Aging Myths and Cirque de So-Gray
(Author’s Note: This article was written before the DOMS – Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness – set in. Now I am so sore I need help to type. Kidding – it’s well worth it.)
Wow, what a great day! Today my body feels so…young again. Today I am celebrating the miraculous and mysterious walking universe that is my ever-changing body. I am loving my body, and I plan to discover more ways to love it each day- that is my personal Body Love Project.
Okay, things could be magnified by that big full moon outside, but today I did things with my body that I have not even tried in over 25 years, and I lived to tell you about it so you can revisit the springy steps of your youth, too. Maybe you think that you’ll never do one of your favorite activities again, that you have left it in the past because your body is “too old,” but the truth is, an older body can be phenomenally flexible, incredibly strong, well- balanced, and even bouncy, with some …ahem….wisdom from the years as icing on the cake. The medical community is constantly telling us we’re breaking down, and that may be an accurate assessment of what is going on in the bodies of many humans who are leading damagingly sedentary lives, not getting adequate movement to adequately maintain the many movement-dependent bodily systems. It is not, however, an idea that applies to everyone. Maybe, just maybe, we can get BETTER as we get older. I think I’ve seen a t-shirt about it.
A friend recently gave me an article from The New York Times (11/28/10) about a 91-year old woman named Olga Kotelko who is breaking track records (in her age group – yes, others do it, too!) across events including shot put, high jump, and 100-meter dash! HIGH JUMP, FOLKS, and she’s 91!!! She started training in her 60s. Now, according to the notes the insurance company sends in the mail, I am supposed to be screened for all sorts of maladies naturally brought on by aging, because anything over 35 is considered by the medical community to be soooooo old, body-wise, and I am a whopping 44. Pishaw. I think it has so much to do with our attitudes, and Olga is proof. So was Jack La Lanne. So are so many old folks living active lives off the land, relying on their own bodies for transportation, running from here to the next village at age 90. I mean, think about it. If it’s true that ‘if you don’t use it, you lose it,’ why do we stop using it when we are still relatively so young? If my life expectancy is 70-95 years, I should technically reach my strongest point of life at least half-way through. I plan to live to be one-hundred and twenty, at least that’s always sounded pretty good to me, so I may hit my peak around 60- whoopee! I can still ‘use it’ for a long time. When did we start looking at our twenties as the peak time for bodily health and strength? Could it be possibly that, in our twenties, we were more bold about moving our bodies? We just stopped “USING IT.” What could possibly happen if we started using it again? Could we rediscover what seemed lost? I think so. If you are starting to lose it, it’s time to use it. If it’s already lost – if you really want it, seek it.
A long time ago I was a gymnast, and I really enjoyed it. I competed a little, wasn’t the best, nor was I the worst, but mostly had fun flipping. Flipping through the air is a great feeling, much like flying and falling at the same time. I got hurt pretty badly when I was about 14, when I stopped doing the conditioning essentials for my sport, like stretching and core strengthening, and started doing other middle-school things that were cooler than keeping my body strong and flexible enough. My gymnastics career officially ended then, but I kept doing flips on the beach, fewer and fewer every summer until one year I just didn’t have the guts any more. Probably, in my body I knew I didn’t completely have the same strength, either. So I never did those flips I loved again. I used to dream about that, me flipping down the beach, and I thought, I’ll never really do that again, so I can dream on.
