60-plus and arms to prove it: Doug’s arm balancing prowess. (Thanks to Heather Morgan and 3rd St Beach Yoga, music by Benjamin Smielowitz – Let Us Be Love)
An amazing “senior yoga” story of bicyclist-yogi Doug Slack, 63, who took his first formal yoga lesson at the
tender tough age of 60. Despite a serious bicycle accident, car accident and knee replacement surgery he’s achieved an eye-opening level of practice in just 3 years.
As told to fellow bicyclist and YoGanesh teacher, Lynette Chiang.
SINCE 1999 my only exercise was bicycling, to be specific, Ultramarathon cycling. Our shortest event was 200K and longest was 1,200K. My legs were very strong but my hamstrings and IT bands were t-i-g-h-t.
My personal encounter with yoga probably began in 2002 with Ian Jackson’s Zooming and Breathplay audio coaching CD’s. I did not recognize until later that it is a Kundalini breathing practice. What I did know is that the difference in my cycling performance was dramatic. After two weeks my best one hour time trial on rollers went from 25.8 to 31.2 miles!
My first practice on the mat began in November 2009 when I was 61, one month prior to having my left knee replaced with titanium and plastic. I could almost touch my ankles in a forward fold. Within a month, my fingers touched the floor. I was convinced that things the instructor did like put her foot behind her head and handstands were not possible for a man in his 60′s.
In December 2009 I had total knee replacement surgery. I took three months off to recover then picked up where I left off practicing three days a week. Progress was slow but steady over the next two months working toward palms flat on the floor in forward folds with legs locked straight. At the same time my balance and concentration improved dramatically as I focused more on breath and locks (bhandas). A few weeks prior to surgery, I had taken a couple of Ashtanga yoga classes and liked it very much. After rehab I continued taking Ashtanga and Vinyasa Flow classes four times a week.
In August 2010, I started doing Yin Yoga once a week. In October 2010, I took a one day workshop with Yin Master Paulie Zink.
By January 2011 I was taking classes almost every day. On 4/23/11 a car went out of control near the end of a local 200k, hit my bicycle head on. The 70 mph impact broke my right hand, damaged both legs and my bike. I missed a few months of yoga during recovery. By August 2011 I was able to do yoga and ride (a little) again. I got a work assignment in Iowa and found an Anusara studio to practice at.
In October 2011, I took an 8 day teacher training with Yin Master Paulie Zink in Chicago.
In January 2012, I began doing monthly Acro Yoga workshops. This was great fun!
February 2012, an inversion workshop.
A friend of mine brought me an article last year about Slacklining and told me I had to try it as my namesake. You can look up Yogaslackers.com. They do some unbelievable postures and transitions on the line. I am still struggling to hold any single posture and a long way from smooth transitions. I call this practice, Slackasana!
In March I shot a video of arm balances.
April 2012, I got an assignment in Michigan and found a two hour level 2 Para Yoga class that fit my schedule.
Last week I was at a convention in Miami Beach and attended Sunrise 3rd St Beach Yoga both mornings. The second day the instructor asked if she could shoot some video of me for their website – which you see above.
I have done two days of yoga arm balance and pairs yoga demonstrations at a local high school.
I like sampling different styles of yoga and challenging myself. My favorite is Ashtanga. Next month I will do a weekend workshop and Mysore practice with Manju Jois.
Now at 63 I practice daily and have other students ask me after class to help them learn or improve their inversions and arm balances.
My advise to anyone is to do whatever you can, practice regularly and progress at your own pace. Coming from an athletic background I tried too hard at first and hurt myself. There are many variations to every posture and precursors to prepare yourself for the ultimate expression of any of them. Core strength is the key to performing complex movements as well as providing support for a healthy spine.
Postures that may appear simple like Mountain (Tadasana or Samasdihi) and Down Dog are very important to inform the body of alignment and balance. They create the foundation on which a practice can be safely built.
I am grateful to all of my teachers who have spent significant extra time working with me to improve my practice. Yoga begins at 60 or whenever you decide it will!