For the last 20 years, I’ve been on a journey to accept and, eventually, love my aging body.
For most of this time, I thought that I was doing pretty well. If you had asked me if I accepted my body, I would have told you that I did. Now, I realize that this would have been a surface-level response. It was the answer that I was supposed to give, not the answer that I felt in my heart.
I’d like to tell you about an experience that changed my entire perspective on my body. But, to do so, I need to take a step back… 40 years back.
When I was in my 20s, I travelled to India to learn yoga and study Hinduism. As a comparative religion major at the University of Colorado, I had an intense interest in all religions. On this trip, I was determined to get to the heart of Hinduism.
I stayed at ashrams, read plenty of books, found teachers and, eventually, learned to love India deep in my soul. I also did plenty of yoga.
Now, looking back, I see that the way that I measured my “success” when it came to my yoga practice was limited and somewhat self-defeating. Why? Because it doesn’t matter how long you can sit in a lotus position or how you look when you are working through a series of asanas (poses).
I’ll come back to what does matter in a while.
40 years later, I’m on another journey. This time, I am travelling alone, in Bali. My first goal was to relax a bit after building Sixty and Me for many years.
I also wanted to explore and learn to appreciate my aging body. I knew that the changes that were happening in my body and mind were profound – and I hoped that yoga would help me to get to the bottom of them.
In Ubud, there is a wonderful facility, called Yoga Barn. It attracts some of the best teachers from all over the world, including Cat Kabira, with whom we recorded our gentle yoga videos for older women.
So, I bought a ticket for 20 yoga classes and set off to reconnect with my aging body.
After 5 minutes in my first yoga class, I felt frustrated, angry and sad. “How on Earth could I have let my body get so out of shape?” I screamed in my head.
Immediately, my fantasy of being able to ease back into the practice that I had enjoyed all those years ago dissolved. Instead, I found myself watching the clock and willing the class to end so that I could go home and lick my wounds.
One of the wonderful things about going to a place like Yoga Barn is that you get to interact with so many amazing teachers. All of them are amazing in their own way, but, you always find one or two that have the potential to change your life. For me, Eka was just such a teacher.
My first session with Eka was a yin yoga class. Yin yoga sounds easy – you basically have to hold poses for several minutes. I found out the hard way that it can involve discomfort. This is not necessarily a bad thing, by the way.
During the class, Eka explained that yoga is not about looking for perfection on the outside. It is about developing acceptance of your true self, on the inside.
There is a lot of truth in this simple statement.
As I held the positions, I was forced back into my body. I felt parts of myself that I hadn’t felt in years. I wanted to run away – to switch positions. Instead, I learned to send my consciousness into each ache and pain. With every twist, I realized how much I had been ignoring.
Now, I could ignore it no more!
I meditated on this class many times in the coming days. As I did, I realized that I never really “owned” my body in my later years. I discovered that I had let go of both responsibility and opportunity.
It occurs to me that learning to love your body after 60 is not about painting over the truth. Saying that “it doesn’t matter what you look like,” or “those symptoms are just a part of getting older” is just a defense mechanism.
Accepting your body means owning your body. Just like you can’t love someone until you understand them, you can’t love your body until you learn to connect with it on a deeper level.
For me, yoga has been a powerful tool on this journey of self-exploration. For others, it might be weight-lifting, running or something else. The important thing is to avoid shying away from our true selves.
Yes, we are all beautiful. That’s the easy part to accept. The harder part is taking responsibility for your body and giving it the attention it deserves, not because you care what anyone thinks, but, because it is the greatest tool you own. If you treat it well, it will carry you to adventures untold – and we could all use a few more adventures at our age.
Do you love your aging body? Have you come to accept it? Have you tried yoga? How has it helped you to learn to understand and love your body? Please join the conversation.