My daughter tried gymnastics a few times and loved it. We started going to this open full gymnasium every Friday night, and I saw the kids all around (I was the oldest in the place by far, including the coaches) doing flips and bouncing and balancing and swinging and I thought, I love this place. I’m doing it. Started out on the trampoline, totally peed my pants (sorry but it’s true – since then I have strengthened my pelvic floor muscles and I’m back in control), then went on to the bars (“Lady, are you some kind of coach or something?” “No, I’m just a grownup who wants to do gymnastics.” “Hmm.”), did a backbend and reminded myself to stretch that every single day – ow! – , flew off the springboard through the air and onto my butt on a big foamy mat with kids watching me like I’m nuts, fell off the lowest balance beam just walking along, and almost had a heart attack when my daughter flipped backward on her own with no spotter, no warning, but it was great (no problem!). At the end, you could wipe the floor up with me; in fact I did just lay there and I recall being pulled around by my legs as the distant sound of my daughter’s giggles reach my ears. And I felt like I was in heaven. It felt so good to be in that place, moving my body and challenging it and being inspired. I made up my mind I would come with my daughter every single Friday and just see where it took me.
So (drumroll….) today I flipped! I actually did it and did it again. I’ve been working toward it really gradually, strengthening my body and mind over the last few years, but I didn’t know I would actually go through with it until today. I realized a very encouraging thing, that I’m actually stronger now than I was in my twenties, not in every way, but in many ways, both of body and mind. So I had the training and the will. Not only that, today was the perfect day to try a daring and desired feat – I had been moving my body all day in different ways, all day long (tiring, but great for our systems). The day started out with a morning dance class, then a delightful massage, then a personal yoga session in which I was the student, a personal training session in which I was the teacher, a dip in the hot tub, and then on to the gymnastics studio with my 11 year-old daughter. In between of each of these activities were tasty and nourishing treats like hot milk and honey, tortilla casserole and a homemade monster cookie from the People’s Food Co-op, some blood oranges, some pears, a fruit tart and many more delicious AND nutritious bits of energy. Everything in my day was good for me and enjoyable at the same time. My body liked it. I think that’s why I could do the flip today (technically a back-handspring); my body was just so happy or something.
And let me tell you, those flips felt GREAT! The flying/falling/flippy feeling, yes, and the feeling of just DOING IT, oh yes and yes again. It gave me confidence in a way I needed to feel. It gave me hope, somehow. Made me feel fresh and full of potential. Amazing medicine!
So, what’s the secret to regaining the movement that you had as a youth? MOVING. Start moving as much as you can in as many different directions as you can. Listen to your body, start slowly, and let yourself enjoy it. You may not be able to work your whole career around movement, but you can incorporate more movement into anything you do. Do things you haven’t done for a long time – and again, start easy!- and notice how your body starts to feel more vibrant, more energetic, “younger.” Our bodies thrive on movement, subtle and dynamic, and they start to deteriorate as the movement disappears from our lives. So put that movement back in! Jump up and touch the top of the door frame or the ceiling as you pass under. Run across the yard instead of walking, or better yet, jump from stepping stone to stepping stone. Push up between two countertops so you are suspended on just your arms. Bend backward off your bed. Hang from something. Get down on the floor. Your body will love it and you’ll be happier overall. It’s true.
As always, please infuse your program with as much body LOVE as possible, by eating nourishing, nurturing foods, getting quality body work, and helping your body to feel good in as many healthy ways as possible!
I’m planning to gather a troupe of really fit “old” folks in about twenty years for an inspiring new version of Cirque de Solei in which all of the performers will be over 65 years old. It wil be called “Cirque de So-Gray,” and it’s going to be colorful and acrobatic and fun. (I figure the youth whose bodies are being sacrificed, right now at this very moment, to the hand-held technology gods, those kids who think that walking across the living room to find the remote control is an admirable trek, they will be the most likely audience.) You have a few years to train before auditions open up, but the sooner you start training, the better! Just think, what a way to live – active and agile all the days of your life. So what if you never did gymnastics. So what if you never did much movement at all. It’s time to start and your body will absolutely love you for it. Maybe you’ll get your old groove back, whatever it is you love to do – your old jumpshot, your sexy dance move, your agile musical rif. Not only that, you can have a job with me in the Cirque de So-Gray. It’s so worth it, and you’ll get to wear an outrageous costume, too. So just move!
First published on February 27 2011