This year two significant shifts happened inside of me: I realized I was getting older. And I wanted to protect my body/mind. These may seem to be perhaps the same realization– but both of these realizations came from very different incidences.
Let me explain the first realization—realizing I was getting older. I am 56. Perhaps since I am a professor and while I have been getting older, my students stay the same age as each new crop of undergrads greets me in the fall. Perhaps because I have chosen to not have children of my own. Perhaps because I do work out—jogging (albeit slowly). Whatever the reason in my mind I was still not “older,” whatever that is — yet.
And then I went for a long over due eye exam. When my new glasses arrived I admired them in the large mirror across the room. But when I sat at the desk and looked in the mirror directly in front of me, I gasped. “Oh my God!” I exclaimed. “What are those?” I was staring through my new lenses at the wrinkles above my lip. I stared at the eye glass specialist — a fabulous gay man (and partner to my ophthalmologist) who helped me pick out the frames. “Do you see those wrinkles?” I asked. It was only after he said, “Oh, honey, $900 you can fix that– I know someone,” that I realized I was assuming he would say, “What? I don’t see anything.” But you can rest assured a gay male friend will not lie to you about your looks. If that dress make you look fat, he’ll tell you (and help you fix it). In any case, in that moment of corrected vision I saw my wrinkles for the first time. And I hated them.
I teach Gender Women’s Studies. I have done lectures on beauty and women and aging (and taught Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth). I have said, “If you’re lucky, you get old. There is no such thing as make up that makes you ageless. You will age if you are lucky. If not, you will die.”
Why are wrinkles inherently ugly? And aging? These are philosophical questions until as a woman you realize you are older and you have wrinkles. I found myself consumed with thinking about my upper lip. If I sensed someone finding me attractive, I switched to thinking that they felt sorry for me. My best friend said to me, “Marie, have you ever been attracted to someone because you felt sorry for them?” No, but that didn’t stop me from thinking that people were doing it to me.
One moment I owned my body and felt good about it and the next—looking through my eye glasses – I did not. Why? Because I saw myself as someone who was not attractive–because I looked older. What had changed? I was the same person who had not seen through the glasses as the one who did. But I wasn’t. I had had the epiphany that I had become older. This comes with the fear that we will disappear; hence become irrelevant.
What surprisingly interacted with this most strongly for me—was my new found commitment to yoga. Yoga directly confronts this common female trajectory and deconstructs it.
I started yoga teacher training in March of this year through Anahata Yoga Teacher Training (heart centered yoga) with Tina Parga. Tina is a martial artist, yoga teacher and trainer.
I am also a black belt in karate, but have not trained in some time. I had done yoga—primarily when I was injured before I would go back to the “real” work out which at various times in my life has included track, cross-country, swimming, martial arts and biking. However for the past five years I had been doing less of that and more yoga.
The feminist ethics of body awareness through yoga is that we are allowed to exist- now. This is a radical shift for women who are trained to not be in the present but to disconnect from their bodies and see themselves from the outside—disassociating from the present body moment and inhabiting a critical outside lens that forces the beauty myth into praxis inside the body we no longer inhabit, but merely critique.
In 2010 when I was finishing my doctorate I was so consumed with mental work that I promised myself I would do something consistently to de-stress –in a different way than I had been doing. At the time I promised myself that if I graduated (!) I would study yoga and become a yoga teacher. I wanted to do more yoga, and I decided the best way to do that was to teach.
What I didn’t understand at the time was how aggressively yoga would confront my “Oh my God! I’m older,” mentality. That I can impart this countering knowledge to the dominant narrative to other women is the countering epiphany that makes me want to teach yoga. The best way to protect my body/mind came about through a body/mind system that prioritizes the present moment. On the mat we are all equal. We are not competitive. We are in love with ourselves and our bodies and what they can do– today. We are encouraged repeatedly to listen to our bodies.
There is no physical body that is telling us –the inhabiting soul– that we are ugly because we have wrinkles. The yoga body on the mat might be saying yes, stretch more. Or no, hold up and let me be here. We are not moved on the mat to a future where we disappear because of age. We are moved into the present. I am on this mat, in this moment and falling in love – heart centered–with myself.
If you’re Lucky you get Old, Part II: Stories from the Yoga Mat
Marie Cartier is a teacher, poet, writer, healer, artist, and scholar. She holds a BA in Communications from the University of New Hampshire; an MA in English/Poetry from Colorado State University; an MFA in Theatre Arts (Playwriting) from UCLA; an MFA in Film and TV (Screenwriting) from UCLA; and an MFA in Visual Art (Painting/Sculpture) from Claremont Graduate University. She is also a first degree black belt in karate, Shorin-Ryu Shi-Do-Kan Kobayashi style. Ms. Cartier has a Ph.D. in Religion with an emphasis on Women and Religion from Claremont Graduate University.