It was 1968 and I was in my 20s in New York City. I started practicing Yoga at the Integral Yoga Institute. I am now in my 70s, it is 2020, and I live in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I am still practicing Yoga. I’m sure you can do the math. Since my 20s, I have been doing Yoga, pranayama, and meditation. I have been a vegetarian for that long. I also have been aging for that long! There certainly have been many good articles written about the benefits of Yoga for seniors. We now have gentle Yoga, chair Yoga, restorative Yoga, adaptive Yoga, and an Integral Yogi even founded Accessible Yoga. All of these programs are adeptly offered through the Integral Yoga centers and Yogaville.
Born to be mild
I wasn’t at Woodstock. However, in my 20s, I was a bit off-the-wall. In college, I had a Triumph motorcycle (my parents never knew about it!). I kept it in my apartment at 122nd Street and Broadway in New York City ($75/month apartment, now a $400,000 townhouse!) and spread it out on the floor to work on the brakes, carburetor, clutch, ignition, and transmission. There was oil and grease all over my bamboo flooring. I must have thought I was some kind of incarnation of the Beats and Kerouac—either that or a character out of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I certainly learned a lot about motorcycles.
At that time I was in a New York state of mind, but I would also impulsively travel. I felt very restless; that I just had to get up and go. One trip was to New Orleans to experience the Mardi Gras. That was a trip! Another, unexpectedly, was to London. I had the delusion to become a vagabond—bumming around Europe—and an artist or a writer. I really enjoyed London for a day and then turned around and flew home to resume my college studies and to try to be serious. So much for being an itinerant artist in Europe!
Maybe I’ve mellowed a bit. We all tone it down over the years, don’t we? Nevertheless, I still have dreams of adventure. I would still like to take a pilgrimage to Mount Kailash and to volunteer as an English teacher in Dharamsala, India, with a Tibetan community. Will it happen? TBD. I think that keeping those dreams alive is part of aging and it’s part of practicing Yoga.
What are synonyms for aging? Senior, elder, old, mature, wise, venerable, ancient. What are characteristics of aging? Gratitude, acceptance, kindness, wisdom.
Life in the slow lane
Even in my 20s, I was never very fast. I tried swimming, biking, running, triathlons, wrestling, gymnastics, crew, basketball, baseball, football, climbing, camping, snowshoeing, skiing, snowboarding. I tried. Now in my 70s, I have a daily routine: Up early for Yoga, pranayama, meditation. Cream of wheat and fruit for breakfast. I avoid coffee, donuts, Danish, croissants. I still admit to having a weakness for pizza. Quinoa and kale: not a fan. The rest of the day unfolds with a swim for an hour, biking for two hours, a nap for three hours.
Eat and next day, repeat!
So what is my goal? I think it’s a long and productive life and one with good physical and mental and spiritual health, and a strong connection to family, friends, and community. As we know, aging brings changes in metabolism, activity level, endurance, stamina, and capacity. Aging is natural deterioration over time. We are all slowed by age, but diet is important, as are activity and exercise. Connection and bonding are important; dealing with loss is important and loss in many regards, not just physical changes.
Daily, I catalog my aches and pains into a mental spreadsheet. Things change. Ever receive this birthday card? “My eyesight is gone, my hearing is bad, my joints are stiff, and I have trouble staying awake. Thank goodness I can still drive!” This may be a little ageist, but I think there’s some truth here too. I do ask myself these kinds of questions: How much longer will I be able to drive? What happens as I lose my mobility? What happens as I lose my independence? What is lost as I age? The same lifelong lessons of Yoga are still there: detachment, acceptance, gratitude, kindness, loving and giving. Yoga is evenness of mind.
There are some advantages to being a senior. Discounts (when you remember them)! As seniors, it’s important to stay active, whatever your passion. Exercise, hobbies, friends, gardening, weaving, sewing, writing, art, music, dancing, pickle ball, cooking, mahjong, hiking, travel, volunteering. As Integral Yogis, we’ve all had a long history of Karma Yoga (selfless service), haven’t we? That is not lost as we age. We all have something to contribute.
As I reflect over a lifetime of Yoga, a question I reflect on is: What has happened to my Yoga practice over the years? In my 20s, I was quite adept at the asanas (postures) and my pranayama practice. Now, in my 70s, I have two new knees and two new hearing aids. I can no longer even sit cross-legged so I meditate while sitting in a chair. This is an accommodation. I do what I call “wall Yoga.” I use the wall as an aid for sarvangasana (shoulder stand), shirshasana (head stand), and vrikshasana (tree pose). There are also many other good props—mat, bolster, block, strap, blanket—all of which are available for Yoga class.
I actually took a break from Yoga for a while. What with career, family, mortgage, lawn—those all took precedence over my practice. I did study other disciplines: Zen, Ayurveda, Tai Chi, Qigong, Kabbalah, Mandala, Dakini. My Yoga practice was intermittent. Interestingly, in my 70s, my sadhana (practice) has certainly changed over the years. It’s come full circle: I’m now back to my initial Integral Yoga practice.
Turn off your mind relax and float downstream
Recently, I was part of a meditation study at Colorado College. A neuroscience student was conducting this study for his senior project. He was studying meditation and the perception of time. The subjects wore a wireless headset that connected to his laptop. Who knew that there is a special EEG signal for “spaced out?!”
He asked me: “What is our perception of memory?” My answer: “I use yellow sticky notes to remind me of things. I keep all kinds of lists. If only I can remember them.” Next: “What is our perception of time?” I had to really think about that one! Humanity has been pondering this issue since we have had self-awareness. Philosophers, sages, psychologists, Swamis, Zen masters, and meditators have all pondered and debated this topic.
