"I hope this isn't rude to ask...but how old are you?" I hear this all the time at the studio, usually closely followed up with, "You're an old soul, aren't you?" after I tell them I'm still in high school. I'm used to it by now...almost. No matter how many times I hear the question, I'm always conflicted on how I feel about it. On one hand, it's sometimes flattering to be told that you're wise beyond your years, or that you can effectively guide adults through a practice with confidence. But sometimes, it's embarrassing, or even frustrating.
The last time I assisted a Yoga 101, after I introduced myself to the group and told my story of coming to yoga as someone struggling with personal struggles, someone in group said, "Maris, tell everyone how old you are."
For some reason, I was surprised by this. I knew she meant it with good intentions- maybe impressing the group with the fact that a person had found yoga at a relatively young age and made it their lifestyle- but I couldn't help but think that I wouldn't ask her the same question. More than that, I felt an immediate wall go up between myself and the group that would be hard to climb over. Many times, people new to yoga get easily discouraged or develop self-limitations beliefs because they think, "I'm to inflexible, I'm too out of shape, I'm too old to do that."
While being young does have its advantages physically, these kinds of beliefs not only hold students back from finding their full potential, but also discredit the effort I put into my practice. I've written before about my dedication to evolving my practice, and when others credit what I do on my mat to purely my age, it honestly stings a bit. I want others to appreciate my abilities for the effort and dedication I put into them, rather than attributing them purely to my age. By boiling me down to the number of candles on my birthday cake, I lose a certain amount of connection and mutual respect I want to cultivate with my students and fellow yogis. I don't want age to be a dividing factor in the studio, nor do I think it should hold anyone back from trying yoga. I truly believe that yoga can come to you at any age, whether you're "too young" or "too old".
There's a current "yoga culture" developing that seems to revolve around the college to post-college demographic, which I think can contribute to these misconceptions. Walking into a lululemon event filled with pretty young women in stylish yoga clothes as a frazzled mom looking for a way to get out of the house for a bit can be understandably intimidating. But what I want them to know is that if those lululemons are truly practicing yoga with the spirit and intention of the practice, they are there to be present on their mat to their inner self. No judgement exists within the studio when we dedicate ourselves to listening to our hearts.
As soon as I start teaching, or as soon as I start practicing next to someone, age is forgotten. Because yoga transcends the number of years we've been on this earth. If we leave our preconceptions about age, race, money, and other boxes we put ourselves in at the door, we can do true yoga. We can move and breathe and discover new parts of ourselves that mean so much more than the labels we give ourselves and others.
I am many things more than a teen. I am passionate. I am caring. I am dedicated.
I'm a yogi.