Does age matter?

IMG_0007In the first  half of our lives, our teachers are always our elders. Remember elementary school? When you thought your teachers were unfathomably old? (In retrospect, most were probably in their 30s, maybe 40s, max!)

Eventually, we might find ourselves older than our teachers (as well as our doctors, lawyers, hairdressers, therapists, and the list goes on). Does that matter? Do you seek professionals older than you are, assuming that they have more experience, wisdom, or parallel experiences? Or do you prefer the fresh perspective of youth or the generation-gap-free camaraderie of a peer?

On her blog, Linda’s Yoga Journey, Linda recently wrote a post with 50-something take on yoga teachers’ ages. It made me think about my own preferences. For coaching on sports (improving my freestyle flip turn, for example) or languages or random new hobbies (knitting is on my list), I’m open to all ages, assuming that the instructor is skilled and articulate.

For medical care, I lean toward older and experienced. I’ve seen doctors almost straight out of residency and found them both careful and clueless. For any surgery or simply the keenest diagnoses, I want a doc with a decade (and ideally more) years of practice.

For yoga, it all depends on my objectives: If I’m just dropping in on a class purely to work out or for a break, age is irrelevant if the teacher has strong asana and sequencing chops. But for a long-term mentor teacher, I admit that I do seek someone older. Perhaps I expect an older person better to understand human nature, better to have something important to teach me: not just about asanas, but about life.

Is this a misassumption? Can that fresh-faced 20-something actually teach me about philosophy and people, life and death, love and squalor?

My knee-jerk reaction: no way. But then I marvel at the great writers of generations past. Norman Mailer wrote The Naked and the Dead at age 25. Jane Austen wrote Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice in her early 20s (they were published in her later 30s but she’d written them much earlier). A bit older, but still only 31, JD Salinger wrote The Catcher in the Rye. No one can deny that these were mature minds at work. (I’m mentioning writers rather than musical, mathematical, artistic, or athletic prodigies because, to me, quality literature requires more than raw genius, but also an understanding of human nature.)

To be continued…

RECOMMENDED READING: Twentys0mething Seattle yoga teacher Nikki Chau (a shining example of an early blooming yogi) pointed me to an essay on choosing a teacher, by Theresa Elliott, her teacher. Elliott recommends finding a teacher within a decade of your own age.

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5 thoughts on “Does age matter?

  1. I teach yoga at a jr. college and the age range is 18-22/23, so I’ve seen all maturity levels and experience levesls. One of my fave private students is 17, she started yoga with me when she was 14. she is young but with an “old soul.” when you meet an old soul, you know it.

    and there’s really no experience like life experience. I must say that the yoga classes I’ve taken with teachers in their 20s have felt a bit “light.” I also think it helps when you’re my age, ahem, 50-something, to have a “young” mind and be open to all things. open mindedness is certainly more age-telling (to me) than physical age. my students are always shocked to learn how old I am, including students my age.

  2. Yoga Spy

    This is a great topic, and I really like your literary references 🙂

    This past August I was offered a subbing job for 8 Senior Yoga classes for a teacher who was gone for the summer. At first, I was hesitant because of the exact reason that Theresa wrote about. I’m 27, what do I know about how the body ages and changes through the years that I haven’t lived?

    I was reassured that these seniors were “not your average seniors” (the Athletic Director’s exact words). I think he really wanted to hire me because I’m one of the few teachers around who don’t teach Flow or Vinyasa or Power or any one of those variations. So, I decided I would approach it as a beginner’s class, giving lots of technical information on body positioning, and introduced pranayama and meditation.

    I loved, loved, loved the class, and the love was reciprocal as well. At the end of my short tenure, I was asked where else I also teach, and if I could come back.

    At about the same time, I taught another class at another studio in Seattle, it was also a subbing situation, which doubled as an “audition” to see if I could potentially sub or teach there. The class had a lot more people “my age”, and I talked about the transition in vinyasa, since it was a vinyasa class. It was still a moving class, (people sweated), but I did stop the class every so often and talked about technical points.

    The response was mostly positive, two students asked if I were coming back. However, I also got one feedback that it was too slow and “easy”. The studio coordinator just emailed to tell me that my style doesn’t fit with the studio. (And this is a studio where the general demographic would be mostly people in their 30s and 40s).

    I absolutely understand the skepticism of younger teachers. I would definitely have my reservation if I walked in a class and the teacher is 18. As someone who often takes workshops with Iyengar teachers, I am often the youngest person in class by at least a decade, and I sometimes wonder if the other teachers/students wondered what I’m doing there.

    So, this is obviously just one ad hoc story, and it doesn’t speak for any major whole. But my point is to give us youngins a chance 🙂

  3. Hi, Nikki.

    I took Yoga Spy’s blog to mean that younger teachers are great for the workout aspects of Yoga, like the class you describe. Here’s the paragraph that stood out for me:

    “For yoga, it all depends on my objectives: If I’m just dropping in on a class purely to work out or for a break, age is irrelevant if the teacher has strong asana and sequencing chops. But for a long-term mentor teacher, I admit that I do seek someone older. Perhaps I expect an older person better to understand human nature, better to have something important to teach me: not just about asanas, but about life.”

    This is the part we’re thinking would be unusual in a younger instructor.

    In contrast, it sounds like your class thought you were giving them too much philosophy and not enough action!

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

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