Many mornings when I wake up, my lower back is ragingly tight. I hobble to the bathroom delicately, with geriatric gait, then stoop my brachiosaurus body over the bathroom sink–butt back, knees bent–bringing down my weight to the fore-arms, all so I don’t pull a muscle while brushing my teeth. In the aging, physical scheme of things, this is where I’m at. As my friend Sten used to croon in a song by a band called The Code, “I’m exaggerating, but it’s true.”
In this frightful morning scenario, I generally catch a scary glimpse of my puffy morning visage in the bathroom mirror. But mostly my awareness is turned inward, moving through the ablutions in order to get to the kitchen where I deposit myself for five-ten minutes of stretching—hanging over my legs, spreading the sacrum, lengthening on my inhalation, exhaling to activate abdominal muscles, feeling the diagonals that criss-cross through the middle –igniting a low-level fire that emanates toward full-body range of motion. In other words, I do my thing. I do not emerge from this morning routine entirely transformed–elevated in a sea of light upon a Gaiam catalogue Hawaiian beach. But after the stretching, I do feel a little more connected, and a little less in pain. Then I go wake up the kids…
Bottomline: The physical priority for me as I get older is to try to keep feeling good, and not be in pain. On the hierarchy of aging concerns, FEELING good occupies my head space way more than LOOKING good (and you know who you are… https://goo.gl/fYyCWy). When my body hurts, pain is the dominant filter through which I experience all else. My energy goes inward and it’s hard to transcend. I am less available as a parent, wife, citizen, friend, colleague and I go through the motions perfunctorily.
The emphasis on how we look, rather than how we feel as we age is obviously distorted. It’s foisted upon us everywhere, and we seek to counter the “sad reality” of the aging process by purchasing cosmetics and anti-aging creams. In fact, my priorities are inversely aligned. Basically, when I feel good in my body, I feel good, period. Age does not enter into the equation at all.
It’s when I feel bad–feel my arthritic knee and sore lower back–that I am reminded of my age. Injuries and abiding pain. Those things make me feel old. So what is “old”? It’s a set of “new” persistent sensations and limitations that did not exist when my lovely instrument was operating at full capacity, with more reserves than I knew possible. When I’m injured, sore, or physically suffering, I am reminded of the objective fact that I am 45, and heading on a ramp toward potentially rougher physical road ahead.
When I see the wrinkles creep and grow under my eyes, gray hair, and the carriage of a mother’s body, to me it’s “Of course! You’re 45.” Isn’t that what’s supposed to happen to your face and motherly figure? Looking my age doesn’t bother me to the extent that physical hurting completely undoes me. Realizing I appear my age does not suck up extreme amounts of mental energy. I do fret about my looks, sure I do, but it’s not disturbing, in the same way that pain is blinding and all-encompassing to feel.
My hope and belief is that by focusing energy on feeling good, I will also look good. I know the dictates of good health, and to the extent that I can practice them, I will benefit. Dr. Suzi Tortora a dance movement psychotherapist I once interviewed remarked about how she looks as she gets older. She said something to the effect: “I’m not interested in looking young, I hope to look good for my age.” I think that’s a good way to approach aging and body. I’d also add: I just want to feel good for my age.