If someone had a yogi couple of the year award, I would nominate Susan and Bill. No, Susan can’t put her leg behind her head while balancing on her arms. I’ve never seen Bill float from downward dog into a handstand and then gracefully glide into a seated position. Susan has beat up her knees so much skiing and running over the years that lotus may forever elude her.
But they are my nominees nonetheless.
On vacation here in Nosara, Susan came across the Ashtanga yoga class I’ve been teaching while Laura, the regular teacher, is visiting the states. Susan had studied Ashtanga before, but ended up with a strict teacher in Telluride who insisted everyone learn the chants and the Sanskrit names for the poses. I think Susan’s curious and joyful nature felt a bit caged with her teacher’s stringent rules.
But Susan liked my class and brought Bill, who has never studied yoga, to the next one. They became my regulars, showing up like clockwork at 8 A.M. every other morning.
I need to point out here (with their permission) that Susan and Bill are in their early seventies. They are practicing ASHTANGA. And they are doing so playfully and joyfully. Most yogis I know run the other way when they hear the word Ashtanga. They think it’s too rigid, too hard, to conforming.
Because, seriously, who really does this?
On this vacation, in addition to recommitting to a yoga practice, Susan is taking Spanish lessons. Bill is learning how to surf. Susan is getting over her life-long fear of the water by riding the waves on a boogie board.
Did I mention that they are in their 70’s? Most people their age would be settled into the comfortable patterns and conditions of their long lives, willing to settle for a familiar and risk-free way of being. In fact, most of us do that regardless of our age or physical state.
This couple is barging through several so-called barriers on just one vacation.
When I was growing up in in Miami, my family frequented the Crandon Park Zoo. It was an old-fashioned zoo, with tiny cages for the animals. I remember feeling a familiar pang of melancholy every time I watched the black bear pacing in his 10’x20’ cage, rolling his head from side to side. Those bars literally limited the potential of his life.
In the 1970’s construction began on a new, modern zoo with large, natural habitats. Over the next several years, the zookeepers began migrating the animals to their new homes.
The black bear got a big new expanse of land, with a moat instead of bars. Yet when they moved him in, he wore out a 10’x20’ rut, pacing the same exact path he had created in his cage for so many years. The conditioning in his mind and spirit was so powerful that the bars, though physically gone, still confined him.
At seventy-something, it would be so easy for Susan and Bill to opt for a similar way—to be the black bear in his imaginary cage. They might have listened to the voices in their heads.
“Ashtanga is too strict and too hard for my weathered joints.”
“I am too old to learn Spanish.”
“I can’t surf at my age—don’t be ridiculous!”
“I’ve been afraid of water all my life, that’s never going to change.”
Instead, every morning Susan and Bill get up, look around and see potential. They see options and possibilities where you and I might see fear or discomfort. There are no bars—imaginary or otherwise—that keep them from experiencing life to its fullest.
They brought their playful and warm spirits to class every day, reminding me of that black bear at the new Miami Zoo. Months after moving in, he finally looked up and saw all that was available to him in his new world. He saw that the bars that kept him pacing that same space every day were all in his little bear brain.
And, despite a lifetime of conditioning, he stepped out of his rut and got to the business of living.
We can all learn a lesson from that black bear. And from my new friends Susan and Bill.