By Karuna Karen Kreps, RYT 500
The curtain had not yet opened in New York City’s Carnegie Hall for the sold-out lecture on Yoga by Swami Satchidananda, when I and three other young Yoga teachers stepped out from behind the velvet drapes onto the lip of the iconic stage to demonstrate poses while a sitar player accompanied our moves. The promotion for the lecture was “Yoga teaches the old the secret of youth and the young the wisdom of the old.” To the audience on January 31, 1969, the unfamiliar music of India was as exotic as were the asana poses I assumed. It was easy for me to stand on my head, to put both feet behind my ears, to balance horizontally on my elbows. I was just 17-years old and considered the “baby” in the Integral Yoga Institute (IYI). Because I was so flexible, I was asked to be part of the pre-lecture demo.
My Yoga practice had started just three years earlier, and I had been teaching for nearly two. Back then, some of the older students (and by “older” I mean 30-plus) told me I just couldn’t understand what struggle they went through to touch their toes or to sit cross-legged during the opening and closing chants. They believed that Yoga was the fountain of youth and marveled at the possibilities of longevity for me, as I’d started my practice at such a tender age.
My Guru always said that we would be only as young as our spine was flexible. I’ve long been steady in my practice, practicing Hatha Yoga every day, with only occasional digressions, for most of the past half-century. Thanks to my long-standing practice and my good genes, I have remained flexible and healthy. My daily practice consists of a series of backward bends, forward bends, inverted postures, twisting poses, and relaxation. I can still stand on my head, but nowadays I put only one foot at a time behind my ears. Yoga doesn’t stop the aging process, but it can slow it down and lend it more grace.
Over the decades, I’ve noticed that performing the Yoga poses is becoming no easier. After a long plateau in my practice, I note how some days are better than others. Often my flexibility and endurance appear directly linked to the quality of drink, food, and thoughts I’ve recently ingested, digested, and assimilated. Doing the daily, physical Yoga practice is like the endless task of Sisyphus pushing a massive stone up the hill: It must be done regularly. As I edge into my sixties, my balance is sometimes not so good. At times, it hurts to start the practice: My joints are stiff and they crack when I move, but the movement always helps. It’s like a self-massage. I know just where and how to apply pressure to give myself that feeling of release. My regular asana practice makes me feel palpably stronger, more vital, and balanced.
In the decades during which I taught weekly at the New York IYI (the late 1960s to the mid-1980s), I observed students of all ages who joined my class and who brought a huge variety of pre-dispositions. If they were young, they’d usually catch on quickly. If they were older, it took longer for their bodies to tone, but their attention was usually sharper and more focused than their juniors’.
Yoga makes you the master of your senses instead of a slave to them. The sooner one starts practicing, the greater the life-long benefits, but it’s never too late to start. Yoga students are always encouraged to go at their own pace, to hold a steady, comfortable pose, never causing pain or strain. Invariably, it seemed that all my students benefited in some way to become more flexible, better at balance and stronger.
I’ll never forget one woman who started coming to a Level III class I taught when she was in her sixties. Her back was so deeply rounded and she was so tight in the lower back that it was hard for her to sit upright on the floor. I thought she was way too stiff to be in the higher-level class, but she would not be discouraged. Despite her hunched back, she persevered and, over the course of about three years, made most noticeable progress, transforming her appearance. . .
Read the rest of this article in the Summer 2015 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.