February 28, 2020

The Post-50 Guide to Aging Gracefully.

I have a serious-natured friend who, from the time she was young, wanted to leap ahead and be a mature, older woman.

Most people I know fear aging—or they persistently deny it.

There is a “Fear Script” in play that convinces people they need to dial it back and settle for a pale version of their youthful life. Just accept the achy joints, fluffy bellies, cloudy memories, and feelings of isolation. And, for heaven’s sake, be careful. Avoid rocky trails, walking barefoot, and even expect to have surgeries. Be afraid.

Then there’s the popular “Denial Script,” directing us to resist aging at all costs. Chase the look of a youthful body. Obsess over crepey skin and look into growth hormones. Aspire always to shimmer with enviable youth. Never give up. Never accept.

I’ve tried out both scripts and am here to report that neither approach allows us to embrace the changing body in an empowered, joyful way.

Aging with fear suppresses our creativity and minimizes us. Old people are not another species. They are a more seasoned version of their younger selves. Who doesn’t love seasoning?

Living in fear takes away the opportunity to tackle challenges that build strength and confidence. The mind grows fearful and the body weak.

As I age, my world doesn’t have to get smaller and smaller. I don’t have to give up yoga, hiking, travel, and dissecting films—things that bring me joy. I don’t have to let a fixed income become fixed life experiences.

I can rethink.

I began practicing yoga at 50 and studied some fairly advanced asana. Now, I teach gentle yoga to adults over 50. We work on strength, balance, range of motion, and focus. So, we have the tools to live big fat lives. It’s good for me and my community, and it’s ignited an intense, deeper interest in my yoga practice and meditation.

As for the Denial Script, it simply does not allow for accepting our changing bodies. Without acceptance, how can we manage the physical challenges we face? We can’t deny the life that shows on our faces and bodies. And we can’t ignore the internal changes—the joints that get stiff or the balance that gets wobbly. But, with motivation and work, we can take care of our bodies and feel more energetic, stable, and mobile. It starts with acceptance and can lead to a better quality of life.

We need a new script—let’s call it the “Acceptance and Action Script.” It’s fueled by yoga asana, breath, meditation, and love.

Yoga helps us relax and accept, and empowers us to act. First, we find gratitude for our bodies and lives. Then we acknowledge damage, sickness, or pain. We also acknowledge our ability to take care of it the best we can. We act to train our bodies to be stronger and more flexible, and train our brains to be quieter and less reactive. A calmer brain is less likely to trigger an overprotective pain response and keep us in chronic discomfort, long after any injury has occurred.

Change asks a lot of us, but we can learn to evolve. Yoga, breath, and meditation help us focus on what we can do, instead of worrying about what is not possible. It’s never too late to start. With consistent practice, we can experience less pain, more peace.

This life stage offers us the opportunity to flip the script and accept, but not settle. We are here, in these bodies, working to make the most of what we have and spark the energy to create the lives we love.

So, take joy in challenging yourself. Don’t be afraid to take the rocky road. Smile at the wrinkles. Anyone who loves you already does.

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