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Embracing an Aging Body

It is a reality that escapes no one. It is a process that we see happen to those around us, but somehow forget that it is also happening in us in this very moment.

Whatever age we are now, we are beginning to discover that our bodies are showing the natural signs of getting older. Even though this is a gradual process, both internal discomforts and changes in external appearance can seem to happen overnight.

Up to a point, I found it possible to deny that such body changes were happening to me. After all, I had already figured out my relationship with my body, and I thought things were going pretty well. It never occurred to me what it would be like to have my body decide to change without my consent. It never crossed my mind that, like any relationship in which one party changes so dramatically, my whole relationship with myself would also need to transform. When this relationship began to change without my prior consent, I found myself back again in the familiar process of awareness, acceptance, and adjustment.

Creating a new relationship to my aging body means adjusting to unpredictable sensations and discomforts; new considerations for physical movements; differences in body shape, size, and appearance; changes in basal body functions; and altered states of sleeping. But there is no such thing as a purely physical experience is there?

As my body spoke to me of changes, along came my initial indignant attitude of resistance toward my body: “I am in control of you.” I must be, because, if not, I will need to face all the fear tangled up in the belief that I am in control.

Then came my attachment to the underlying conditions of the previous relationship I had with my body: “But I was happy with the way things were! I am not ready for things to be different. We didn’t talk about this.” This argument contained sadness and disappointment. It also contained the big one – betrayal: “I have done everything I can to prevent these changes, and still you are changing.”

Next was resignation: “Okay, so I’m done. You are just going to do whatever it is that you are doing no matter what I have to say about it. So just go ahead. I have better things to focus on.” A ridiculous and exhausting stance, for sure. Along with it came a plethora of emotions: anger, resentment, and bigger fear based on the absolute knowing that I was going to have to catch up to the inevitability of my body’s process.

But first, I’d be visiting with some old acquaintances. Blame would join in: “Why didn’t I take even better care of myself.” Guilt would be there, too: “Maybe I really didn’t take good enough care of myself.” Shame would round out the trio: “I was supposed to take better care of myself.”

What an exhausting phase resistance can be! But it is such an important one for discerning the value of creating a new relationship and cultivating gifts embedded in profound change.

Even though I longed for my body to be the way it was and lived with my daily resistance to really looking at my new face in the mirror, somewhere under this layer of awareness simmered a palpable, intriguing sense of mystery about this new phase of being human. It was a budding layer of acceptance. Somehow, there was even a growing sense of having earned the right to be older, some sense of eldership that was admittedly beginning to feel right and good.

I am finding my way to these deeper layers because the Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy process offers me another way to experience my aging body. It’s a way that moves me into a deeper friendship with myself as I grow older. It even casts a light in the darkness of resistance so that my budding acceptance, and even unconditional positive regard, for what is changing can rise to the surface.

Through being unconditionally present for myself while my body continues to age, I am more in the moment, less in the past and future. I am reminded that even though time seems like it is rushing past, there is plenty of time. I learn to embrace the gifts of aging that my body is laying out before me: relief, reward, gratitude, recognition of accomplishments, confidence, clarity, and a renewed commitment to my relationship with my changing self.

These kinds of practical and useful gifts can arise out of the Phoenix Rising processes of centering and body scan. But the biggest gift for me comes out of the spiritual connection inherent in the steps of the Phoenix Rising integration.

I am beginning to learn that the older I get, the thinner the veil between my body and my spirit. As I let go of the notion that I can preserve my beloved body forever, I lean into my soul more and more for the truth of who I really am. My own heart, soul, and spirit are more accessible and more forthcoming with guidance because I am more open to listening. What I really need and want as a human being is becoming more easily accessible; my path clearer.

Perhaps the dynamic tension that seems to exist between being a human being in a world that relies on change as a constant and the unchanging nature of my soul lessens as I age. Change itself is becoming a trusted friend rather than a tiring adversary.

Perceiving a Newer Now

The process of aging shows up in physical ways differently every day, bringing with it whatever emotions, thoughts, and self-beliefs we have attached to it. Ram Dass writes in his book Still Here: Embracing Aging, Changing, and Dying that “we have to find another way to look at the whole process of being born, growing old, changing, and dying, some kind of perspective that might allow us to deal with what we perceive as big obstacles without having to be dragged through the drama. It really helps to understand that we have something — that we are something — which is unchangeable, beautiful, completely aware, and continues no matter what.” [1]

Taking the time to become self-aware becomes even more important when we are ready to meet our aging bodies where they are. As Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy practitioners, we can choose to do this in the same non-judgmental way in which we meet our clients where they are. If we do, we find ourselves shifting, even healing, into a newer now.

As I close in on my 59th birthday, I continue to cultivate my relationship to my aging body, and I don’t expect this process to end any time soon. Yet a certain truth has started to dawn on me: The essence of who I am is within my body but not of it, and this is just as true for my aging body as it was for my younger one. This awareness gives me space to really question what exactly it was that made my younger body “better”.

These days my body and I seem more and more like a couple of old friends; my body complaining about the things I do or don’t do every day, and me complaining about my body’s complaints. But it’s now a conversation laced with love and humor, inside jokes, and sweet memories. With the tools of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy in hand, it is becoming a relationship built on honesty and appreciation, and it is full of gifts.

1. Ram Dass, Still Here: Embracing Aging, Changing, and Dying, (Riverhead Books, 2001), 6.

 

About the Author

Elissa Cobb

Elissa brings more than 25 years of combined practice and teaching experience in bodymind practices, yoga, and yoga therapy to her writings, including her experience as the former Director of Training Programs with Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy. She holds a Master’s degree in Embodiment Studies, has developed many of the Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy training programs, and has trained hundreds of students. Elissa is the author of The Forgotten Body: A Way of Knowing and Understanding Self. She is a life-long resident of Vermont.

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