I rekindled an adolescent love of yoga 5 years ago. You might not know it to look at me. As a 60 something post menarche who has lived life fully, I wear my “menopot” with a bit a self-consciousness. Although I try to tell myself that my belly is magical or jolly like those of ancient Goddesses and Buddha, it’s very existence seems to defy my post retirement aspiration of sharing yoga with others. Even though many different types and shapes of people practice yoga, I just don’t look like what most people think a yoga teacher looks like. The funny thing about yoga is, despite what you may see on the many covers of Yoga magazines, the change on the inside can be much greater than the change on the outside. This was clearly my experience with yoga.
As I entered my 50s, a series of life events (Job changes and career moves, my Dad’s death and a series of my own health issues) had me feeling tired, worn out and much older than my years inside and out. My “come to yoga” moment occurred when I was in recovery from a foot surgery that did not have the expected positive outcome that the doctor had predicted. While the surgical intervention corrected the condition that it was supposed to, there were some complications which lead to reduced mobility and limited feeling in my left foot. While still under the influence of post surgical pain prescriptions, a little voice in my head said, “Denyse, you’re much too young to feel this old.” As soon as I could escape my convalescent bed, my husband bought me a fancy purple wooden cane with an elegant silver handle so I could hobble around in style. I then contacted my yoga teacher, Rixie Dennison and asked her advice on getting more in-depth training than the weekly class that I took with her.
Before I could chant OM 3 times, I was enrolled in an in-depth yoga program which also had an option to train to be a yoga teacher. I hobbled into the first class aided by my stylish purple cane still wearing my unstylish, but functional surgical boot. As I looked around the studio, I immediately felt I had made a terrible mistake. Eager, healthy, lean yoga students were seated crossed legged on yoga mats on the floor in a buzz of excited conversation. I headed to the solitary folding chair, thankfully, placed in the back of the room. I spent the first 3 months of training seated in the chair. I learned to do seated chair poses and connect my breath with what movement I could muster. Soon I ventured onto the floor. I moved slower than others, but I remembered to continue to connect my breath with movement. My body missed doing poses I used to be able to do in my youth, but I learned modifications.
Each month, I was able to achieve more mobility. Balancing poses were tough as well as anything that put pressure on my feet or required my toes to bend. I noticed my physical strength was improving but a more dramatic internal shift was also happening. My work life seemed to be imploding. I approached each work crisis from a calmer perspective. I reacted to any mini-dramas in my life with less anxiety. I started to make healthier food choices. My body began to crave movement and desired to strengthen itself in balance poses. I was still overweight, but I felt healthier.
Midway through the training program, the yoga studio owner, Dawn Curtis approached me. “Denyse, you really should consider continuing the training to become a teacher.” I looked at her incredulously, gesturing toward my body. “Are you kidding me?” “No.” She stated simply.
I began to take her suggestion seriously. In 2011, I completed the minimum hours of training to be a registered yoga teacher. However, I didn’t feel ready to teach so I continued in-depth studies with teachers outside of my local area who specialized in Restorative Yoga, Yoga Therapy or Yoga for Seniors. After a powerful Therapeutic Yoga for Seniors training created and taught by Carol Krucoff and Kimberly Carson and medical professionals at Duke University, I understood and saw clearly demonstrated that yoga can transform our relationship to both our internal and external age no matter what is ailing us.
For me, the transformation has been more internal than external. While my “menopot” can still disrupt my sense of ease in my body, internally I feel grateful, vibrant, balanced, and younger than my years. This internal sense of balance and connection caused me to do something completely out of character for the “older” Denyse. While on our 25th Wedding anniversary in Maui, I did a yoga pose in public and asked my husband to capture it on camera. I felt so alive as all my senses inhaled the Pacific Ocean and the strong trade winds cooling the hot late spring day. Even though I was in my sandals and not my podiatrist prescribed walking shoes, I ventured out toward the uneven rocky cliff over looking the deep blue Pacific. I ground my feet into the terrain feeling my balance, inhaled my arms to shoulder height, found my strength and stability as I breathed into Warrior II. With my right foot pointed toward the Pacific and my weaker left foot holding its ground at an angle behind me, I gazed toward the Pacific and I felt connection and joy as the trade winds blew my hair in all directions so I could barely see. When I looked at the photo, my eyes immediately went to the “menopot” which was highlighted by the purse strap which I had not taken off for the photo. What I also saw was strength and confidence in my body. This inner change, thanks to the many lessons I’ve learned on my yoga journey, is what gives me the resilience and courage to face what age may bring my way in whatever years I have left in this life.
May 2016 ©Denyse Le Fever