Age Gracefully With Yoga

Here is an excerpt of an article from Yoga Journal. The complete article is here:  Age Gracefully With Yoga.

From flexibilty to peace of mind, yoga develops qualities to keep you young at heart.

By Anne O’Brien and Grace Rubenstein

For Jaki Nett, a 68-year-old Iyengar instructor and former Playboy bunny, yoga at first was a path to salvation. “It gave me an escape from my wild life,” she says with characteristic bluntness. Over the decades, it has sustained and enriched the trailblazing practitioner through marital strife, illness, menopause, weight gain, and, now more than ever, the process of aging. Today, Nett is grateful for her practice and feels quite comfortable in her own skin.

“Yoga is absolutely essential to my aging with grace—physically, emotionally, and socially,” Nett says. “Now, I’m moving into that role as an elder teacher, maybe even a role model for older women, and I take pride in that. I accept the role with relish!”

Senior woman practices yoga.In a culture that frames aging as a process of loss, a lifelong yoga practice offers myriad benefits. On a physical level, yoga can give you a strength and a suppleness that make it more likely you’ll enjoy an active life as you age. On a deeper level, it can provide a sense of self-acceptance and gratitude that is often missing in one’s younger years, as well as a gradual quieting of the ego as perfection ceases to be a goal.

The physical benefits of the practice over time—maintaining flexibility, lowering blood pressure, easing chronic conditions such as back pain and arthritis, and potentially helping to prevent major health crises like heart disease and strokes—are matched by an equal number of benefits that are less tangible. Yoga sharpens the mind, helps cultivate acceptance, hones discipline, and fortifies a sense of self.

As they reflect on their lives, dedicated yogis point to the internal gifts of practice as the ones they have come to value the most. Flexibility, skill, and vitality continue to sustain their bodies as they get older, but the self-acceptance, self-knowledge, and forgiveness that deepen and grow through yoga practice make aging a process of more, not less, enjoyment.

“I believe I’m practicing now for my old age—to keep movement and suppleness in my shoulders, my hips, my spine; to retain strength,” Nett says. “The intensity of practice that I sought in youth isn’t as appealing to body or mind, but I can still play in my body and enjoy my asana.”

Coming Home

Jaki Nett’s life in yoga began decades ago while she was in the midst of nearly a dozen years of serving drinks at the Playboy Club in Los Angeles in the late 1960s and 1970s. She had a shapely size-zero body and a snappy style, but she led a chaotic life of “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll.” She says, deep down, “I knew I had to get out of the lifestyle.”

Driving to work every day, she would pass a little studio with a huge sign that said, simply, “Yoga.” It always caught her eye. Finally, in 1973, Nett went to a class and began to let go. “I cried in every class for two months,” she says.

“It came from that surprising depth where tears of joy flow. It’s like when you reunite with an old friend or return to the comforts of home and realize how much you have missed it,” Nett explains.

Coming home to yoga can exert a powerful, positive influence from the beginning, overwhelming habits that conflict with yoga philosophy. In Nett’s case, her self-destructive desire to dabble in drugs and alcohol was replaced by a desire to deepen her practice.

She went to Mexico for teacher training with Indra Devi in 1977, and in 1978, Nett met a man at a Kripalu Yoga teacher training in Pennsylvania. They fell in love and were married eight months later. She and Allan Nett settled in California’s Napa Valley, where they opened a private Iyengar studio in their home.

Eight years ago, she became an intermediate senior Iyengar instructor, the highest certification of any African American woman in the United States.

“Yoga became my rudder and, ultimately, my way of life,” says Nett. “It was a part of me I was looking for.”

Yoga grants no immunity from life’s inevitable calamities, but the practice cultivates the courage and calm, as well as the acceptance and humility to help transform rocky moments or full-blown crises into periods of growth. Nett credits her practice, and her belief in yoga, with getting her through a difficult time in her marriage and for helping her to maintain a sense of self through a bout of physical and emotional health issues.

Emotional Rescue

When she was in her 50s, Nett recalls, her marriage was on the brink of collapse. She went to India to continue training with Geeta Iyengar and poured out her troubles to her teacher. She told Nett, as they planned for her to return in a year, “Come back with your husband.”

Nett realized that she had to reconsider her position and accept Geeta’s suggestion in the same way she had learned to accept adjustments in her asana. The willingness to let go and to stay with an idea without judgment is a foundation of yoga philosophy that applies on and off the mat. Her teacher’s instruction “made me stop and look,” Nett says. “It was the turning point when I could say, ‘I’m going to see this through.'”

Around the same time as the marital rift, Nett hit menopause. She reeled from that double punch emotionally and physically, and her weight soared. She grew from a slender 135 pounds to nearly 200. “I was not feeling good about myself,” she recalls. “I ballooned so much that I would go into stores and people would ignore me, like I had disappeared.” In her practice, Nett says, “I would do poses, and I would run into my own body.”

Once again, Nett turned inward and saw a need to reconnect with her teachers. She prepared to make a retreat to India and to use her practice, as she always had, to make deeper contact with her body and her Self. When she got there, Nett immersed herself in yoga, finding the time and desire for only one meal a day.

Fed by her practice, sated by rich spiritual sustenance, she shed her extra pounds rapidly. “It made me feel good about myself,” Nett recalls. “I saw that having that weight on my body got in the way of my even wanting to practice.”

 

This is an excerpt of an article from Yoga Journal. The complete article is here:  Age Gracefully With Yoga.

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