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Francine Hardaway Headshot

Yoga, Business and the Secret of Everlasting Youth

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Every time I walk into a yoga class, I realize I'm the oldest person in the room. By a lot. And even when I walk into a business meeting, it's not unusual for me to be the oldest person in the room. Among my geek friends, also by a lot.

And yet, I have yet to experience what many laid-off workers complain of -- unexpressed ageism. People a decade or more younger than I tell me they are ignored or passed over because they are considered to be "too old," even though that's never told to them.

Why does that happen to some people, and never to others? I'm going to illustrate by an example from my own experience.

About 15 years ago, after more than 25 years as a runner, I awoke one morning to incredible back pain -- as in, I couldn't get out of bed. Because I was in the habit of running, it never occurred to me to stop. As soon as I could get myself dressed and out of the house, I joined my running buddies on the trail, and by the end of the run, I felt better.

But the back pain never truly went away, and eventually I had enough trouble sitting in a chair that it began to affect my ability to work. So I went to my doctor, who sent me to one of the most prominent neurosurgeons in Arizona, at the prestigious Barrow Neurological Center where royalty comes for back surgery.

Barrow gave me a bunch of scans, and and I waited in the surgeon's office for a verdict. After a very long time (famous surgeons leave you waiting in their examining rooms for hours while they make rounds, talk to students, etc), I couldn't sit on the examining table anymore, so I got down on the floor and began doing the back exercises from the room's only reading material, the "back exercises" pamphlet.

Halfway through them, the surgeon entered with his entourage, and gestured toward the lightboard with my scans mounted on it. He gazed at them for several seconds, and said to me, "we'll get you scheduled for surgery next week." I was still on the floor. I raised myself slowly with much pain, and asked him for details about the surgery. He said I had spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, and scoliosis, and that if I didn't have this surgery right away I'd be in a wheelchair and/or incontinent. I asked him how long that would take to happen, and he opined "probably within the year."

In the blur that followed, all I remember is "cage... screws... pins...brace... six months." The terror was indescribable. But I didn't know what else to do, so I scheduled the surgery.

The next day, I spoke to one of the trainers at the gym I belonged to. He said, "why don't you try yoga? It works for some people." Any port in a storm. The very next day, I went to my first yoga class. The teacher and I still remember it. She asked the class to bend over from the waist, and it took me what seemed like five minutes to do that. Then she instructed us to sweep our arms up over our heads and look up. I could not. Later, she asked us to get down on the floor, and that took about an hour, in my time perception.

I was stunned at how inflexible I was (remember all that running?), but at the end of the class I actually had less pain than at the beginning. Two weeks later, I decided to postpone the surgery. Six months later, after going to yoga increasingly often, I went back to the surgeon, pain-free, for a followup visit. I told him, and he said, "Well, I guess you are one of those who responds to conservative methods."

Not even a word of congratulations or happiness for me.

Fast forward fifteen years. I kept practicing yoga. I stopped running. One thing led to another, and I took yoga teacher training. That led to learning all the philosophy behind yoga -- the Hindu and Buddhist roots. That led to not one, but three trips to India.

Those led to practicing non-attachment to the outcomes of my world, to losing the feeling that I had to control everything, to starting Stealthmode Partners and deciding I wanted to be of service, and to the mentoring and work with startups all over the world I do today.

And that leads to the total look of surprise on everyone's face when I tell them my age (which I never hide). Which in turn leads to my often being perceived in some ways as the youngest person in the room rather than the oldest.