If you start now or you don’t start now...

”…in five years you’re going to still be five years older.”

Desirée Rumbaugh is about to turn 60 next year. Even so, her life is filled with exciting new endeavors – from learning Spanish and how to play the piano to starting weightlifting with a four day a week regimen all the way down to her diet. Aside from being a grandmother and pursuing her own new learnings or weightlifting, Desirée travels around the world to teach yoga workshops. I spoke with Desirée to learn more about how the lessons from the yoga mat have translated into her broader approach to living.

“Anybody that lives this long is going to have something sad happen to them in their life. But you can use them, even the sad tragic things, to become more inspiring and not so bitter.”

Fifteen years ago, Desirée was returning home from teaching a yoga workshop when she learned that her son and his girlfriend had been shot to death while on an overnight camping trip to celebrate their one year anniversary. While there was no apparent motivation and the story was broadcast on national television, the case was never solved. The loss was unthinkable tragedy and unimaginable pain. Desirée’s deepest fear during this time was that she might never know joy again. How do you start again after experiencing tremendous loss?

Two years later, Desirée began to sense that her son’s death could renew her own purpose in her life. While her yoga practice had begun years before experiencing this tragedy, Desirée felt clear that the emotional experience of her loss was also an active partner to her experience on the yoga mat. She began to share her feelings with students in trainings and learned there was a way to transform the suffering into a new sense of peace. The spiritual, physical, emotional, and mental experience of the mat has helped her to embody the joy and freedom she thought had been taken away.

“The thing that I really have experienced and trust is that the Universe is on our side. Know that the Universe is conspiring for me, it’s not against me. I think sometimes people get into that ‘woe is me,’ ‘nothing ever goes my way,’ ‘I never meet anybody,’ and if you have that outlook, that’s your experience. So to never give up is one of the things that I practice. It’s like the world is how you see it. Your reality is how you create it to be. It’s not already fixed.”

And in that light, Desirée continues to teach in new ways to encourage others to stay open.

One such example is in 2012, she with physical therapist Karen Church created a training called Wisdom Warriors specifically for people over 50 (though people of all ages have attended!) to learn how to heal their bodies through yoga rather than run away from physical movement when they experience pain. In a 12 hour training, they review anatomy slides and then move to their yoga mats to experience asana practice.

“I like to go into studios and teach people. I give them a lot of inspiration and encouragement like, ‘OK, your knee is hurting. What can we do about that?’ not ‘game over.’ That pain you’re having or that stress is the gateway to finding the solution. That’s going to open up something for you. That’s my message. [The pain or stress is] not stopping you. It’s not a stop sign. It’s just a detour, and if you follow it, and ask questions that’s how life is unfolding in a positive way.”

Similarly in 2017, Desirée and colleague Michelle Marchildon co-authored a book called Fearless after Fifty. Their goal: to demystify yoga and show you how to flourish in midlife.

“It sounds like I’m really attached to the physical form, and maybe I am, but when you wake up every morning, and you have no pain, you just spring across the floor, like you don’t even think about your body, and you’re sixty, that makes your day a lot better than if you get out of bed going ‘ugh.’”

When I ask Desirée what advice she’d want to give other people about starting again, she says to never give up.

“At Any age a person can make a lot of excuses why they can’t improve their life, why they can’t do whatever. It’s really up to us.”

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Kirsten Schowalter is the founder of Aging Courageously and the author of the memoir In My Own Skin.