I arrived to the yoga studio nice and early that day.
I placed my mat and since I had time, proceeded to warm up. I went thru a few gentle stretches to prepare for the class to come and while doing so, someone placed their mat near me. I glanced up a few moments later and there he was. His aged hands were placed strongly on his mat for an even stronger downward dog. He proceeded to take hold of two blocks that he placed next to his mat and made his way into Hanumansana, also known as the splits. I remember thinking that’s quite the warm up pose. He looked determined…and much older.
This man’s name is Jeremy Taylor and that was my first sighting. I’d see him once in awhile at one of the yoga studios I attend, always in a room full of people much younger than him. Yet, he kept up with us.
In my most recent teacher training program, he was part of our group of trainees. I wanted to know more. I wanted to ask him questions and share his inspiration and determination in hopes that he may also inspire you.
I’m hugely encouraged by older people and the life lessons they carry with them. I love it when I see they have a physical practice of some kind, often found hand in hand with a determination for health and healing. My inspiration started with my Grandfather, who was still playing badminton at the age of 90. I’ve found further inspiration thru Jeremy and his practice. I hope you do as well.
Jeremy and I met on his 74th birthday:
Donna: I find inspiration in you, being 74 years old and attending a yoga class often filled with people much younger.
Most students in these classes are a generation or two younger than I am.
Donna: Does that ever faze you?
It makes me aware of the ageing process and how I can never go back to where I was. It stimulates regrets that I wasn’t more dedicated, or that I actually dropped my practice for years at a time. When I took up my practice again, I wanted to say to students “I used to be able to do that.” I also see people who I figure should be able to do the postures and I wonder why they can’t because they’re so young and flexible. But we all have our limitations and our own path. I used to want to correct people in classes and show them a better way, but I’ve grown out of that. I realized that’s life going on in the student right next to me - I have no reason to interfere with what they’re doing. I’ve learned a lot from figuring out things out on my own.
Donna: Do you ever look at your situation as an inspiration, being in a room filled with young people and all?
Oh yes! I constantly draw on that. I tell people I go to yoga classes where students are two generations younger and usually I keep up. That’s my favourite bravado statement. (laughs). Students regularly say they are inspired by what I can do.
Sometimes I can’t complete a class. Honouring what my body can and can’t do is beneficial. I don’t get so upset anymore, I’m just happy that I can participate and learn. Some of my own students, who are close to my age, are in such a decrepit state. I feel sad for their condition. It makes me grateful that I practiced enough to give me the abilities I have today.
Donna: Do you have any advice for someone in a class who can’t keep up or who needs to take a long child’s pose?
I would say, ‘do what you can’. I have a student who may be older than I am - very frail. Her body is so stiff that I refrain from assisting her and rely on my ability to explain and demonstrate the pose. When she does a warrior pose her feet are only one step apart, but she loves my classes. That’s an insight for me. When students can hardly do anything, they’re still getting some benefit from the class. They keep coming back! This inspires me to go against the grain and always mention the deeper aspects of yoga.
Donna: Do you think just being in the room is beneficial?
When I’m in a class and sometimes feel overwhelmed, I find my attitude can switch to judging what’s going on, while feeling sorry for myself: my body may be at rest, but sometimes the ego takes over. This is where a compassionate/meditative awareness needs to come in. An early teacher of mine said: “Watch the mind.” Falling behind in a class is a great place for me to observe my self.
Donna: How many times per week do you take a yoga class?
My attendance varies from a class every day, to no classes for days at a time. When I feel a period of development coming on, I go to as many classes as possible. If I’m feeling under the weather, I don’t go at all until that phase passes.
Donna: What brought you to yoga when you first started?
I discovered yoga in Montreal, in 1964 when I overheard someone talking about the Sivananda Yoga Centre, I took to it immediately and it changed my life. A pivotal influence was The Way of Zen by Allan Watts, that I read in 1960. I still remember things like: develop your peripheral vision; it’s the gateway to meditation in action.
