I used to regret that I took so long to start practicing Yoga. I was 29 when I took up the mat. A couple of years later I discovered the Ashtanga ‘system.’
Thankfully, I’ve grown out of that nonsense. First and foremost it’s not true because I’ve learned to draw the distinction between asana and Yoga. Also, even with regard to asana, it’s futile; I can’t turn the clock back and change things. Besides, I have no counter-factual; it’s easy for me to think that I’d be streets ahead in my physical practice with say 10 extra years under my bandha. But who knows? Youth is wasted on the young they say. Without the temperance that comes only with age, enthusiasm and a young ego might have taken me beyond my limits and led me to irrepairably f*ck up my knees or back. Whereas by 30, experience in life had taught me that zeal needs to be channeled, and controlled – the idea of the ‘middle path’ of course, has applications far and wide well beyond the mat. I now imagine I learned that lesson pre-mat and have enjoyed an uninterrupted and injury-free daily practice because of it.
And anyway, what I lost in a ‘late’ start I’m making up with a fanatical devotion now. I admit I’m a driven zealot. I practice at home and alone but my log tells me that I practice on average 24 times a month.
But here is the main thing. Apart from the mat, I realise that I did indeed start my journey to Yoga very early. Even in my earliest youth, mat aside, there was plenty of Yoga. I was lucky enough to come from a pretty modest household. I did not have to learn to let go of a lot of things because I never had them in the first place. I left home at 18 and took myself through school and grad school. I found my own jobs and learned the lessons of frugality, discipline, order, and self-reliance (but admittedly perhaps not modesty ;-). That’s surely Yoga.
Physically, I’ve always been fit – I had other sadhana that needed the kind of discipline that approaches that required of asana and that, in retrospect, prepared me for them; Karate, cycling, strength-training and good nutrition kept me physically fit, strong and reasonably flexible. Meanwhile, my innate bookishness kept me from from indulging (with only a few aberrations) in the wildest excesses of substance abuse. My preference has always been (and still is – to my wife’s sometime exasperation) to stay home and read, or spend time on keeping up my Japanese, or research a new project. I’d rather cook than eat out. I’d rather grow my own than buy. I’d rather ride (even in the brutal Ottawa December of 1993) than take the bus. I’d rather grow wildflowers than plant a lawn. And I’d rather do pretty much anything than watch the sh*t that passes for entertainment on television. And that attitude predates my mat. That’s surely Yoga.
The speed with which ‘progress’ in our practice and the path we take through it is dictated by our samskara. But make no mistake, all of us (and I mean all 6 billion of us) come to Yoga sooner or later, some way or another.