You talk to anyone who does yoga, and they will tell you it is a practice. In the best of cases, it is a practice for life. Studies have shown that regular yoga asana practice over a long period of time supports flexibility and strength, peace of mind, and balance of emotions.

But what does it really mean to bring yoga into your life? And even more, what makes this practice something that you return to as part of your routine day after day, year after year?

I began practicing yoga when I was 23 and in college. At that time in 1997, I didn’t even know what yoga was, but I needed to take a class outside of my discipline. I was told it was an easy A, so I gave it a shot. I was instantly taken— the pain from scoliosis that I had lived with for many years dissipated. I realized that, for the first time in my life, I had some control over how my body felt. I had experienced pain in my body for so many years: I thought that I would feel that way for the rest of my life. To realize that I had the power to make myself feel better was intoxicating and kept me coming back for more.

Needless to say, there are as many different stages of yoga practice as there are practitioners, and whatever age one starts practicing yoga is the perfect time for every individual. But in a desire to celebrate the idea of yoga for life, I have interviewed a number of Jackson Hole yogis varying in age, from some of our youngest residents upward, to get a perspective on what brought them to yoga and what has made them stay.

Piper’s first visit to a yoga studio was when she was three months old. Her mom, Carter Cox, took her to “Mommy and Me” yoga classes. At eighteen months, Piper got on Carter’s mat with her while she was practicing and did poses with her. Eventually, Piper requested her own mat. She practiced online yoga classes with her mom, and she chose the classes herself. When Piper turned 6, Carter recognized the next step would be for Piper to go to an actual yoga class and thought they would go together. But Piper, ever independent, wanted to go by herself. Carter found a class that was just for kids at Inversion Yoga—Piper was thrilled.

Carter has noticed that by going to classes by herself, Piper is finding a sense of accomplishment as she works toward certain poses on her own. She loves to come home and show her family her progress. Another benefit that Carter has noticed is that Piper, a naturally fiery child, is more “calm and aware” of her actions since practicing yoga. When I asked her how daughter’s relationship to yoga has changed over time, Carter said that Piper has made it a part of her young life, like going to school or brushing her teeth. So much so that when Piper told her mom she “was going to work” and her mom asked her where “work” was, Piper matter of factly said “yoga.”

Brad started practicing yoga two years ago. He was having a tough time emotionally and was open to trying anything that would help. When someone suggested yoga, he decided to try it out at a nearby community center.
He took to it right away and started going once a week. In the summer of 2014, he moved to Jackson Hole and began practicing at Akasha Yoga studio. When Brad’s job got more demanding and he couldn’t go to classes as consistently as he had been, he quickly noticed that on the days he didn’t do yoga, he was grumpy. “People at work noticed a difference.” He began a home practice for the days he worked.

When I asked him what has changed most for him since doing yoga, he said “I’m more interested in the process of life than in showing the world results. I guess you could say I’m stronger inside myself.” He also has gotten physically stronger and is less injury prone. For Brad, yoga is less about the poses and more about feeling better emotionally and mentally. And as his practice evolves, yoga is helping him figure out who he is and the direction he wants to go in life.

Adi, owner of the Teton Yoga Shala, began her yoga journey when she was 15 with a Hatha class. Because Adi’s story is extensive and could take up this entire article, we’ll start when she went to college and started frequenting an Ashtanga Vinyasa studio in her neighborhood.

At that time, she was more attracted to the physicality of Ashtanga yoga than in finding emotional release from her practice, as she had when she was younger. But, over time, her ambition to achieve the most aggressive poses faded. This switch of concentration helped her when she had a skiing injury and had to have knee surgery in 2007. For the first month after her operation, she was immobilized, which gave her the opportunity to go deeper into meditation. Her sitting practice was feeding her soul, but her knee wasn’t getting better, which was frustrating. Then as fate would have it, she met a yoga teacher who taught her how to bene t from active yoga despite the physical limitations of her injury. Eddie Modestini introduced Adi to simple poses that she could focus on with a high amount of attention and precision.