Donna: Do you remember the feelings you had when you started and what kept you coming back?
I think I was caught up in the mysticism of it, the stories the swami told - with incense burning and the Indian food cooking. I loved the atmosphere in that place. There was camaraderie and community. I always felt that I was on the front line, doing something enormously beneficial.
My life is something of a mystery to me. Manic depression, now called bi-polar syndrome, entered my life as a teenager. It greatly affected me to the point where I had to have shock treatment and spent some time at a mental hospital. I think the shock treatment wiped out memories, so I only have vague recollections of my earlier life. I remember some dates and places, but have difficulty recalling my feelings, or the context for my decisions. It’s like half of my slide show is missing. Maybe not having all those memories keeps me young!
Donna: Did yoga help the manic depression / bi-polar syndrome?
The bi-polar syndrome while greatly diminished, is still there – it’s part of who I am, but it’s not the debilitating thing it once was. I’m pretty sure yoga is playing a significant part in my present stability.
Donna: You’ve been doing yoga since the 60’s on and off and most recently you started up again. When?
I read an article in Now magazine in 2002 about Bikram yoga. I thought if I ever go back to yoga, that’s where I would go. So the following winter I did. I liked it so much, and I recovered some of what I had been able to do.
Donna: That’s great! What inspires you about yoga?
Having a direct experience, from years of practice, is keeping me on the path. I’m not there for my health or to lose weight. I’m always happy to lose a pound, (laughs) like everybody else, but now it’s the meditation that’s really working for me. The meditative experience is changing my life, and I’m continually applying what I’m realizing to my life and my teaching. The yoga I treasure comes from the awareness of breath.
Donna: How do you stay inspired?
I’m open to any source of inspiration. I have faith that the right thing will come along at the right time. A teacher can drop a hint in passing, not realizing how powerful it can be for the person for whom it is intended. Maturation is a fundamental part of it, too. As I grow, I hear things that perhaps were always said, but perhaps I wasn’t listening because of the level I was at.
I also like to write a page or two for the classes I teach - everything from yoga, meditation, to English as a second language. Writing clarifies my mind. My intuition is supported with clearer thinking - coming out of the new ways I find to restate the obvious.
I’ve always been able to be by myself when I need to - I treasure that.
Donna: When you’re alone, what do you treasure?
When I’m alone, I learn to listen to my inner self. I feel that I’ve benefited from the depression that sometimes comes over me. It’s not pleasant at the time, and there’s always some guilt about appearing to be doing nothing. I’ve come to realize that some unfathomable inner work is going on, that might not happen in a busier life. I trust that when the dark phase passes a window will open with light shining on the next step, and that some new development is about to happen. I consider depression an incubation period of being with my self - not constantly reacting to what I think I should do.
Donna: I get the impression you’ve always done something that you enjoyed for work. What are your thoughts on people working in an area or job they don’t like?
That’s destructive. To me, it’s so debilitating to force yourself to do something you don’t love just for the money. I believe we’re all evolving toward living on a higher level. Everything I’ve done has always been about that. Yoga was always in the background, even if I thought I wasn’t practicing it. Yoga continues to teach me how to be.
Donna: So you find it’s more rewarding to live happier vs. living with the comfort of some extra dollars in your pocket?
Definitely. I’m able to adapt. I can give up things and move into a more austere mode when income is falling off. I’m doing pretty much what I want to do. It’s not always about the money. With a sustainable income, my attention shifts to what my heart desires, rather than what external influences would say I must do.
Donna: Any advice for someone who might be struggling?
Everything is a test. Discover meditation - which leads to self-examination and personal responsibility. It takes only a few minutes a day to create a profound difference. Mindfulness becomes a habit. For example, I employ mindfulness to ride my bike in this city - awareness is very valuable to me.
Donna: Thank you Jeremy! And happy 74th birthday once again.
For more information on Jeremy, you can find him on Facebook under Jeremy Taylor.