Several years ago, I sat outside of my first gentle yoga class at Yoga Barn in Bali, my emotions as turbulent as the jungle air around me. The tiny voices of a thousand insects struck me as I waited in the humid air.
In more ways than one, I felt like a stranger. I was new to this island paradise. I hadn’t yet come to understand and love the nature around me. All of the students waiting with me looked so young and confident, their yoga mats, held in trendy bags, slung over well-toned arms.
Most of all, I felt like a stranger in my own body. At home, it was easy to ignore the signals that my body was sending. Now, I felt the fatigue, stiffness and lack of energy acutely.
Now, it’s no exaggeration to say that I feel like a different woman. I know that this is just the very beginning of my yoga journey. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Likewise, you don’t just erase a lifetime of habits, reactions and thought processes in a single trip. But, all-in-all, this was a good start.
As I near the end of my trip, I wanted to share a few thoughts with you about fear. More specifically, I want to talk about how fear can prevent us from trying something like yoga. I hope that my own experience gives you the confidence to get everything you deserve from life after 60.
Here are the 5 fears that women our age face when it comes to starting gentle yoga.
Fear of Failure
Two thoughts that ran through my head almost every day in Bali were “I’m not flexible enough” and “I’m not strong enough.”
Now, with the wisdom of hindsight, I find myself asking, “Not flexible compared to what?” and “Not strong enough for what?”
I always thought that yoga involved a linear progression from simple to complicated positions. In this context, “success,” was progressing through the moves, a little like one might progress through the belt colors in a martial art.
Now, I realize that yoga is a personal journey. There is no such thing as “failing at yoga.” The unique way that you choose to practice yoga should be a response to the question, “what does my body, mind and soul need today?”
So, let go of the fear of failure. It is simply not a factor when it comes to yoga.
Fear of Embarrassment
This is perhaps the most direct fear that women over 60 have when it comes to gentle yoga. Women of all ages suffer from a lack of confidence when it comes to their bodies. Older women have to deal with the added fear of looking out of place as an older adult in a room full of 20-somethings.
Unlike the fear of failure, which is solvable through a shift in frame, the fear of embarrassment requires a more practical approach. In my opinion, the only way to deal with the fear of embarrassment is to gain confidence through exposure.
This doesn’t mean that you need to “get over it” and join a 60-person class right away. You could start by using our gentle yoga videos to build your confidence.
Then, you could find a class in your home city that meets during the day, when other people are at work. It’s much easier to start in a class of 10 than in a class of 60.
Eventually, you will come to realize that everyone is too busy worrying about what they are doing to pay attention to you. If anything, the looks that you get from the other students will be looks of admiration. They will simply be impressed that you are giving it a shot “at your age.”
Fear of Our Own Emotions
By the time we reach our 60s and 70s, we have many emotions buried deep inside. Many of us are carrying around anger, depression, sadness or anxiety.
In our everyday lives, we do a pretty good job of hiding these emotions from the world. We avoid certain situations. We build up walls and break down bridges.
Yoga, for reasons that I cannot yet fully understand, brings these emotions to the surface. As you are holding a difficult pose, especially one that involves a small amount of discomfort, it’s quite usual to feel yourself feeling inextricably angry, sad or frustrated.
The important thing to remember is that emotions are there for a reason. Hiding them behind layers of defense mechanisms is not healthy. So, don’t fear the impact that yoga has on your emotions. Embrace it.
Fear of Pain or Discomfort
There is a certain amount of irony to the fact that the fear or pain and discomfort keeps older adults away from yoga. After all, these are exactly the reasons to start yoga. You could even argue that older adults can benefit from gentle yoga, more than young people, for exactly this reason.
The important thing to remember is that pain is just information. It tells you how far you can go in each position. It also tells you were you need to focus your practice.
As one of my instructors said, “Try to treat pain as your friend.” This is difficult advice to follow, but, it is also so important.
Fear of the Unknown
Finally, many women my age avoid yoga because it sounds mysterious or “new-agey.” Others worry that the spiritual aspect of yoga may conflict with their own religious practices. The only advice that I can give here is to seek out answers for yourself.
Don’t assume that you know what yoga really is based on what you see in the movies. As someone once told me, yoga is as deep as the ocean. It means many different things and there are plenty of options out there.
People of all backgrounds and beliefs practice yoga. If you research yoga and decide that it’s not for you, that’s totally fine. But, I would encourage you to at least do some research and ask a few questions before dismissing it out of hand.
Like with so many fears, the fear of the unknown can be positive or negative; it can be a catalyst for change or it can chain you to the past.
I hope that my own experiences help you to start your own yoga journey. I’m looking forward to returning to Bali at least once a year and I hope that you will join me!
What is the biggest fear that prevents you from trying yoga? What intrigues you most about yoga? Please join the conversation.