How (and Why) You Should Modify Your Practice as You Age

Guest Blog Post:  Jim Bennitt

I was introduced to yoga in 1997 at the age of 26 when I was working as a clerk on the hectic trading floor at the Chicago Board of Trade. After years of wrestling and a very stressful job, I was experiencing low back pain and constantly feeling beaten up physically, mentally, and emotionally so I began looking for a holistic approach to exercise that would nurture not only my body but also my mind and spirit.

The first few years of my journey into yoga were a slow transition. Like most people, I began attending an introductory class once a week. When the series ended, I took a little time off and then returned months later to try it again. After a few years of this pattern I took the big plunge and did not renew my gym membership in order to spend more time at the yoga studio. It wasn’t long before I was attending the advanced classes five times a week and noticing huge gains in my ability to move gracefully through the complex postures. The wrestler in me really enjoyed a strong and challenging approach to hatha yoga. In the following few years it wasn’t uncommon for me to spend three hours a day practicing advanced postures and movements which in turn left me with a feeling of great accomplishment upon rolling up my mat. To my surprise, once I left the yoga studio that feeling of accomplishment began to shift into a feeling of exhaustion. Years later I would discover that my approach to the practice was not really suitable for an adult now in his thirties. I was practicing yoga like a child!

In yoga philosophy there are three stages of life that can be compared to the movements of the sun throughout the day; sunrise, midday, and sunset. At each stage the focus of our practice should shift to help meet our needs.

The sunrise stage covers roughly the first 30 years of life and is classically known as srsti krama or the development stage. While the body is growing, a yoga practice should focus on asana to help develop strength and discipline. This is the time to work intensely on your physical practice. The body has an incredible ability to recover and recuperate during these formative years.

The midday stage of life covers roughly the years between 30 and 70 and is classically known as sthiti krama or the stage of stabilization. This is the time when you focus on building a family and/or career, both of which require much energy and can leave you feeling depleted. A yoga practice should now begin to shift from asana to pranayama which will help in creating stability and rebuilding your energetic reserves.

The sunset stage covers the years between 70 and the end of life which is classically known as laya krama or the stage of merging. Now it is time to slowly move away from involvement in the external world and prepare for merging back to one’s source. A yoga practice should begin to emphasize dhyana (meditation) as a way to make peace.

I now understand that a yoga practice should improve every aspect of life, not just the time we spend on the mat. Modify your practice to meet the specific needs you have at this time in your life. Don’t serve the practice, make the practice serve you.