50, when I get on the mat everything, I say a little prayer, May my practise unbind me, meaning to me may it help me go of all that doesn’t serve my highest good, attachments, greed, desires, carvings, EGO, EGo, ego etc….
    Life becomes easier instead of being bound to how far I can go in each practise, I am still committed to a daily practise twice a day, morning asanas and evening pranayama, but not to the set sequencing anymore.
    I have written a list for myself of essential asanas, and some days like this morning, I worked only on a few of those and give it total focus, which builds up joy and enthusiasm, not dread, like I once used to beat myself up over if I didn’t accomplish my 3 hours morning practise.
    Your article supports me to have faith that hey, I’m on a good track, and i have no need to compare with the younger me nor compete with my 20 something nieces who bounces off the mat!

  14. Dick Damian says:

    I am 65 and have been actively practicing every day for the last 3 years. I have decades of weightlifting that has helped my body to maintain some strength and flexibility. Also, am very fortunate that I am relatively free of health problems.
    I don’t want to lie to myself and say that age is a not a limitation. I think I will practice as vigorously as I can, as long as I can.
    I am grateful for this life and for yoga and will accept limitations as they come.

  15. Thanks for your interesting article, it makes me feel very lucky and glad to be practicing with really well informed and experienced Ashtanga teachers in the UK, who fully embrace the need to modify and adapt the practice to individual needs. While they are very well versed in the classical form of Ashtanga, they still maintain the practice should be adapted to the individuals needs. John Scott, Joey Miles and Scott Johnson to name a few have been incredibly honest and supportive about modifications and the need to honour our needs, whether it be exhaustion from raising small children, hormonal fluxes of menopause, structural imbalances and injuries. John Scott in one article described how he hadn’t practiced Advanced A& B for 7 years. He said he was grateful to have had the time before family commitments to explore and develop his physical practice, but now his asana practice was for physical maintenance, he tended to stay with primary and 2nd series. During times of fatigue Joey suggested to only do vinyasas between sides if really tired or leave them out all together on very tired days; it is after all “still better to do what you can and enjoy it”. I was also told to practice 1 st few spinal extensions of 2nd series to help my posture and Urdva-danurasana. There are great teachers out there, don’t give up or settle for being bullied into doing more than is appropriate for you, until then maybe modifying during home practice really is the best solution.

  16. magnolia says:

    Hi Chad, Magnolia here:

    The points in your article are important and necessary however your authoritative tone and research are out of synch and out of date with what’s going on in the community currently. Let me be more specific.

    1) ‘Silently struggling’. This is not true. This is a topic of conversation all around the community, all around the world. Sharath in Mysore consistently addresses it by saying ‘Do what you can do, that is your practice’. Every Q&A conference that I’ve attended since 2010 (4 per month, 3 months each year) he talks about this in some way. It is refreshing, so important and…message received!

    2) ‘I do not believe that our teaching community adequately speaks to these issues’. Aside from what I mentioned above perhaps more evidence is necessary. I was at the Ashtanga confluence in San Diego over the weekend. Friday nights’ talk was about yoga and aging, the evolution of Ashtanga Yoga. We were there practicing with some of the oldest students (Dena Kingsberg, David Swenson, Tim Miller, Richard Freeman, Manju Jois) of Guruji’s. They were very open about how their practice has changed. If the paradigm that you speak of did exist at some point, Sharath is changing that so practitioners can enjoy a life long practice. He consistently emphasizes the need to practice in a way that is sustainable for ‘whole life’.

    3) ‘Many within the tradition we come from, unfortunately, promote the notion that we should be able to maintain a vigorous practice no matter what stage of development we’re in, no matter how healthy or unhealthy we are’. Wow…such sensationalism. The only time I think this may be the case is if a teacher is helping a student move through perceived obstacles or if health is an issue, or lifestyle etc. But this is very personal and individual work between a student and a teacher. It’s work that other students/teachers may not understand or be privy to. At times I witnessed Guruji take postures (even a whole series) away from people when they turned 40 and other times he would teach more postures (into advanced A and B) at 40 and beyond.

    You clearly enjoy writing about Ashtanga. The crux is that you have not been to Mysore in years to witness first hand what is being taught or how the tides are shifting and changing. Please research as much as you can in order to publish credible and responsible content. Again, the information about changing the practice and aging is crucial and so very important however, creating issues that are no longer applicable through sweeping generalizations is a big thumbs down.

    Be well,
    M

    • AyKim says:

      This is very excellent to know and read and have clarity on. It’s been my own teaching and my own practice – accessibility. Just makes sense! Thank you both.

