Published: May 11, 2022
“Next spring, turning 70, gives me pause. Restless, but for what?” I wrote in my journal in October 2021. Two months later I enrolled in a 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training program.
I was surprised (shocked!) by my decision.
A brief bio: I have been a yoga practitioner off and on for most of my life, starting during my colleges days at Ohio University. But running became my passion and yoga fell by the wayside. In 2000, I wrote a magazine-length article about yoga for the Plain Dealer, and after talking to so many amazing students and teachers I signed up for a weekly yoga class. I have never looked back.
Yet, I knew my limitations. When yogi friends announced they were pursuing yoga teacher training I applauded their efforts, but that was not for me. I could never learn body anatomy, I don’t like talking in front of a group and had a hard time pronouncing Spanish words, much less Sanskrit.
But my desire to learn more about yoga grew and on the eve of my 70th birthday I realized there was only one way to nurture that desire: I had to change my story. So I took a deep breath and hit the send button on the last day for early-bird enrollment at Body Alive in Cincinnati.
Finding comfort in being uncomfortable
I have read and written much about the value and health benefits of lifelong learning for older adults, whether it’s learning to play piano, hike the Appalachian Trail or make pottery.
Now, though, it was personal.
Filling in my calendar with all the training dates, I was clearly stepping out of my comfort zone: Every other weekend for four months; 25 hours every weekend; two hot yoga classes each weekend; long stretches sitting on a cushion. I stocked up on Epsom salts and Tylenol.
Along with the physical challenge, I knew the training would force me to face a long-held fear of speaking in front of a group. For most of my life I had been able to avoid being in front of a room, but I grew weary of standing back when there was something I really wanted to say.
Early on I came across a quote from marathon runner John Bingham – “The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.” I copied it in my yoga journal and looked at it when upcoming teaching sessions were on the horizon.
I also value the learning that happens in intergenerational gatherings, but wondered about the social dynamics. “I know I will be the oldest, but how much older?” I asked the yoga studio owner before I signed up. Too early to tell, she said, but added in so many words “Everybody’s got something.”
So true, I learned, as I got to know my 15 classmates, all women in their 20s, 30s and early 40s. Some women were juggling the demands of young children and full-time jobs. Others were seeking new careers or reimagining work life, dealing with financial challenges, struggling with partners and/or parents. Toward the end of class we learned that our instructor Bobby had never solo taught the training course before. Yes, we all had something.
When I felt challenged by my aging body I leaned into lighting up, or asking for help – neither my usual MO. “Maybe I should have spent the money on hearing aids instead of yoga training,” I thought more than once as I missed someone’s comment. As I struggled to untangle from a soaking wet yoga top in the locker room, I reached out to a nearby student, who kindly lent a hand. Later she would physically support me in a challenging partner pose.
Benefits of lifelong learning
Lifelong learning keeps our brain sharp, builds confidence, reduces isolation and stress, enhances the quality of our life, research shows.
Yes, Yes, Yes, and Yes, I say to that.
By the final weekend I memorized parts of the anatomy to pass a test, led a 20-minute yoga class AND a 20-minute presentation on my assigned topic of chakras (and actually enjoyed it), and while I still struggle to pronounce Sanskrit I can spell quite a few words. More importantly, I understand what the words mean, especially tapas (grit) and santosa (contentment).
I did not take the training to become a yoga teacher, but now that I have a certificate that says I can do so, who knows? I am currently a volunteer with Project Yoga, a non-profit that brings yoga to underserved and at-risk communities, and plan to become more involved, maybe as a teacher. One thing I do know is that what I learned during my four-month class will be a positive influence on my life, both on and off the mat, in ways big and small.
On our first night of training, Bobby had us write a letter to ourselves, which we opened at our graduation April 24 (pictured above). “I’m so proud of you,” I wrote.
Yes, everybody’s got something, and today, my first as a 70-year-old woman, I have something else – I’m a Registered Yoga Teacher 200.
We’d love to hear about a lifelong learning challenge you pursued or on your bucket list.
5 Ways of Living Life with Purpose
Studies show that people who feel they live a purposeful life tend to be healthier in body, mind and spirit.
In the past, Molly Kavanaugh frequently wrote about Kendal at Oberlin for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, where she was a reporter for 16 years. Now we are happy to have her writing for the Kendal at Oberlin Community.
About Kendal at Oberlin: Kendal is a nonprofit life plan community serving older adults in northeast Ohio. Located about one mile from Oberlin College and Conservatory, and about a 40 minute drive from downtown Cleveland, Kendal offers a vibrant resident-led lifestyle with access to music, art and lifelong learning.