The average age of the women in my yoga class at Wake Robin is, I'm guessing, somewhere in the eighties. And because she announced it proudly as she introduced herself to me, I know that at least one of us is in her mid-nineties.
Although there are chairs spaced around the room for those who need them, the class is more demanding than I expected. We begin with a couple of breaths in mountain pose, and dive right into forward bends, down-face dogs, warrior asanas, cobra, eagle, bridge, boat and, my nemesis, tree and dancer, the balance poses.
Fourteen years of yoga have taught me what Catholics call "custody of the eyes." That means that I limit my vision roughly to the area of my mat, and with the exception of the standing poses I mostly practice with eyes closed, doing my best to focus on my breath, my inner sensations, the state of my soul. Still, I do get an occasional glimpse of what is going on around me.
And this is what I see. I see arms that won't rise all the way up, legs that barely bend at the knee, backs that won't arch, hands that cannot touch the floor. Bending forward, touching my nose to my knee, I ask wonder, "If I couldn't reach the floor with my hands, or flex my knees, would I even think of coming to yoga?"
But those arms are reaching as high as they can; those knees are striving to bend; and with each forward bend, hands stretch closer to the floor. The instructor guides us into warrior one. I raise my arms as high as I can, keeping them close to my ears, and pushing my shoulders down. My eyelids flutter open and I see someone in front of me whose right arm won't go up at all, but whose left is raised defiantly towards the sky.
This, it dawns on me, is the real warrior pose, the pose of courage and strength, and what we aging yoginis practice on Friday mornings is the real yoga--no head stands, plows, peacocks or crows--just showing up and doing whatever each of us can reasonably do, accepting ourselves and the cards the universe has dealt us.
By the way, of all the yoga classes I've been in--and they number well over a dozen--this one chants the most harmonious om's of all.