    • liapose says:

      Hi Magnolia, Lia from Brazil here! Thank you so much to clear up my mind! I could not believe that in Mysore they don’t talk about changing the practice and aging. Let’s research before speak up to everybody.

    • Chad Herst says:

      Hi Magnolia,
      Thanks for chiming in. In considering your three key points, I realize that we are seeing something from slightly different angles. What’s important from your vantage point and what pleases me is that there’s more language in Mysore and amongst our senior teachers around the need for the practice to evolve as we age and change. That is good news, really good news. But from my perspective, it’s not enough to say that Sharath and a panel at the Confluence has covered this issue–end of story.

      I shared this piece because I thought it was pertinent for the wider community. I initiated it when a friend reached out because she was struggling with her health and not getting the care and attention she deserved while studying with a certified teacher along with periodic visits to Mysore. She reached out to me because she knew I wouldn’t judge her for her experience. And so while people may be talking about finding ways of working with the practice with age and ill health, clearly there’s still some taboo around it even in and around Mysore. Likewise, the article seems to have had impact given the amount of likes, comments and reposts, so that must indicate that this is still an issue or one that has not been exhaustively addressed.

      I think it is important that we have more places within the greater community where our struggles are voiced, not just in Mysore and not just among the crowd that goes to Mysore. The community has grown and Ashtanga is taught everywhere, now. Whether we like it or not, many students of the practice are not affiliated with the family tradition in Mysore. Likewise, there are many who are affiliated but haven’t found firm ground to express their doubts, concerns, and confusions. And then there are those who were once affiliated but are no longer. The more spaces of humanity and compassion we can offer the wider community, the more good, I think, we can do.

      Admittedly, I have not been to the Confluence for a year nor have I been to Mysore since 2007. For some, this might invalidate my words and intentions, but as a longstanding practitioner and member of the community and someone who cares deeply for the practice and the tradition, I hope that it does not. More importantly, I think it’s important that we continue to listen to each other with curiosity, respect and friendliness so that we as a community of Ashtanga yogis may find our way to greater truth.

      As always, Magnolia, I thank you for sharing your perspectives, doubts, and frustrations with my writings. I value you as a teacher and proponent of the system and your opinions. Admittedly, it doesn’t initially feel good to be critiqued, but your words touched me and offered me an invaluable opportunity to take pause and consider whether I stood behind this piece or not. Thank you for that.

      In gratitude,
      Chad

  17. Michaela Clarke says:

    Hi Chad, as a teacher and astangi since 1988 I agree that the practice has changed and at times become more challenging as I’ve aged, particularly now as I am going through menopause (I will be 50 next month). I had reached a point where I was so stiff and had so little energy that I was replacing chatturanga dandasana with child’s pose. However I recently gave up sugar, including drastically cutting down on fruit and other ‘natural’ alternatives. Not only did I lose weight, but my practice is now back to what it was in my 20s. I can also recommend cutting out bread and reducing salt intake. It makes a huge difference. warm regards, Michaela Clarke

    • jacquie says:

      Dear Michaela, That is wonderful! I am 49 plus, no sign yet of menopause, but would like to start adopting your kind of diet could you recommend any materials or any eating plan? Most appreciated and thank you

      • Michaela Clarke says:

        Hi Jacquie, I started by following a book called “Sugar Detox” which is out now (I’m not affiliated with this – it’s on general release). I also recently did a 10 day Ayurvedic mung bean cleanse, which was surprisingly tasty and very effective. You can go to an Ayurvedic practitioner to get the recipe (I went to Jono at Triyoga Chelsea, London), or it’s available on-line. Both were much easier to follow than any other diets I have tried as I simply wasn’t hungry. However I do eat lots of eggs and very occasionally fish. I don’t know how easy it would be if you are vegan. Now I have relaxed my eating to include more fruit and the odd slice of bread, but I notice that bread in particular brings back my stiffness – and hunger! Hope this helps…warm regards, Michaela

        • jacquie says:

          Thank you!
          On the Ayurvedic cleanse, do you just eat the kichari for 10 days?
          I will check out the Sugar Detox book

          • Michaela Clarke says:

            No, mung soup for 4 days, one day fasting, followed by watery kichari for one day, then for next 4 days mung again with some veg.

          • Michaela Clarke says:

            let me know how you get on…I’m interested to see if others experience the same effect.

