Vanaprashta – the Autumn stage of life

When I first began to move into what Yoga describes as the Vanaprashta or forest dweller stage of life (50-75 years) it was quite confronting to discover that I didn’t have the physical and emotional capacities I once had. I couldn’t even say ‘the mind is willing but the body is weak’, because often the mind wasn’t willing either. As a Pitta/Virgo I had done ‘intense and challenging’ most of my life. You could say it was my second nature. I have come to realise however that it is not my true nature, and so learning to live gently has become both an intention and challenge for me during these autumn years of life.

My first real introduction to taking a gentler approach in life was when I embarked on my first yoga training residential at Mangrove Yoga at the ripe old age of 53. I felt a bit daunted by the undertaking and in my worst moments, I imagined a room filled with younger, more elastic, stronger bodies, with me in the corner needing a nana nap.

There were 38 of us, all ages and shapes, all at different levels of yoga experience, ranging from years of teaching experience to never having sat on a yoga mat. What I loved most was that at some point during our time together those differences were no longer relevant. Together, we slowly put away our preconceptions and past experiences to unpack the depth of the deceptively simple foundational poses that initially seemed ‘boring’ and ‘easy’. For those like me who ‘have to get it right’ or are used to a more strenuous practice, the challenge was in experiencing the subtlety of a gentle wrist or ankle rotation without feeling bored. Gradually, I began to experience the profound healing in gentleness.

I have also been learning how to bring this softer, gentler way to my day to day activities – namely my to do list. This ever-present list used to be my anchor until it became more like the bane of my life. Even if I loved doing something, as soon as it went on my list, it became a ‘should’, and somehow I had reached a point of rebellion in my life where all ‘shoulds’ were to be avoided and procrastinated upon if possible.  This created a dilemma because my daily routine (dinacharya) of practices (sadhanas) that I enjoyed doing, and knew were helping me feel well and happy, had become like chores to be avoided.  What to do?

The advice of one of my Ayurvedic teachers, Dr Claudia Welch, showed me a gentler way, she suggested I to ‘care for the things that care for me’.  Instead of focusing on the ‘to do’ list, to consider the care factor. My daily Sadhana/practices care for me. They support and protect me and add value to my life. In turn, I can ‘care for them’ by valuing, protecting and supporting them so that they remain a part of my life. I know this may sound a bit Zen, but if you sit with it, it is really quite profound. Caring is much softer and gentler than should.

All in all, I am thoroughly enjoying the Vanaprashta classroom. The experience of transitioning into a less busy, more inward focused time of life and discovering a softer, gentler, more allowing way of being in the world.

2WiseWomen retreats and workshops offer you the opportunity and space to rediscover your own authenticity and move towards a more balanced state of mind and body. Our retreats are based on three foundations: The space to pause, the tools and skills to reflect on how you want to be and live, and pathways to reconnect with your own inner wisdom. Upcoming retreats.

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