The question I often ask myself is: “How did I get from age 20 to age 70?” The simple answer is: One year at a time, one Groundhog Day at a time, one moment at a time, one breath at a time. In some ways, we are a composite of all of our ages—our childhood, youth, adulthood, elderhood—they all blend together into the present. This moment.
Have I become more disciplined as I’ve aged? In my 20s, I was eager in my Yoga practice. Up every morning at 4:00 a.m. to meditate—mantra, walking meditation, pranayama, studying with my Guru. Now in my 70s, I am still up early. However, meditation has become less intense and more present throughout the day. The discipline has changed. Did I forget my mantra? Did I forget my Guru? No. I have, however, experienced a renewal of my Yoga practice. In the summer of 2018, I revisited the Integral Yoga Institute of New York and longtime Yoga friends. In the summer of 2019, I revisited Satchidananda Ashram–Yogaville and more longtime Yoga friends. I revisited the Boulder Integral Yoga sangha (community). It all comes back full circle.
Is there a lifelong benefit from having practiced hatha, pranayama, meditation for all these years? Has this helped with my aging? In some ways, definitely yes. I am healthier. In some ways, I have nothing with which to compare it. This has been me, my life, my karma.
My daily credo is “keep calm and don’t kvetch.” On my meditation wall are photographs of three great teachers: Swami Satchidananda (my Guru), Suzuki Roshi, and Lubavitcher Rebbe. I also have a Tibetan Thangka of the White Tara of Compassion. I look at these every day as part of my practice. My spiritual foundation has been Integral Yoga, Zen, Judaism, and Tibetan Buddhism. I also reflect on these four quotes daily:
True love knows no bargains. It is one-way traffic: giving, giving, giving. —Swami Satchidananda
If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything. In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind, there are few. —Suzuki Roshi
To be kind is more important than to be right. Many times, what people need is not a brilliant mind that speaks, but a special heart that listens. —Lubavitcher Rebbe
Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible. —Dalai Lama
I certainly view the world differently from my 20s to my 70s. Here is a comparison table to contrast these viewpoints.
|In our 20s||In our 70s|
|Rolling Stones||kidney stones|
|acid trip||acid reflux|
|summer of love||summer of rest|
|Rocky Mountain High||road trip to OM-aha|
|head stand||head ache|
|spinal twist||twist and shout|
|turn on, tune in, drop out||turn over, tune out, drop off|
|When I’m Sixty Four||when I’m 74|
|With a Little Help from My Friends||with a lot of help from my friends|
|All You Need Is Love||the same – no change|
|take another little piece of my heart||take another little piece of my colon|
|Breakfast at Tiffany’s||breakfast in bed|
|A Day in the Life||365 days times 74 years in the life|
|hair today||gone tomorrow|
|Talking About My Generation||OK boomer|
|Time Is On My Side||ain’t it funny how time slips away|
|Grateful Dead||grateful not to be dead|
|Can’t Find My Way Home||the same – no change|
|I Heard It Throught the Grapevine||sorry, I didn’t hear you…|
|Let’s Spend The Night Together||that’s fine, but I go to sleep at 8 pm|
|On the Road Again||on the couch again|
|I Am The Walrus||I am the senior|
Benefits of Yoga
Dr. Baxter Bell provides a good summary of the benefits of Yoga in his book, “Yoga for Healthy Aging”:
- Strength and endurance: Gives strength to muscles and bone
- Flexibility: Stretching joints, muscles, and tendons improve the range of motion
- Balance: Increased confidence to avoid falls and injuries
- Agility: Improved stamina and speed
- Heart: Exercise, diet, stress reduction all strengthen the heart and circulation
- Brain and nervous system: Reduce stress, improve memory, improve sleep
- Stress management: Through relaxation and meditation, emotions are calmed
- Equanimity: Meditation and Yoga philosophy enhance equanimity and gratitude
- Breathing: Regular practice of pranayama strengthens the lung and improves breathing
- Yoga philosophy: The teachings of yama (disciplines) and niyama (observances) encourage contentment and detachment
- Sri Swami Satchidananda: Integral Yoga Hatha, Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1970/2014
- Kali Morse: “Yoga and Aging Gracefully: A Journey”
- Karuna Kreps: “Practice, Practice, Practice”
- Yoga International: “10 Tips for Starting Yoga”
- Intra Yoga Therapy: “77 Benefits of Yoga”
- AARP: “Yoga to Try in your 70’s and Beyond”
- Harvard: “Benefits Beyond the Mat”
- Johns Hopkins: “9 Benefits of Yoga”
- “The Healing Power of Yoga” – Swami Satchidananda’s teachings on holistic health
- Sandra Amrita McLanahan, MD: “Surgery and Its Alternatives”, Kensington Books, 2002
- Dean Ornish, MD: UnDo It!, Ballantine Books, 2019
- Meera Patricia Kerr and Dr. Sandra Amrita McLanahan: Take a Deep Breath, Square One, 2020
- Lynn Lehmkuhl: Chair Yoga for Seniors, Skyhorse Press, 2020
- Baxter Bell, MD & Nina Zolotow: Yoga for Healthy Aging, Shambhala Publications, 2017
About the Author
Barry Siva Wick is a husband, a father, a grandfather, a brother, a twin, an uncle, a cousin, a friend, a neighbor, a volunteer, a Karma Yogi. His father passed away when Siva was in his 20s and living at the Integral Yoga Institute of New York at 500 West End Avenue, where it was located at that time. Unfortunately, Siva was never able to share much Yoga with his father. Certainly, a lifelong regret. His mother passed away when Siva was in his 40s. He was her first Yoga teacher. Coincidentally, she was his first music teacher. A nice exchange. Siva’s greatest joys are family and friends and gathering for the major holidays: Passover, Thanksgiving, and Chanukah.