When I turned 50, a lifetime of sloth and inertia behind me, I reckoned it was high time I started doing a bit of exercise before everything seized up. I thought to myself: what do older women do for exercise? I know – yoga! (Though in my neighbourhood I see many more youngsters than oldies practising the art.)
I joined a beginners’ class, and attended it most weeks for about three years. During that time I went on two yoga holidays; I started to realise I was doing a bit of yoga most days and consequently enjoying the benefits, including greater flexibility, stronger legs, better posture and improved balance. When my pal Alison suggested I train to teach, I thought, why not?
The process, however, was no doddle – 18 months of hard graft, both physically and academically (the anatomy I found particularly tough), but in July this year, aged 61, I was thrilled to pass the final exam and am now a fully fledged yoga teacher!
When asked what type of yoga I teach, I have to fight off the urge to reply ‘mongrel yoga’. Essentially, though, that’s how I was taught: to be open to many different styles and approaches and, most importantly, to teach with safety and accessibility in mind. That is, to make sure students don’t injure themselves and that, no matter how stiff, overweight, old, unfit or inexperienced the student, a teacher should aim to have every person leaving the end of the session feeling valid, optimistic, uplifted and energised.
I much prefer to teach individuals or very small groups at home than large classes in a studio: that way, you can check people’s alignment (very important) and help students get into the correct pose, or modifications of the pose if people are new and a bit stiff, or have a long-term health condition.
My own teacher said something to me a few years back, and it really stuck: ‘Practise yoga today so you can practise yoga tomorrow.’ Simple as that. I’m committed to practising yoga daily for the rest of my life.
Master these easy positions for beginners and you’ll soon enjoy the benefits – who knows, you may even be able to stretch far enough to clean away those pesky cobwebs lurking on the highest ceilings!
Aggie teaches from her home studio in north London; tel 07769 702615 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for details
A few yoga poses for you to practise
Always inhale and exhale slowly and evenly through the nostrils, using the breath to allow you to move into the poses comfortably. If you take medication for any long-term health condition, please check with your GP before changing your exercise routine.
Lie on your back, arms by your sides, palms facing down. Bend knees and place feet on the mat, parallel and hip-width apart. Inhale, press hands and feet into the mat and on your exhale slowly peel your spine off the mat. Lengthen your tailbone towards your knees and raise your hips towards the ceiling, keeping thighs parallel. Maintain the lift in your chest and space between the back of your neck and the floor. Keep breathing. Draw your shoulder blades towards each other. Soften tongue and eyes. On an exhale, slowly lower pelvis to the floor. Take a breath or two and repeat.
Come to a wide stance, lengthways on the mat, outside edges of the feet parallel to short edges of the mat. Pivot on right heel so that toes face the short edge. Turn the left foot inwards by 30 degrees. Inhale and extend arms out in line with shoulders. As you exhale, slowly begin to tip your pelvis over the right thigh, keeping the spine long and legs straight. When you have gone as far as is comfortable, rest your right hand on the inside of your right leg (or a block or chair). Open your left shoulder towards the ceiling and raise your left hand towards the ceiling. Root your feet very firmly into the mat.
Keep the back of your head in line with the back of your pelvis, and turn your head to look up, if this is comfortable enough for your neck. Stay here for a few breaths before bending into your front knee and drawing yourself up to standing. Repeat on other side.
Warrior II pose.
Stand with feet wide apart, facing long edge of the mat. Turn your back foot in slightly and pivot on your front heel so your toes point towards the front of the mat. Traditionally, the heel of the front foot lines up with the arch of the back foot. Place your hands on your hips and bend your front knee so it stacks over your heel and keep it pointing towards your middle toes. Draw your left hip back, right hip forward so that your torso faces the long edge of your mat. Your shoulders should be directly above your hips. Keep your back leg straight and float your arms out to the sides, bringing them to a T, level with your shoulders. Draw the shoulder blades towards your waist. Take your gaze over your right hand. Hold for a few breaths, come back to centre and repeat on the other side.
Get down on all fours, knees directly below hips and hands about 4in ahead of shoulders. Spread your fingers apart, and press your thumbs and index fingers firmly into the mat. Inhale, tuck your toes under and on the exhale press your hips up and back into downward dog. Bend your knees to start, ensuring they point straight ahead. The aim in this pose is to lengthen the spine. Keep pressing the mat away from you. Externally rotate your upper arms to separate the upper shoulder blades and release tension in your neck. Send your hips high and draw the thighs to the back of the room. As you are looking to find length in the spine, if your lower back rounds keep your knees bent. To rest at any time, drop the knees gently to the mat and come into child’s pose (see below).
Stand tall with long spine, shoulders relaxed, tailbone facing towards heels; keep feet parallel and tummy muscles slightly engaged. Place hands on hips, shift your weight onto your right foot as you bend your left knee, and manually place the sole of left foot below or above your standing-leg knee. Your pelvis should be square and facing forward. Press your foot against your leg, and leg against foot. Keep the whole of the standing foot firmly grounded into the mat beneath you. Place your palms together at your heart centre or extend them overhead, keeping the shoulders away from the ears. Fix your gaze on a still spot in front of you to help balance. Hold for a few steady breaths and repeat on the other side.
Start by sitting on the mat, knees bent, feet on mat and hands on backs of thighs behind knees. Raise feet off mat to balance on your sitting bones; have shins parallel to mat. Engage core muscles – draw navel towards spine – and open the chest at the same time as lengthening the spine. Extend legs and point toes. If possible, release hands and direct fingers firmly towards front of mat. Hold for a couple of breaths before drawing legs in again and releasing the back towards mat.
Kneel on mat, thighs upright and hands on hips. Tuck your toes under and draw your hips forward. As you move the spine into an arc, lead with your chest and avoid letting your head fall back, but also avoid tucking your chin or not moving your head at all. Initiate the backbend with your chest, and move the back of your head backwards (not the crown) to keep length in the back of your neck. Press down into your knees to anchor your legs. Reach both hands back simultaneously and aim for the heels. Keep drawing your pelvis forward. Stay for a few breaths. When you are ready to come out of the pose, lead slowly with your chest so your head comes up last.
A lovely relaxing pose when you need a rest. Sit back in a kneeling position, opening the knees to the width of mat, tops of feet on mat with big toes touching. Fold forward and rest your head on the mat. Sit back on heels. Stretch arms out along the mat in front of you; shoulder blades edging down towards waist. If your bottom doesn’t reach your heels easily, place a block or blanket on top of heels to bridge the gap. Do the same if your head doesn’t reach the mat.