        • jacquie says:

          Thank you, Mung beans is it, sound like what my mom fed me when I got sick as a child, mung beans, mung beans, and more mung beans 🙂

    • Chad Herst says:

      Hi Michaela, Thanks for sharing your experience with us. I’m so glad you were able to find your way and share your path us. Best, Chad

      • Hi Chad – I thought you might like an update as this article just popped up on my newsfeed again. I’m 52 next year and everything you say here still rings very true. It’s an excellent article, and this information needs to be out there. It may well be that Sharat emphasises slowing down as you age, but it’s still easy to feel a sense of shame – or of not being good enough when you need to take it easy, either through injury, aging. or exhaustion. Warm wishes X

  18. s says:

    I am 60, practicing Ashtanga for about 6-7 years, Yoga for about 8 or 9. I often find the limitations imposed by my body to be the easiest to understand and work with, and I am blessed to have an extremely knowledgeable, flexible and creative teacher. The challenge for me is finding a way to balance energy for practice, demanding work, family (and for me that includes aging parents and children who are sometimes struggling with the beginnings of adulthood, as well as a spouse with individual needs and issues). I am blessed and grateful that my teacher and community support this. One gift of starting the practice when older was that I naturally gravitated to the people who had a calm, confident, non-dogmatic but devoted relationship to the practice. It’s easier to spot craziness (or see the non-essential, and the egotistic compensations) when you’re a little older. However, I also welcome being invited and helped to be physical when I want to be. If anything, I wish I had a little more time and space for my physical and spiritual practice, which supports my health, emotional balance and mental clarity when I am able to follow it. I almost wrote that last sentence about just my physical practice, which I love, when I can do it, but it’s the overall practice that I need and must make space for.

  19. Brad Kane says:

    I am 62 started my yoga practice this year. I have always been active ie gym, biking. I now do for or five practices weekly. A mix of vinyasa, primary ashtanga, and yin. My husband (I’m gay) thinks I’m obsessed. But I feel so great following practice I’m more likely addicted. There are poses I don’t do if i feel strained. My instructors are excellent. I am sure I am the oldest in my classes. Namaste.

  20. Victor says:

    “Letting go” I started my ashtanga journey when I was 50, nine years ago. I did as many primary postures as I physically could. I felt good and I was energized. There were challenging poses and I did what I could have done. Challenging poses, injuries, and aging can deter a person from the tradition no matter if you are a student or teacher of the tradition. For me, I found it hard to “let go”.

  21. Lauren says:

    Yes! Yes!! Yes!!! Maty Ezraty very much teaches from the perspective that the practice should support you, not the other way around. And while it’s difficult to find her in a Mysore room these days, when she is, she has a variety of people working the practice in a way that supports their needs and where they are at that moment. She gave a great interview at Purple Valley discussing this philosophy and other topics. I hope other teachers and practitioners will watch it and give themselves permission to challenge some of the dogma that is out there and allow the practice to support the unique needs of each practitioner.

    https://youtu.be/3uTpamADhEs

  22. Tim Feldmann says:

    hi chad,

    thx for your article. I always enjoy reading your thoughts and voice, reflections and critical take. magnolia has a good point too no doubt, but I suppose you enjoy the tinge of provocation when sharing your mind to a perfectly balanced thesis.

    going into my 50th birthday in just a few weeks I find myself gravitating towards information which centers on guruji’s method to yoga coupled with the aging body/mind and your article is welcome to me. having a hard time talking generally about these issues as most ashtangis tend to keep this process within private conversations, the change in my physicality is indisputable. my energy level too and very much in my field of motivation. without a doubt, what interest me about the yoga darsana and getting on my mat has changed gradually and significantly over the past 10+ years. as my yearning for intense sensation in body-mind and as the concept of progressing physically is somewhat falling away, as my good old ‘reward reflex’ doesn’t get tickled the same way it used to by catching my ankles, by removing that slight sheen the intensity of it all becomes less attractive. is it a good thing I really don’t know but it is happening. yup, it’s prakriti and sensations and raga-dvesa alive and kicking but perhaps it is also a certain maturity? I don’t know but I do try to observe carve a new path of motivated tapas.

    as many of your comments point out, many seasoned ashtanga practitioners are hitting their mid-age these days, and with that there is a renewed awareness and conversation rising, of which you are a perfect example. some find inspiration to continue a personal connection with yoga within the ashtanga yoga sastra/dogma and some find it on the outskirts. both have validity in my view.

    please do keep writing, keep sharing your thoughts. and come down to gokulam again one of these days and see if you find things changing.

    with appreciation,
    tim

  23. Barbara says:

    I started Ashtanga at age 52 and now I’m 67 and alternate primary with intermediate. My intermediate series practice is in its infancy, but I try. I have an aortic aneurysm and have not altered my practice. I continue to be energized by my practice and love it even more today now that I understand I’m not pursuing postures but I am moving Prana throughout my body by eliminating struggle. I study with Nancy Gilgoff. I have witnessed senior Ashtanga teachers at Nancy’s Shala practice first or intermediate. Nancy tells me she practices a little bit of first, second, third, and fourth when she practices.

