Aging well seems to have gotten confused with staying young, and it’s a shame because I think we’re missing out on the beauty and wisdom of the aging process.
We are all aging. At this point in human history, there is ultimately no alternative to growing old. Rather than spending so much time, energy, and money on resisting it, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could accept it, cherish it, and enjoy it?
I know a radical acceptance of aging would be a huge shift, but here are some ways we might start to move in that direction:
Honour aging as a gift
I volunteered with a camp for kids with cancer for ten years, and from that experience, I developed a deep appreciation for the gift of growing old. When I hear people bemoaning how old they are, the thought in my head is usually, “Would you really prefer the alternative?”
Honour those who didn’t get a chance to grow old by cherishing the whole spectrum of the human life.
Re-frame the experience
I once read about someone who always referred to wrinkles as life lines. I love this re-frame. We are sometimes over-focused on the wonderful things about being young. What about the wonderful things about growing old?
A sense of freedom seems to be one – freedom from excessive worrying, freedom from what other people think, and freedom from the pressure of appearing successful. Challenge yourself to see the wonder and beauty in growing old.
Look forward, not back
Instead of focusing on how much more physically capable you were at 19 or how much younger you looked at 25 – and using extreme measures to try and move yourself back in time – spend your time and energy thinking about how you want to feel and how you want to be able to move when you are 85 years old. What choices can you make now to support your physical, mental, and emotional well-being as you age? How do your priorities shift if you focus on remaining strong and agile in your old age instead of trying to accomplish the physical feats of your young age?
Extra Yoga Teacher Tip: Start watching people who move well when they are older (and people who don’t). You might be surprised by what you see, and it might have a profound effect on how you practice.
Spend more time with older people
One of the wonderful things about older people is that they have a whole lifetime’s worth of stories to share. And the wisdom and experience in their stories is not only inspiring, it is important. Historically, many cultures have had strong traditions of passing down wisdom from the elders in the community. Sadly, we are living in a time where the life experience of our elders seems to be cast aside because it doesn’t support us in being more productive or using modern technology. With the rapid evolution of technology, the elders of today are a unique generation. Their stories of how the world has changed – good and bad – over the course of their lifetimes can offer us great insight and a bigger perspective and guide us moving forward.
Spend as much time as possible with loved ones
It is easy to get lost in the day-to-day demands of living a “successful” and “productive” lifestyle, but when it comes down to what fulfills us, the single biggest contributor is strong connections with loved ones. The evolutionary argument posits that humans are social animals and we have evolved to be in groups. Because we have always needed others for survival, the need for human relationship is in our genes, and social connection leaves us feeling more relaxed and at peace, which is strongly related to better health.
Aging well requires living well. Keep dreaming. Keep dancing. Keep laughing. Don’t use “I’m too old” as an excuse for not learning new things, taking new adventures, or pursuing your dreams. We have an uncertain number of years in our lifetimes and we built a fulfilling life by living each day wholeheartedly.
But in living fully, remember the wise words of Judith Lasater: “If you want to life a happy life, never do as much as you can.”
Yoga postures (asana) are a popular tool in the yoga practice and can be a great tool for keeping your body limber as you age, but they are only one of tools of yoga. The holistic practice of yoga is a collection of tools intended to support us in finding more ease and joy in life. Some of the other tools are philosophy, life-style choices, breath work, meditation practices, and relaxation training.
There is nothing that I would recommend more wholeheartedly to support living well, aging well, and being well than the holistic practice of yoga.
The philosophy and tools of yoga teach us over and over again that to do something well we have to be willing to accept where we are at. To age well, to age gracefully, we must be able to accept – and honour – that we are aging.