Some people excel at growing older and happier and some don’t. Which one are you?
By Vasanthi Srinivasan
Next year, I’ll reach the half-century mark—the Big 5-0—and I can probably look forward to plenty of “over the hill” messages to mark the occasion. With gag gifts, black balloons, and cakes in flames to celebrate our birthdays, Western society often stigmatizes aging as a process that involves only negative physical and mental changes.
Many people, however, EXCEL at growing older—and happier. Some of us will even resist “aging” until the moment of death. Who do you choose to be?
Meet Gita,* a resilient and courageous woman who is 85 years wise. Not too long ago, her beloved husband of nearly 60 years unexpectedly passed away after a brief illness. The sudden loss turned her life upside down, leaving her vulnerable and in shock. Already weakened by osteoporosis, mobility issues, and spinal degeneration, the painful grieving process began to take a further toll on Gita’s body and mind.
She could easily have fallen into depression and continued to deteriorate mentally and physically. Instead, Gita began to reverse the effects of frailty and the aging process with simple lifestyle changes. Gita was recently introduced to yoga therapy—yes, at age 85!
Having had several falls over the years, Gita had difficulty walking and keeping her balance. After 4 months of a regular yoga practice in a therapeutic and supportive setting, she experienced a decrease in pain and improvement in muscle tone, joint stability, and circulation. Her daily practice of affirmations and self-awareness exercises empowered her to gain confidence, strength, and overcome her fear of falling.
Now, Gita’s positive outlook on life and growing older allows her to live each day joyfully. Did you know that people who have a positive view of aging live an average of 7.5 years longer than people who have a negative view of aging? Neuroscientists are discovering how practices like yoga relieve stress and may slow the aging process. And that physical activity takes advantage of the brain’s natural capacity for plasticity.
So stop waiting until you have the “right” shape, size, or level of fitness to begin your yogic practices! Yoga is a process of self-discovery, and any time is the right time to start.
Here are a few of my favorite simple steps to help clients experience the benefits of yoga for healthy aging:
- Observe: Support your health by becoming aware of your posture. Notice how you carry yourself during your daily routine and challenge these habitual positions with new activities.
- Practice: Our bodies are designed to move! During breaks, take the spine through all of its possible directions—bend forward and backward, bend left and right, and twist in both directions. Don’t forget to lengthen as well (sit up tall).
- Empower: Positive self-talk = self-worth & self-esteem. One study found that “if an individual’s self-esteem decreased, the stress hormone cortisol increased—and vice versa.” (The original research is here.) This means that we may be able to reduce or even prevent health problems by raising our self-esteem.
It’s time to change our perception of aging and take back ownership to age with grace and dignity. Getting older is unavoidable, but aging is a choice. I don’t know about you, but I am choosing to be like Gita and smile with pure joy as I welcome my next and future birthdays grateful, amazed, and in awe.
Comment below to share what you will do to change your mindset. And if you like this blog, please share it with a friend!
Vasanthi Srinivasan, MEd, C-IAYT, is a licensed educator, yoga therapist, and yoga teacher. She lives in Sonoma, California, where she shares the tools of yoga with underserved communities by making yoga accessible, adaptable, and affordable to people of all ages and abilities. Find her on Facebook and LinkedIn.
*Name and details have been changed to protect the client’s privacy.