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Turning 60

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Skate skiing at Mendenhall Lake on my 60th birthday  Scott Fischer
Scott Fischer
Skate skiing at Mendenhall Lake on my 60th birthday

“Yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory” - Sri K. Pattabhi Jois of Mysore, India

This week I will be 60 years old. I’ve been thinking about this birthday for a while, as is the trend with those big decade landmarks.

My blogs are often easy to write. I love to share my stories about my adventures outdoors and the words usually flow out on to the page. This one has been very difficult to write. I’ve started and stopped and started over again about half a dozen times over the past couple of weeks

When I showed up for my Tuesday night yoga class this week, I felt slightly anxious. It was the night before my birthday and I wasn’t too excited about turning 60 years old. I couldn’t expect to get too much sympathy at home, since Scott turned 60 last year and seemed to be handling it just fine. I didn’t dare say anything to my 89 year old mother. I complained to her once when I turned 50, and she just sighed longingly and said, “Oh, I would love to be 50 again!”

I rolled out my mat and started to prepare for 90 minutes of yoga practice. This particular class is Mysore style where every student goes through the ashtanga primary series at their own pace. We individually focus on our breath while working through a sequence of postures connected by vinyasa movement (think jumping back into a push-up, arching your back for a breath, another push-up, then lifting your hips and jumping into the next pose – repeat about 100 times).

As I got deeper into the practice, I forgot the anxious feeling I had at the beginning. I reminded myself to focus on the postures I was still trying to learn, and to find ways to deepen the postures where I felt more confident. The teacher moved from student to student, quietly helping each person at different levels of the series.  My muscles started to burn while at the same time my mind felt focused and relaxed. The 90 minutes flowed by, slowly at first, and then more quickly until the teacher reminded us it was time to begin our closing sequences. It seemed like a moment later and we were in the final pose, lying peacefully on our mats and enjoying the quiet rest that comes after a vigorous practice.

Somewhere during those 90 minutes, my anxiety completely disappeared. I was so focused on what I was doing there was no room for other thought, and especially no room for negative thought. This is how I feel when I go for a long hike, a good hard bike ride, cross country ski along a groomed trail, or climb to the top of the ridge at the ski area and plunge down through fresh, deep snow. This is what I do, and just because I’m 60 it doesn’t mean I’m going to stop doing it.

On my birthday, I went out to Mendenhall Lake and skate skied for over an hour. The air was cold, but the wind was calm, and the tracks were perfectly groomed (thank you, Juneau Nordic Ski Club volunteer groomers). I chatted with a friend while we skied together and focused on my breath, balance, skiing, and poling as we breezed along. I looked up at the glacier and marveled at the view. I met old and new friends coming and going on the trail. When I was finished, I was tired, satisfied, and happy. I started thinking about where I would ski tomorrow – maybe classic skiing on the Eaglecrest lower loop?

Sixty years hasn’t been so bad, now that I think of it. As long as I stop worrying about it and keep practicing.

“Practice and all is coming.”

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