This past Sunday was the 35th anniversary of my first yoga class at the old “Yoga Church”, half a block from my house on La Veta Avenue in Encinitas. I had been walking by the Church the day before and stopped to find out the schedule from a guy working in the garden who introduced himself as Nate. Nate said, “In two months you can be as limber as a gymnast.” Intrigued by the promise of Gumby-like flexibility I showed up for class the next day at 5pm, ready to do some painful and exotic stretching. The stretching did turn out to be very exotic, but not particularly painful. The intelligent progression of the practice and precise integration of breath and movement was like magic for my body, mind, and soul. My body felt like it had come back to life--some kind of natural intelligence had been awakened in it. My mind became very quiet, attentive and receptive. Best of all was feeling reconnected to my own soul—that peaceful, wise, and loving presence within that felt like home. It was a profound and life-changing experience, providing me with a much-needed path to navigate through the jungle of human existence that I had been very lost in. Over the past 35 years, the practice has rewarded me with many blessings of both a personal and professional nature. Never was there anyone who needed yoga as much as me. I was a walking advertisement for “Unfulfilled Potential”—depressed, lethargic, toxic, and lacking in self-esteem. Not one date in the 15 months I had lived in Encinitas. It was like I had a big sign on my forehead that said “Loser”. I was pathetic. Then, in the space of an hour and a half, everything changed for me--my life did a 180-degree turn and everything began to unfold in a magical way. I started feeling healthy and, trusting the intelligence of my body, I radically changed my diet and personal habits as a way of facilitating my detoxification. With my new- found self-discipline I began to feel much better about myself and began to attract good things into my life—like women! Suddenly I had lots of dates. Obviously there was some alchemy at work that was affecting my life on every level. I began delving into spiritual texts again after a long hiatus. It seemed that I was tapping into some great Universal Intelligence that was redirecting my life in the most positive of ways. Life was fun, exciting, and new for the first time since I was a kid.
When I think back on this time I get a little wistful, remembering all the amazing growth, self- discovery, and joy provided by the practice. At this time of year, I find myself wanting to find that kind of magic in the practice again. Is this possible after 35 years? Physically, of course, I am no longer 26 and find myself sometimes gravitating towards an “Ashtanga for Seniors” program to address my specific needs, but, I’m not sure there is much magic in that. I must admit that I feel the best when I am able to muster a strong practice. To celebrate my anniversary on Sunday I practiced the Second Series (which I do every Sunday). My body is not as flexible as it once was, or as strong or thin, and I find I have a few more aches and pains as I approach 62, but I do my best and the practice still leaves me in a magical place of peace and clarity. There is no denying the physical reality of aging, but at the same time there is a considerable mental component to it all. I’m finding that 61 is not that much different from 51 (although it is pretty different from 26). If I can continue to take good care of myself, stay active, not get too fat, and think young, I hope to squeeze in another 35 years of practice. When I first met Pattabhi Jois in 1978 he had just turned 63 and seemed remarkable youthful. As it turned out for him, he was just getting warmed up.