Teaching Yoga…Despite the Effects of Gravity
By Kristine Kaoverii Weber | May 6, 2022
When I was a younger person, I occasionally attended yoga classes taught by people with stunning acrobatic skills. I would think, “That’s beautiful, but…there’s just no way…”
I started to secretly call those classes “Last Man Standing Yoga” – the poses keep getting harder and harder. Students start dropping like flies. Eventually, only the teacher is left performing – the rest of us eating dust.
I struggled with feeling like a sub-par teacher. What was I supposed to do – get a hamstring transplant?
I had to get better at understanding, embodying, and explaining the rationale for teaching differently – in a way that helps people dismantle the obsession with hypermobility and acrobatics. I got labeled the gentle or beginner teacher (which at the time was hurtful but I now see it as a compliment, thank you very much 😇).
Pretty early on I learned something that in yoga circles tends to get swept under the Manduka: hypermobility is genetic – and it’s not necessarily a gift.
One of my friends was a hypermobile teacher, and while she was wonderful and hugely popular, she developed all sorts of joint problems and pain that she kept secret. I remember her telling me that she just needed to stretch more. But she was wrong about that and eventually she realized she had to completely change the way she practiced and taught. She still works hard to heal her injuries from those days (and curses her younger self’s cluelessness…don’t we all 😂).
While I felt empathy for her (and many others who’ve followed), I also felt a little grumpy. Hypermobile teachers were commandeering packed classes and promoting dysfunctional, inaccessible movement – unhealthy for hypermobile students on one hand, shaming for the non-hypermobile on the other (risky for both). They cashed in on the largely unspoken edict that hypermobility was an asset, something to strive for, and the hallmark of a good yoga teacher, the goal of practice.
That was about 20 years ago and while hypermobility still dominates yoga in the U.S, it’s inspiring to see how much has changed and how many more choices there are now. I think it’s partly because so many of the people who were attracted to yoga in the 90s and 2000s are getting older – they simply have to find more sustainable ways to practice.
Aging is the inevitable reality of life (and needless to say, better than the alternative). Although I’d been an advocate for accessible yoga basically since I started teaching, a few years ago I realized that the ability to rethink, reframe, and embody the positive aspects of aging was going to be equally essential if I want to keep advocating.
We live in a youth obsessed, death denying, death defying culture.
In addition to my Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube feeds screaming at me with images of youthful hypermobile yoga poses, they are also really screechy about face creams, push up bras, miracle weight loss diet plans, and devices promising to rid me of my unsightly turkey neck. (Lucky for me advertisers understand that reversing gravity’s effect on my face, boobs, belly, and neck will finally give my life the meaning and purpose I’ve always longed for. 🙄)
Women are subjected to a lifelong barrage of advertising aimed at our insecurities. Aging women are additionally assaulted with messages that we are losing value and so if we don’t respond, that loss will accelerate.
I love teaching slow, mindful, sustainable, low-risk, nervous system focused yoga. And I will probably (fingers crossed) be able to teach it for years to come. I use my practice to feel better in my body and to feel better about who I am, not to lose weight, look younger, nail a handstand, or accomplish anything other than health, self-understanding, and ease of movement.
And that’s all I want to teach too.
The great thing about teaching yoga is that the older I get, the more studying I have under my belt, the more experience I have, the more I have to share, the more people I can help, and the better I become at teaching. And I have lots of role models.
Did you know that famed yoga teacher Indra Devi lived to be 102? She was one of the first women that Krishnamacharya agreed to teach and she became well known in Hollywood in the 40s and 50s. She taught Greta Garbo, Eva Gabor, Yul Brenner and Marilyn Monroe.
Geeta Iyengar taught yoga most of her adult life until she died in her 70s. As the oldest daughter of B.K.S. she carried on his lineage and specialized in yoga for women’s health. Then there are folks like Nischala Joy Devi whose book The Secret Power of Yoga is a sweet and practical interpretation of the Yoga Sutras, Judith Lasater who started teaching in 1971 and is still a tour de force, and Angela Farmer whose yoga teacher “untraining” idea was brilliant – and way before it’s time.
I am also inspired by all the not so famous older yoga teachers like Ida Herbert who taught in Canada and Connie Dennison in Scotland. There are so many of them. And they all got better with age.
No one wins the rat race. We will all go gentle into that good night. But for older women yoga teachers, instead of raging against the dying of the light, we may want to consider raging against the sexism and ageism that tells us to quietly fade away. We may wish, instead, to lay the foundation of a healthier yoga world for the women teachers who will come after us.
The second half or third of life is the best time to step into wisdom, knowledge, authority, service, and power. In order to uplift the next generation, we need to be willing to ruffle a few feathers.
For me, older teachers have been important role models and shining beacons. Because yoga is not about how you look, it’s about how you feel…and, if you are practicing sustainable yoga as you age…you will feel mahvelous.