I’d like to introduce you to two of my yoga students, who come to class weekly, rain or shine. Early risers who arrive at the gym to take a spinning class before the 8:30 yoga class, Bill and Charlotte Dautel are the inspiration of many teachers and students. Their combined ages equal 150! A couple who have spent a lifetime exploring and growing in all areas, they’re both committed to preserving their health, well-being, and sanity through yoga and fitness.
Married for 53 years, they raised 3 children in addition to pursuing careers in health care and mechanical engineering. In 1988 they moved to Cape Cod, but “retired” is hardly the word. They reinvented themselves. Bill left engineering to become a custom cabinet maker. Charlotte left her teacher nurse training (she got her teaching degree at age 42) and together they started building a community of friends on the lower Cape. Willy’s Gym is one of their hangouts, where they’re surrounded by young people who keep them going. The Life Center for Health is where they take their yoga classes.
I’m proud to have them in class. Whenever a new person ventures into the studio, hesitant to start yoga at 45 or 50, I introduce them to Bill and Charlotte and say “It’s never too late to start!” I teach a Level 2 class for more advanced students, and it’s not unusual to have Charlotte right there in the front row ready to do what she can (usually with more ease than some of the younger students). She’s learned that perfection is an illusion, and because she’s aware that “all it takes is all I’ve got,” she also knows not to force her body into a pose.
Bill recently had a knee injury and some abdominal surgery. As soon as he was back on his feet, he was back in class. He has cultivated a way to adapt the poses to suit his limitations, and always keeps his sense of humor (and the back row of students well entertained).
Here’s a twist: Bill and Charlotte don’t attend classes at the same time. Charlotte says that yoga class is a time for her to be with herself and that when she shipped Bill off to his first class she was delighted to have time at home alone. Retirement doesn’t mean being attached at the hip. Bill and Charlotte do plenty together, and yet still maintain
Charlotte started yoga at age 72, and Bill at 73. There were senior yoga classes available, but they were ready to join in with the young folks. Charlotte remarks that she moves “faster than my own kids,” and Bill insists that he’ll be doing yoga “as long as the nursing home bus will still drop me off.” It’s not likely that either Bill or Charlotte will see a nursing home. They work out five days a week – three days of spinning, and two days of treadmill, weight training, physioball and yoga.
Charlotte recently called me up and told me that a fitness trainer had dissuaded her from taking a physioball class for fear of her falling off the ball. She wondered in her youthful thinking if that wasn’t an “ageist remark.” She told the trainer that she does sit-ups on a ball every day! I reassured her that with her strong yoga background and her understanding of alignment, she could learn to kneel on top of the ball before her 80th birthday – and I’m sure she will.
I asked Bill and Charlotte if they have any advice for folks looking at the option of studying yoga in middle age. Charlotte claims that she can raise her arms higher in spin class than a lot of the younger women because of her downward dog yoga pose. She’s certain that her skin is in better condition from yoga inversions (yes, she does modified headstands and handstands), insists that her posture is much improved, and is determined that shrinking is not in her future. Rose Nadeau (a local artist who has come back to yoga after taking some years off) told Charlotte that she has been greatly inspired by her.
Bill loves the social interaction with younger people. Fellow student Barbara Stone told him he inspires her to keep coming to class. He says that at first an older student may feel frustrated by not being as supple as the younger ones, but that this will change in no time. Not only is sitting on the floor easier at age 75, but getting up from sitting is a lot easier as well.
I hope that meeting the Dautels has inspired you as it has many others, and that you’ll find it easier to get up and join us in a yoga class soon!
By Tricia Duffy-Roth, Spring 2004
Patricia Duffy is owner and director of Oasis Integrative Therapies and director at the Life Center for Health Yoga Studio in Orleans. She has a Master’s in Counseling from Antioch, and is a Licensed Massage Therapist in practice for 18 years, specializing in medical massage. She is a certified Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapist and has certifications in yoga teacher training in both Kripalu and Iyengar Yoga.