Maturing With and Through Your Yoga Practice

In 1989, at the age of 23, I took my first yoga class at a small studio in Santa Monica, CA. Paul Grilley, who later created Yin Yoga, taught a slow yoga flow class with music. He walked around the room with a smile on his face and made everyone at ease. It was such a lovely experience, and I felt deeply relaxed and centered after class. Prior to this, my experience with a spiritual teacher had been that of abuse and manipulation, and I was in no way going to follow another dogmatic and egocentric teacher. With Paul, I felt safe and at the same time seen and accepted. I studied with him for a few years and learned the qualities of a kind and selfless teacher.

I loved practicing yoga, and tried to do it several times a week. Around that time, I was working in the TV business and was stressed and overwhelmed. I also struggled with an eating disorder and was newly out of a very unhealthy and codependent relationship. Yoga was a way that I could enter into a calm state and feel more compassionately connected with my body. Yoga became my sanctuary, a place where I felt at home. The yoga community also served as a safe and familiar place for me, where I could easily let go and be myself.

For the first few years of asana practice, I wasn’t paying much attention to alignment and sequencing, but instead, I was into all the sensations and discoveries of new poses. As I later started exploring different approaches to yoga, I found that I was mostly inspired by teachers whose instructions were clear and followed a logical order. With concise language, I ended up feeling better in my body and more clarity in my mind.

In my twenties and thirties, I enjoyed and benefitted from a more vigorous practice. I would mostly explore Ashtanga and Iyengar yoga, which are quite different but also have many similarities. I came to understand that there is not one right way to practice, and that you as a student have options depending on what your needs are at any given time. One of my earlier teachers, Eric Schiffman, taught me to listen to my body, not just simply follow along, but to trust myself. This lesson was hugely important to me, not only in my personal practice but also when I started teaching. It is so important to pause and check in with yourself before and during the practice, both physically, mentally, and emotionally. There are times when I am prompted to simply do Savasana or a luxurious restorative practice. Times when I know that a more vigorous practice can help me with a mild depression I may be experiencing. And, then times when I change course in the middle of my practice and choose another direction to focus on.

In my practice, I always return to the “Why”: Why do I practice? What is my Intention? The world is a busy place, everything is moving at a fast pace, and most of the time we are simply trying to keep up. More than ever before, we are pulled in so many different directions, and typically away from ourselves. It has become more about doing and becoming, rather than being. Yoga is an opportunity for us to pause and be with ourselves, in this present moment, just as we are. So, the idea and challenge is to meet yourself, to arrive exactly as you are. As I step onto my mat, I have that moment of silently saying, “Oh, there I am!” When we practice asana, the yoga postures, we notice sensations and we start to develop this intimate relationship with our bodies. Our mind starts to slow down, it settles, and turns inside. We cultivate a sense of connection not only with our body but with our Inner landscape, with our Innermost Self, and perhaps experience the interconnectedness of all. We no longer feel separate.

Now, at the age of 55, my practice does looks different. I work mostly on maintaining and creating strength and stability, so I focus on lots of core stabilization work and standing poses. Advanced poses are not part of my daily practice, and when I choose to include them, I have an explorative and playful attitude; I often tell my students that once you master a pose, you have not become a better or more enlightened person.

Practice with Birgitte in her brand new season of Wake Up with Yoga, now available on Yoga Anytime.
Birgitte Kristen
About the Author

Birgitte Kristen

Birgitte grew up in Denmark and came to the US at the age of 19, at which time she started studying yoga and meditation. She has been teaching yoga in Santa Monica, CA since 1992 and recently opened her own studio: Yoga Changes. Apart from yoga, she loves to bike and spend time with her family. You can practice with Birgitte in Season 1 of Wake Up with Yoga.


Brenda S
4 people like this.
Birgette, thank you for sharing your thoughts on your yoga practice. I too enjoyed the rigors of yoga, but now I’m my 60’s I’m finding so much more in the benefits of the level 1-2 classes. I have enjoyed classes offered on Anytime Yoga which introduced me to Nathan and Sunti (they both emphasize alignment) . I’m going to check out your class. Grateful for your sharing. ✌🏼❤️
2 people like this.
Brenda S Hi Brenda, Thank you so much for your feedback/comments. Yes, i am enjoying slowing down and keeping things a bit more simple...yet challenging in a mindful way to create strength and stability. Hope to "see you" in class. If we listen to our bodies we mature very 'sweetly' and compassionately in our practice. Namaste, Birgitte
Kate M
1 person likes this.
At 62 I'm discovering that the embodied practices of yogāsana and (more recently) Indian classical dance are becoming more and more important in my life. It is such a blessing to have access to these teachings here on YogaAnytime, and of course also through our dear gurujis. Thank you for sharing your yoga journey with us! I'm enjoying your class here also! Blessings...!
2 people like this.
Kate M Dear Kate, Wonderful to hear. India has indeed gifted us with so many treasures. Thank you for sharing your journey and for exploring my classes. Namaste, Birgitte
Catherine A
1 person likes this.
Hi Birgitte, thank you for sharing your story and I identify strongly with some of what you describe. I am about to turn 70 and yoga has (in the last 20 years) become my go to 'sport' - replacing squash and other activities involving rackets and Sticks of one sort or another . Quite early on in my yoga journey I fell in love with  vinyasa flow and still practice this dynamic style almost every day. But I have discovered Nathan Briner recently and with his focus on alignment I find myself enthusiastically endorsing (at least some of the time) a different and more measured style and benefitting greatly from slowing down my practice a bit......! Won't be giving up my flows any time soon but I can see that I am going to very much enjoy incorporating your classes into my practices. Namaste, Catherine 
Catherine A Dear Catherine, Thank you for your feedback here. Sometimes a good flow practice can be so uplifting and energizing. I am also reminded that we are all different and I am thankful for all the different approaches. I agree with you, that alignment is so important and I know that sometimes students are in a hurry to get a workout, and alignment takes a backseat....that is until something starts hurting. I also love how the attention to detail, gives us a point of focus and can make the practice even more mindful. Yoga is indeed such a blessing. Namaste, Birgitte
David G-
1 person likes this.
What a beautiful essay! You often speak of how Yoga is healthy addiction, and so too is this open-state of interconnectedness, which my practice with you has cultivated in a just a few months.  It is wonderful feeling to know I can continue this process with daily practice on the mat, and the desire to learn more challenging asanas is not as important as shaping this wisdom. Namaste. 
1 person likes this.
David Goldstein Hi David, What a great way to describe this: Open-state of interconnectedness. I love that! I am so appreciative of your feedback ....I am so inspired by my students. Namaste, Birgitte
Aurora del Villar
Hi, Birgitte! I am mexican, 52, and really enjoying both your show and this article. Thank yo for teaching with  love and clarity. And thank you for make me love my practice as I grow older and my body changes. Namaste
1 person likes this.
Aurora del Villar Dear Aurora, So lovely to meet you here. It is so important to honor ourselves in our practice, so I commend you for listening to your body. I think being in our fifties can be so empowering..especially as we accept all the changes and embrace our innate wholeness. So happy that you are practicing with me. "See you" soon. Namaste, Birgitte
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