Being content with myself

Atha yoga-anuśāsanam – or in other words, why it is never too late to start a yoga practice. AYI student and teacher Peter Herdin talks with us about how after 60 without yoga he was able to find access to this ancient practice. And why in hindsight this is the best thing that could have happened to him.

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Sabine: Peter, in speaking with you, one would get the sense that you not only have been active all your life, but that you have been involved in a wide variety of different disciplines. Is that true, or is that just a false impression?

Peter: Yes, that is actually true. Sport has been a major part of my life. I won't bore you with the details of which sports I have done over the last 70 years. But I will share four which have had a particular influence on my life. In my youth it was gymnastics, which I started when I was five. Then came horse riding, whitewater kayaking and yoga.

Sabine: What an impressive and really intense sports profile. I am particularly curious as to when yoga became the fourth significant sport of your life. It appears clear that yoga didn't play a role in your first 60 years of life.

Peter: The practice of yoga actually came to me through various knee injuries. My knee was holding me back more and more from the sports that I loved so much to do. The opportunity came about at some point to test out a yoga class for free. Thankfully for me the teacher was from the Ashtanga tradition and she was able to motivate me through a challenging practice. After some months with my typical level of zeal and enthusiasm, I was back out of commission. No teacher was able to stop me, because as a had done with other disciplines before, I wanted to reach perfection in yoga as quickly as possible. This is simply not possible with yoga. The result was that I had permanent knee pain (my doctor suggested replacing the joint with a prosthesis) and in my hip. I wanted to get into Marichyasana C from the very start and at all cost. I got into it, but with negative repercussions. Once I was completely out of ideas, I decided to pack up all of my CTs and head to Ulm to meet with Ronald for help.

And that is how my yoga journey drastically changed. For 65 years I was convinced of the concept that anything is possible if you push hard enough and have enough drive to achieve something. With dressage and eventing in the case of riding and even with white water rafting, this would often bring the desired results. Nevertheless, it didn't always work out the way you had hoped. To be honest, in hindsight I was a lucky man. With yoga, things simply don't work that way, but I'm sure I don't have to tell you that.

Sabine: I think we have all been there with regard to pushing for a posture! The development of a so-called therapeutic practice was by far the end for you, but rather a step in the right direction. Once your first goal of practicing pain-free was achieved, you decided to complete a yoga teacher training. At the moment you are also teaching a handful of courses on your own. What brought you to this decision?

Peter: Well, the main idea of the teacher training was to help me to stay on the ball. Living in Austria, it's a bit of a hike to make it to AYI in Ulm for practice. With the teacher training, I wanted to maintain contact with the school. Through the numerous MTCs and Workshops which are part of the teacher training, you stay motivated. The reason that I am teaching is because our former teacher moved to Vienna and our group stood without a teacher. From this one evening class for the first year, my teaching schedule has grown to 4 to 5 regular classes. Last week I also signed a contract with the Volkshochschule.

Sabine: You mentioned that your experience with AYI had changed your views on yoga. Could you speak more to that point? What exactly changed? Does this change also translate into change in other aspects of your life?

Peter: Fundamentally, I can say that I have become content with myself. My demands have become more realistic and I know that you cannot always reach every goal immediately. It is important for my physical wellbeing and it reaffirms what Ronald Steiner has taught me. Generally, you can say that through yoga certain lifestyle changes also take place. I don't pressure myself when I can't complete every task that lies ahead of me to do. Moreover, I am no longer discontent with myself for leaving something unfinished. Furthermore, I have changed other aspects of my life dealing with nutrition. I have given up alcohol and haven't had a drink for a year now, which is something that I had always wished for myself but either couldn't or didn't really have the drive to do.

Yoga is a great way to train the brain, too. It started with working on my ego, then to learn some mantras and the Sutra. Now I am working on learning the Devangari alphabet. What is amazing is that all of what I have done is actually just scratching the surface of what yoga has to offer. I am eager to find out what comes next!

Sabine: Peter, forgive me if I seem brash in bringing up your age yet again. But I think that it is quite a unique trait to be over 70 and start something so new so late in life. At the same time you have an incredibly impressive physical practice, and are obviously quite physically fit. Do you believe that Ashtanga in the AYI Method is appropriate for older people or people with physical limitations?

Peter: As I had already mentioned, sport has been an important part of my life since childhood. My injuries stopped me from being able to do many of these activities. The fact that yoga came to me first now in the last quarter of my life has kind of a mystical quality to it. I actually believe that nothing better could have happened to me. Yoga brought me internal calm, which I had always been missing. Yoga inspires and has opened my eyes to so many aspects in life and is at the same time physically challenging. What I value most about the AYI method is that you can always practice, no matter how you are feeling, because there ist such a wide range of modifications available. Often I will choose a short and modified practice and somehow I end up practicing much further. The modified version from AYI is ideal for older folks. Specifically in the case of older people or people who are less flexible, this practice offers the right challenge without being overwhelming. It occurs to them quite quickly that their life can still change for the better. I would also guess that many think to themselves: "If the teacher is able to do that much at his age, there is certainly a chance for me, too".

Sabine: After the first teacher training modules you have decided to take the next step and are enrolled in the AYI Advanced teacher training that started in March 2016. What are you hoping for yourself in the next two years? What plans and goals do you have for the future?

Peter: As I had mentioned earlier, I have been teaching for over a year in my wife's shiatsu practice, as well as at home and at another location in our area. I have to say that teaching is a pleasure and the fact that in this training I will expand my knowledge with the purpose of sharing that with my students is really exciting. My wife has also begun teaching, and we realize that we are reaching our capacity in this space because it only holds 5 to 6 people. Next year we will be working on expanding to a larger studio which is dedicated specifically for yoga and can hold 15 to 20 people. Whether or not this effort will pay off considering my age is still to be seen. Who knows, maybe I will also be one of my wife's students in her chair yoga for seniors class, who can enjoy the yoga space we create now.

Sabine: Wow, those are some really great plans! I wish you all the best in your endeavors and lots of good times with the new yoga space, either as a student or teacher. And who knows, perhaps you have inspired another new yogi to make their way to the mat and not to give up before they even roll out the mat because of their age. Thank you so much for sharing your exciting experience with yoga!

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