Meditation on Aging

A meditation on aging

I turned 50 last year. It is making me think a lot about what it means to get older (other than the celebratory fact that I’ve made it this far;-)

What does it mean, for my body, for my movement, for my profession? Are there things I have to give up? Do I need to work differently to continue to be able to do the things I love? Should I consider myself happy to maintain function or can I aim for developing strength and/or flexibility I have never had before? And why is it that I don’t have very many completely pain-free days?

Observation 1: There seems to be something like a baseline soreness in my body, and I seem to take a bit longer to recover. Now, to some extent that is a result of working out harder than I used to. – A few years ago I have found my new movement love in aerial circus arts and the workouts are not for the faint of heart. However, even taking that into account, I seem to be sore for longer than my kids are, and I also get sore when the training is only middling tough.

Observation 2: I am a lot more worried about hurting myself – no surprise there. At this point, I have worked through 5 decades of run-of-the-mill injuries and I know how long it takes to recover. However, I have noticed that this worry has caused me to avoid a lot of things and as a result, my capacity has shrunk. I am less and less inclined to try new movements. At this rate, I would be doing less and less and be confined to a perfectly aligned armchair when I’m 80. Not so good. I have realized that it is necessary to keep pushing the envelope or it will shrink. I have realized that it is possible to get too precious with my structure.

Observation 3: Considering being completely pain-free to be the norm has given me a lot of worry, because I hardly ever am. It has produced a professional midlife-crisis. How can I tell people that I can help them get out of pain when I am hurting myself? I have struggled with this thought for over a year now and I finally have had a breakthrough: There is a difference between pain that is incapacitating and pain that is just pain. There is a difference between a situation that needs to be remedied (any medical issue, a pinched nerve, a painful because dysfunctional back or anything like that) and the experience of pain itself.

If we are incapacitated by pain (or even when we don’t know what it’s about), obviously we need to see the doctor, the acupuncturist, the rolfer, the PT to get information and help. We should not be stuck in the same painful situation.

However, my own experience getting older (as well as more aware and more sensitive) has made me think: maybe being completely and permanently pain-free is not a useful goal (after a certain age, at least)? Maybe feeling ‘good enough’ to do the things I like doing most of the time is enough. Maybe just being able to ‘work on my stuff’ is enough. Maybe a peak experience just now and then is just right.

Observation 4: In my own personal experience, when I ‘work on the stuff’ I can work on, even if that is very little, I feel better. Bodywork has been useful (or necessary) to decrease pain and expand the range of what I can work on, but nonetheless, receiving bodywork has taken me only so far. In all fairness to my profession, the “so far” can be pretty amazing and useful. But it is not enough. I have learned that there comes a point where we need to step up to the plate, learn about our very own, special, idiosyncratic bodies and put some (and sometimes a lot of) effort into steering them towards the healthy and vibrant end of the spectrum. – I think I have found my toolbox for how to do that (and I continue to collect additional ‘tools.’) How can I assist people in developing their own?

Observation 5: In twenty years of working with and putting my hands on a wide variety of people, from 3 day old infants to elders of 90-some years, I have learned that we humans vary about as much in ‘the feel’ of our bodies as we do in the way we look. Just like someone can look healthy and vibrant or less so, their tissue can feel healthy and vibrant, or less so. The difference between a healthy-feeling 20 year old body and a less-healthy feeling 20 year old body is fairly small, whereas the difference between a healthy and a less healthy 50 year old body is much bigger. As people get older, that range, that difference between the most healthy and vibrant and the least healthy and vibrant grows – a lot. (Of course I can only talk about people who make it into my practice, so I am not including people who are actually sick. I am observing a basically healthy population.) But here’s the kicker: The most reliable difference that I have found between people with healthier-feeling vs. less healthy-feeling bodies is how much they move.

Conclusion 1: To some extent, just upping your everyday movement will do a lot for you. But what if you are in pain, stiff and worried about injury? During the times when I could not bend my knee, or lift my arm, or sleep without an intricate setup of pillows, splints, body-positioning, etc., I needed to be very smart about my movement. This is not about ‘just pushing through.’

Conclusion 2: We live in such a movement-deprived culture (or have spent so many years at a desk), that simply more of what we have (going to the gym, walking on paved roads, doing yoga classes) may not be enough to turn the tide.

Learning to move well, learning to listen to our own bodies, making pleasure the yardstick for our movement experiences (yes, you read that correctly), and feeding our bodies a varied diet of sensory information that comes from moving all joints, all tissues in all sorts of different configurations can help turn the tide.

Conclusion 3: I want to share the tools I have collected over the years as I have developed and continue to develop my personalized toolbox for high-level self-care. It is no longer enough for me to use my hands to align people, teach them some important principles about healthy movement and send them on their merry way.

I want to be able to help people go farther in their journey towards a comfortable body, a body that ages vibrantly. I have looked for a way to teach movement that takes into account the continuity of the fascial web, movement that will change the structure, movement that will fine tune and expand on the results I can get with Rolfing.

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