Your Youth or Your life: On Aging Gracefully

Today I visited the Brooklyn Museum where I got to see the wonderful Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit “Living Modern”. The exhibit displayed numerous paintings from different times in her life. But it also showed her life through photographs – portraits of her from youth until old age (she died at 99). As I made my way through the exhibit, I was blown away by her increasing beauty as time went on – especially as her face showed deep creases and lines. It got me thinking about bodies, faces and age…

In the yoga teacher biz, I constantly hear peoples’ reflections on their bodies and faces. I hear them lament about retaining more weight after 40. I hear them reflect on their bunions, pimples, wrinkles and varicose veins.

I hear them talk about scars that won’t fully heal, STDs they’ve learned to embrace, leaky pelvic floors that cause them to fear laughing as they might pee a little. I hear about their irritable bowels and irregular heartbeats. As a yoga teacher, I am privy to plenty of personal information that isn’t normally aired in social atmospheres.

All this stuff I find quite fascinating. Everyone has something. And most people have a lot more than something. Most people have several things.

Fortunately, those who roll up to a yoga class are often at least a little bit willing to see their ailment as their own personal teacher. They are willing to listen to the gastrointestinal issue as a symbol of a bigger theme in their life. They are open to hearing for the wisdom in their irregular heartbeat. They become engaged in the project of listening to, instead of ignoring, the communication their body is constantly providing.

I love this. I’m so into it. But do you want to know what I am NOT into? People who trash themselves when they show signs of aging. So not into that.

On Shaming Your Aging

Over and over and over again, in every single area of my life, I hear people shamefully commenting on their aging skin and bodies.

I hear them resenting their smile lines and the crease in their forehead. I hear them say they need to hide their arm skin or dappled legs. I hear about them fearfully dying their gray and white strands of hair. I hear them talk about their “sagging” parts with a sheepish face – like they expect to be dragged out into the woods and shot in the head for the great sin of showing age, assuming they are no longer of any value to society.

When I’m talking face-to-face with people, I do not share how deeply it hurts my heart to hear them shame and shun themselves for aging. But since it’s just you and me in the privacy of our computers, I am going to admit to you how incredibly sad this makes me. Because I never see a less beautiful person in front of me. Quite the opposite.

When I see someone who shows signs of age, I see an even more beautiful and exciting being. Seeing the  way a face has developed lines based on the expression that person held through their life… seeing the silver hairs earned and the looser skin from all the wonderful living that happened in that body! Seeing the greater expanse of forehead afforded by a receding hairline… What could be more exciting than that?

What could be more enchanting than finding out how your body wears time?

This body you are inhabiting for this brief span of life is the greatest gift you have ever received. It’s the home for the force of life that is You. And like all material things, it is subject to wear and tear the longer it’s trotting around on this planet. Why does this have to be a problem? Why is this taken personally? Why do you criticize it when you could be thanking it every day that you get to wake up and play this life once again?

Aging With Grace

My greatest personal ambition in this life is to age gracefully. I wish to see the signs of time on my body and face and only see it getting more beautiful. I wish to judge my youthfulness by the quality of energy inside of me, not by the wear on my skin and pull of gravity on my fleshy parts.

I wish to continually grow my robust and unapologetic life, instead of giving it up as youth fades into the past.

I also wish to regularly create a safe place for people to be their whole selves within… Classrooms where you delight in studying and embracing the constant changes in your physical form. I wish to never use peoples’ fears about aging to sell or promote anything.

I wish to be a part of a different movement in thought about what it means to age – it means you have lived. It means you are Alive. It puts the wonder in the word wonderful.

You may enjoy sprucing up your appearance with some brown or blond highlights. You might get a kick out of treating the skin around your eyes to $80 colostrum cream. You might like the feeling of perching a hat on your shiny hairless head. But if you do, I hope that you do it only to delight yourself. Never to hide yourself. And never to hide your hard-earned years.

Imagine, if you spent just 10 minutes each day complaining (in your head or with others) about your aging parts, starting at 40 years old for the next 45 years… that’s 2,737.5 hours of roasting in your own bummer vibes, and spreading them to the world… teaching others over and over that aging is something to feel badly about. Now that’s a shame, man.

Do not let the signs of age take your life away from you. I refuse to let it take my life away from me. If you ever hear me complain about a wrinkle or lament a gray hair, you have my full permission to punch me right in my gloriously aging face.

How about you? Have you been haggling with this issue? Or are you embracing the signs of time?

*Above is a photo of my grandpa and grandma, Dan and Anne Kiley, after he got the Arts & Letters Award from the president. Lookin old and lookin beautiful! Below is Georgia O’Keeffe showing off her wonderful lines. If you want to send me a photo of your beautiful grandparents I will happily post it below also.

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Jonathan McKinna of RestorativeYoga.club with his totally beautiful grandparents (and nephew!)

4 Comments

  1. The portrait of your grandparents is special and precious. Thank you for sharing that. I agree with Grace, a beautiful piece.
    I just watched the movie called Fierce Grace about Ram Dass. There are heartbreaking photos and videos of his youthful brazen enthusiastic youth contrasted with his older self “stroked”. HIs eyes are the same.; the twinkly creases. They say the eyes are the windows of the soul. Very moving documentary and while it persuades a reflection on aging, it more closely reflects the ageless beauty and depth of the person, particularly one on a spiritual path. Ram Dass’s soul became softer and sweeter and more sparkling as the outer effects of aging wore on.

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  2. Oh Ariel, I miss your wit and wisdom. Really loved this piece! When we were moving to Los Angeles from Chicago 15 years ago, I remember our (perfectly coiffed and face-lifted) realtor stating “you’ll find that women in Los Angeles do not age gracefully,” Right then, I vowed that I’d FIND THEM — and happily, I have! At PTA meetings, at yoga classes, at our community tennis courts, in my women’s walking group and in my neighborhood book club.
    Hoping our paths cross again. Please come to LA sometime to do a workshop, I’d love to see your gracefully aging face!

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    1. Hi Barb! So great to hear from you. OF COURSE you have found your beautifully aging people – they ARE everywhere. I am going to come to LA soon, and I’m thinking about doing a couple workshops. Would love to see you. xoxo

      Like

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