Martha Flanders: Not Ready to Be a Senior

by Monique Parker

Martha Flanders of Arroyo Hondo became a certified yoga teacher through UNM-Taos and Svastha Yoga and Ayurveda of Chennai, India at the age of 60.

Martha Flanders had already been practicing yoga for several years before taking my Svastha Yoga class at the Northside Spa in the winter of 2009. It only took a few classes before she realized yoga had much more to offer than just stretching. “Svastha Yoga didn’t just improve my flexibility, it also helped me to develop core strength and quiet my mind,” Flanders says.

 Martha wasn’t like other students who simply showed up for class and went through the motions. She asked poignant questions, took notes, and approached her health with a proactive and inquisitive mind. I suggested she come for a private session where I could address her questions in-depth, as well as develop an individualized routine that she could practice at home. “Oh, no, I’d never be disciplined enough on my own to do that,” I recall her saying.

Fast-forward five years. Today, Martha, 61, not only has her own home practice which she adapts as she sees fit, but she also teaches yoga classes in El Prado and on South Padre Island, Texas, where she vacations. A year ago, just weeks after completing her 200-hour yoga teacher certification at UNM-Taos, she traveled with me to Mamallapuram, India, to meet my teachers, A.G. and Indra Mohan. While there she obtained a second 200-hour level yoga certification from Svastha Yoga & Ayurveda.

Martha uses Virabhadrasana II or Warrior Pose to strengthen her legs for downhill skiing, cycling, and windsurfing.

“Since I found Svastha Yoga, my life has changed dramatically. The teachings make so much sense. Postures are synchronized with the breath, putting more attention on the movement and giving the asana practice a meditative quality, thus calming the mind—a quality that for me has had the most impact,” Flanders says.

Martha is one of fourteen other Taos-based yoga instructors who are working towards their 500-hour level certification in Svastha Yoga Therapy with the Mohans’ son, Dr. Ganesh Mohan, here in Taos. The program requires a three and a half year commitment. “What is so unique about Svastha Yoga is that it emphasizes the adaptation of postures for the needs and abilities of the individual, while continually reassessing the individual’s condition and making appropriate modifications,” Martha adds.

Prior to yoga, Martha had always been physically active. Two of her favorite pastimes include skiing, which she took up in high school during Christmas break when her family holidayed in Taos. (The formative memories of which have inspired her to make Taos her home since 1979.) The other is windsurfing, which she took up in her 30s and continues to enjoy today.

Martha demonstrates Adho Mukha Savanasana or Downward Facing Dog to stretch the hamstrings after long bike rides.

But it wasn’t until she quit drinking in her 30s and quit smoking a decade later, that she started taking her health more seriously. “When I quit smoking, it changed my life. I started walking and then hiking for twenty minutes during my lunch break at Taos Ski Valley, where I worked in the accounting department. Then I joined the spa for aerobics and weights. I didn’t start yoga and cycling until I was in my fifties,” she says.

Although Martha came to cycling late, she took it up with the same passion she does with most everything. Already she has completed two half continental rides: California to Colorado and Colorado to Georgia, with routes covering over 1500 miles each. She has also participated in several shorter rides of 400 miles and less, including a trek through Slovenia. “I’m active, but I’m no animal,” Martha says. “Plenty of fit folks my age and older leave me in the dust on the slopes and pass me on the road cycling.”

A few years ago, Martha was diagnosed with osteoporosis. But that hasn’t slowed her down. If anything, it gives her greater motivation to stay in shape.

Half Lord of the Fishes Pose or Ardha Matsyendrasana is great for opening the shoulders, neck and hips.

“I see people now in their 60s, 70s, and 80s whom I have known for twenty years and who continue to enjoy activities –skiing, cycling, hiking—if even at a slower pace,” she says. “I am saddened when I see those who have not addressed specific health issues or who have simply stopped moving. As we age we cannot avoid slowing down, but we can strive to comfortably carry on our essential day-to-day activities.”

Martha started teaching yoga last year. Her classes are geared to those who wish to improve their range of motion, flexibility, muscle strength and balance. The pace of her instruction is slow, with easy-to-moderately challenging exercises (asanas).

To quiet her mind, Martha meditates, focusing on her breath and repeating a mantra.

“When I was a child and my granny was 60ish, she was OLD.  She had permed bluish hair, wore support hose, and I think the only exercise she got was walking the two flights of stairs to her apartment. The thought of being that old was scary. When a friend suggested I market my yoga classes as “Gentle Seniors,” I was aghast. I am not ready to be a senior!”

**First published in The Taos News on January 24, 2013