As time went on her knee was rehabilitated and she was able to return to a more varied practice. Then, at 34, Adi began having a tough time getting pregnant. She asked her now mentor, Eddie, for advice. He told her that she needed to stop practicing so intensely. Adi once again turned her focus to meditation and practiced simple poses. Not long after taking this more restorative approach, she became pregnant.

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Adi found yoga and meditation helped stabilize her body and mind both before and after her pregnancy. After the birth of her son, Matteo, Adi experienced postpartum depression. With her mom there to help with the baby, Adi was able to carve out the much needed time to resume a meditation practice. She cultivated what she calls “a practice for her nervous system” which involved simple asanas done with attention to her breath while saying positive affirmations. She sang yoga mantras (sacred sounds in the form of a syllable, word, prayer, or phrase usually in Sanskrit) as a way to practice.

Through these methods, her depression lifted and she was able to engage fully with life again, which meant being a full-time mother with some yoga thrown in when time allowed. Eventually, though, she started to question her own studentship because of these shorter practices. She said she felt “an internal pressure” to get back to her old way of practicing. She expressed this distress to her mom, who replied: “Matteo is your yoga practice.” At that moment Adi asked herself, “If I’m not on the mat, am I really practicing?” Her answer was “YES!” Much of yoga is an act of learning to be present, and nowhere is that discipline better put to practice than with a baby. So Adi let go of the pressure she was putting on herself and made being present with her son her on-the-mat yoga practice. Her ability to be “in the now” with Matteo gave her a new found gratitude for yoga and all it had taught her. After all what was all her practice for, if not to be present with those she loved most?

Now that Matteo is a year and half, her practice is yet again transforming. She is able to have longer asana practices, sometimes even up to two hours. And she is more grateful than ever to continue to practice yoga, whatever form that it might take.

Joan is a yoga teacher and personal trainer. She started getting interested in yoga in the 1990’s to help with the tightness in her body caused by her various athletic pursuits. Initially, she chose a more rigorous Vinyasa style which reflected her intense, active lifestyle. Her yoga practice was sporadic until 2003 when she went through a big life transition.

Inspired to go deeper into her study of yoga, she decided to get certified as a teacher. Her 200 hours of training were based primarily on learning yoga postures and poses, but they also exposed her to yoga principles and philosophy. Intrigued, she began to study other aspects of yoga, which eventually led her to do another, more comprehensive, teacher training in 2010. This training pushed Joan to her physical limits and gave her further insight into how she needed to move forward. “I realized at 59 years old that I needed to find my own way, that it was ok not to push,” she said. “It was a turning point for me to explore more of my inner landscape.”

As her understanding of yoga expanded, she saw how yoga could be practiced in everyday life, not just in the studio. She said now, her yoga also involves “being in service, insight and connection” to others.

Joan practices her asanas in classes and has a home practice that fits into what else is happening in her life. Sometimes that means a half hour yoga practice, and at other times 5 minutes may be all she has time for. Because Joan infuses yoga into everything that she does, she no longer measures her progress by how minutes are spent on her mat or by what poses she can or cannot do. She says, “Now my biggest goal in yoga, and in life in general, is to be loving to myself.”

Each of these local yogis reinforce what I have experienced in my own yoga practice: that yoga has the ability to meet us wherever we are in life. I noticed at 35, the vigorous practice I had for over a decade was getting harder to maintain. As my hormones began to change, I didn’t want to do asanas. Then my back seized and all efforts to soldier on in my poses came to a halt. I stopped practicing asana and focused on what would best serve my body at that time— meditation. I realized the importance of listening to my body and, after a month, I was able to introduce a restorative practice. Curious about the changes I had been experienced, I researched and found that there were many other female practitioners like myself whose yoga practices evolved as their bodies did. The more I educated myself, the more I realized that I needed to use my asana practice as a means of supporting my life, rather than pushing through it.

I now practice yoga asana as a way to prepare my body for my morning meditation and to balance out the other physical activities I enjoy. Like so many others, I have found yoga to be one of the most wonderful ways to nourish myself; it is something to practice at all ages.

About the Author

Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 1.15.20 PMVanessa Sulzer
Vanessa Sulzer is a yoga practitioner, yoga teacher, health coach, and artist. If you want to know more about what she’s thinking and doing, she would love to be your friend on Facebook.

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