The 5 Stages of Starting Yoga as an Older Adult
Many years ago, I had the pleasure of working with Elizabeth Kubler Ross. As you may know, in her book, On Death and Dying, Elizabeth described the 5 stages of grief: anger, denial, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance.
Like most people, for many years, I thought of Elizabeth’s framework mostly in terms of its impact on the lives of people coming to terms with a terminal illness.
More recently, I have come to realize that the 5 stages that Elizabeth described can be applied to so many situations. For example, the stages that we go through after a divorce follow a similar pattern.
Now, after 8 weeks in Bali, I can see that these same stages apply to my yoga journey. Over the last 2 months, I have cried, hidden myself away, begged my teachers to take it easy on me, temporarily given up and, finally, learned to love myself just a little more.
It has been an amazing ride and I’d love to share with you a little more about my journey these last 8 weeks. I hope that my experiences will give you the confidence to give yoga a shot. If I can do it, you can too!
Please don’t be discouraged when you read about the beginning of my personal journey. As you will see, by the end, gentle yoga became a vital part of my life. In fact, I can’t imagine going for even a single day without it!
At the same time, everyone is always so positive about the benefits of yoga that it’s hard to get a feeling for what is normal. As a result, many of us, especially older adults, are left wondering whether we are the only ones struggling to get in the groove.
Here are the 5 stages that I have gone through over the last 8 weeks as I learned to make gentle yoga a part of my life.
Denial – “I Can’t Be This Out of Shape!”
I always thought that I was fairly active, compared to other people my age. I walk at least 30 minutes a day. I swing my kettle ball around every morning. I even take the occasional Jazzercise class at my local gym.
Unfortunately, none of these activities really forced me to come to terms with my aging body. When I walked, I did so at my own pace. I was constantly distracted by the beauty of the world around me. When I swung the kettle ball, I did so only for as long as it was comfortable and easy.
Then, after 30 years on the sidelines, I started doing yoga again and all of my pride came crashing down around me. Just 20 minutes into my first 90 minute class, I remember thinking, “This can’t be. How can I be this out of shape?”
I don’t say this to discourage you. Quite the opposite. As I will explain a bit later, I eventually pushed through these feelings and I have never felt better about myself. Instead, I am mentioning how I felt because it may help to immunize you against similar feelings in the future.
In my experience, the time after the 1st class is the most dangerous. If you aren’t mentally prepared for a little disappointment, you may quit before you have a chance to get on the path to health and happiness.
Anger – “I Can’t Believe I Let Myself Get This Out of Shape!”
After about a week in Bali, my focus shifted a bit. Instead of saying to myself, “I can’t believe I’m this out of shape,” I found myself thinking, “I can’t believe I let myself get this out of shape.”
It’s a subtle distinction, but, one that was quite painful for me. I started to think about all of the decisions that I had made in the past – what I ate, how much I exercised and how I treated my body.
Fortunately, I had a great yoga teacher, Eka, who helped me through this stage. He reminded me that yoga is all about learning to accept ourselves. It is also about learning to own our decisions and our unique background.
No two people step into a yoga class with the same body. We all have unique challenges and opportunities. Part of the magic of yoga is learning to understand (and eventually love) your own body. If you don’t, nobody else will!
Bargaining – “Please Take it Easy on Me”
After about 2 weeks, I had decided that, no matter what, I would not quit. I was going to do yoga for the entire 8 week trip.
Unfortunately, I’m embarrassed to say that I did something almost as bad (at least in my mind.) I started to let my age become an excuse.
When I went to a new yoga class, I would walk up to the teacher, tell her that I am in my 60s and excuse myself for not being able to do all of the poses.
I let myself believe that I was doing this for practical reasons. I mean, shouldn’t everyone let their teacher know about their limitations? When it comes to medical conditions, absolutely! When it comes to age-related excuses, not so much!
Looking back, I’m honestly not sure what I was expecting. Was I looking for sympathy? Did I want more attention? Or, was I simply giving myself permission to take it easy?
As the founder of a community dedicated to helping women to break aging stereotypes, none of these options sits well with me.
Depression – “I’m Never Going to Be Able to Do This”
About half way through my trip, I started to believe that I was never going to “succeed” at yoga… whatever that means. I was still feeling stiff, despite doing yoga consistently for weeks. Most of all, I was frustrated that I couldn’t do all of the yoga poses that I saw all around me.
In a moment of desperation, I did what any rational woman would do. I walked down to a local café, ordered a glass of wine and a big piece of chocolate cake and called my son for advice.
Now, Nathan isn’t a yoga instructor, but, he’s one of the wisest people I know. He reminded me that yoga is all about connecting with your own body. It’s not like taking a martial art, where your success is measured by how you progress through the belt colors. It’s a personal journey.
He reminded me that the only important question is “What does my body need today?” The instructor is a guide, but, you are in charge of your practice, just as you are responsible for your happiness.
Acceptance – “The Journey is the Goal”
Over the next 4 weeks, I spent a lot of time thinking about the advice that I received from my family and all of the wonderful yoga teachers that I had the opportunity to work with. And, of course, I continued to do yoga every day.
Eventually, I started to realize that I win just by showing up and putting my heart and soul into my practice.
As I sit here, cup of steaming green tea in hand, it’s hard for me to relate to the emotions that I felt in my first few weeks in Bali.
Did I achieve my goals? Yes and no.
Physically, I still have a long way to go. There are many poses that I would still love to be able to do, not because they look good, but, because they are additional tools to help me connect with my body.
Emotionally, I couldn’t be happier with the process that I have made. Learning to reconnect with my body has exposed hidden wells of strength that I could have only dreamed of a few months ago.
Yes, I have more energy. Yes, I feel less stiff and more flexible. But, more importantly, I feel more like my true self than I have in decades.
It’s only been 8 weeks, but, I can see that gentle yoga will always be a part of my life. I can’t wait to see what the next 8 years will bring!
Have you started your yoga journey yet? If not, what is holding you back? If so, did you go through any of the stages that I went through? Or, was it all smooth sailing for you? Please join the conversation!