  24. 62shelby says:

    Im 54 this year. I have had a daily yoga practice since 2002, and became exclusively an ashtanga practitioner in 2011, journeying to Mysore last year to practice for five weeks with Saraswathi in the summer. Ive a background in dance, and have done some fairly heavy duty cycling from age 35. Ive avoided back bends like the plague, until Saraswathi wouldnt take no for an answer :). By my second week in Mysore, and doing assisted dropbacks, I felt a nuclear ton of shakti energy explode out of my sacrum. It was a revelation. I had dabbled a bit in second series to camel, but now she had me going to kapotasana. Before I went to Mysore, I practiced whenever, mostly in the afternoon after work. Now I get up at 4.15 am Mon-Fri and practice most of primary then up to kapo, with a class early saturday mornings. I religiously practice backbends every day. My back has never felt better or stronger and as of this writing, Im very close to coming up from drop backs unassisted. Im very very careful about alignment and opening my back and hips slowly. I do about a half hour of yin before I hit the mat. This helps enormously. Recently, an injury brought on by emotional trauma in my right side that effected the muscle train from neck to knee let go. My practice is currently blowing my mind. My personal feeling is that my practice is protecting me from the more extreme effects of menopause though Im not through it yet. Through daily early morning practice, I have felt the transformative effects and Im humbled by the change in my energy, not only the way I feel but the energy I give to the world. Will I be able to continue this way? I dont know, and honestly I dont think about it. Im just being present with my body right now, listening very carefully and never doing anything that feels wrong. Things are by no means perfect of course. Im at that age when sleep is a bit of an issue that nothing can protect me from, and i have to be very careful about doing exercise movements that my body is not used to, as the next day I can be very sore.

  25. Janice Tiller says:

    I started yoga with ashtanga sequence at age of 59 enjoyed it and had many benefits . In the last 18 months ( as teachers left town ) I have found new teachers and different styles. At age 64 I am now doing more yoga than ever and enjoying it all. 4 classes a week of which two are restorative and 2 regular Vinyasa Flow.I also have a regular pranayama and meditation practice . However the most exciting recent event is I felt I was lacking stamina so have joined a Gym and now find after Cardio work and using some machines with weights I do a daily yoga self practice at the gym in fact I sometimes make the mistake of saying I am going to yoga when it is the Gym. Listening to my intuition has been enhanced by Yoga and I believe Yoga led me to the Gym and increased my self practice.

  26. Justyna says:

    Well, great article. But it isn’t true not enough ashtanga teachers doing it correctly . I just leave sorry for my French a modern Mysore Shit. I follow Manju and Nancy and only Thanks to them still doing ashtanga. Modern way of doing ashtanga is for young flexible people. Not the old school. Manju teaches common sense and practice which heals You. Nowdays it went wrong….. I am in 30 ties but my body is after many horse accidents. Modern Mysore style, Sharath ridicoulous rules about binding not binding not for me. Manju and Nancy heals my poor body….

  27. Thanks so much for this article, just what I needed and have been searching for as I get older. Been practicing since my 40s & not always Ashtanga, (not always a teacher also a chronic back issue which Pilates and Ashtanga helped me to manage it). but been doing Mysore now for past few years, but here I am now at 62, 63 around the corner, & in this year there have been a lot of physical challenges – chicingunia illnes, rotator cuff & just recently diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis & felt like ‘what else !’ So I have been practicing abbreviated yoga, yes I still call it Ashtanga & mostly trying to live ‘yoga off the mat’ as I deal with not having my regular full practice ( still primary). So in trying to envision a future this article appears & also the comments & I give thanks, just knowing that there are others also grappling with this

  28. julrose says:

    I’m grateful for this article, it validates SO much! As an ashtanga “traditionalist” at age 55, I am finishing 2nd series, thank goodness! While being stuck for over 7 years on Karandevasana, my shoulders became shot. Now I couple strength training with finishing 2nd series. A few poses are off the list temporarily, due to injury. That’s not a problem, I’m okay with it! Others may question if I’m ready, when my chatturangas look kind of weird right now. But I train my chitta not to go there. I’ve been ready! I already practiced kapotasana! Now I only do the 2nd part, or version B. But I’m still putting put my legs over my head and moving on.

  29. Sue says:

    It as heartening to notice that Michaela gave up sugar and improved her practise as I recently discovered a similar change in my mobility at 56 . Simply gave up sugar and ate more fruit and veg, now I can do handstands with the schoolkids whereas before it just plain hurt. Heartening because it has been discovered two years ago, saddening because it is still not widely known therefore people are pushing their bodies but not supporting with appropriate nutrition.

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