Archive for Aging

Walking Meditation: A Metaphor for Making Changes in Your Life

20150805174656-delicate-balanceThe mindfulness course
My left foot comes down solidly on the bare wood floor of the yoga centre. I’m wearing my black wool socks. It’s cold in this empty classroom. Our yoga mats are spread out in the middle of the room while we, the mindfulness class, circumnavigate the empty spaces. My right foot begins its conscious movement forward. The ball of my foot presses into the floor, my body tips forward and slowly, very slowly, the right foot lifts and places itself alongside the left. For a second or two, I was unstable. You could easily have knocked me over. I’m aware that I can’t move ahead unless I get off balance.

Transition, making changes
My mind plays with this metaphor for life: change and transition can’t happen without first getting off balance. With one foot in the air, I’m unsure and ungrounded. I have to risk becoming unstable in order to go forward. If I don’t risk unsteadiness, I can’t change what needs to be different. This simple truth emerges out of the walking meditation. For life to go forward I need to endure the discomfort of transitions.

The stressors of moving and making changes
Take my current situation: I’m about to move again. There’s nothing like moving to throw a person off balance. Everything that’s familiar – the view from the kitchen window to the position of your bed – everything combines to make your life feel precarious. It’s weeks of having one foot in the air. As in the walking meditation, I’ve been continually off balance, one foot in the air, over the past year and a half. If I hadn’t risked change and unsteadiness I couldn’t have moved forward with my life. Leaving the city, the neighbourhood and the house I’d lived in for 43 years as well as going from 55 years as part of a married couple to being an older woman living alone in an apartment, all of this had me wobbling, one foot in the air, stressed and unsure.

Tolerating being unbalanced
The full day retreat, part of an eight-week course in mindfulness, drives home the need to tolerate being unbalanced in order to take charge of my own life. Tomorrow I get the keys to another new apartment. Once more, I’ll be anxious and wobbly, but as far as I know, it’s the only way to allow my life to unfold as it’s meant to.

Mourning for My Younger Self

healthy-woman-jumping-with-sun-background_1160-174I can’t find my happy place. What on earth is the matter with me? I keep asking. At last I realize I’m mourning: not for a dear friend or valued mentor, but for my younger self. That younger self is gone, dead, passed away. In her place I now find a woman whose body tires easily and whose handgrip, legs and back have decreased in strength in spite of my determination to work out regularly at the gym. A lifelong yoga practice leaves me still flexible. At least I can still touch my toes easily and jump from one Lake Ontario rock to the next as I walk Sammy the Poodle.

I’ve always counted myself among the winners of the aging game.

Long ago as a graduate student in The University of Toronto’s School of Social Work, my placement was in the geriatrics department of a large hospital. There I witnessed hundreds of older folk who hadn’t walked farther than bedroom to living room and bathroom to kitchen from the time they’d stopped having to go to work each day. They’d almost willed their brains and their bodies to stop working.

In more recent times, I visit retirement communities where women my age and a bit older sit hunched-over in their chairs. If you need motivation to stay fit, I recommend a visit to a geriatric centre. There in the lobbies and in the dining rooms you’ll find what happens to the aging body if it isn’t made to work to its capacity.

The really deep mourning began when I was recently diagnosed with COPD, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. ME?! I’m a great breather, a former distance runner, a lifelong practitioner of yoga. In short, a healthy 78 year old who makes sure to run on the treadmill and climb hills with Sammy the Poodle. Cardiovascular fitness, stretching for the joints and a healthy lifestyle are mine. I’m so glad I kept up my yoga practice.

So, how did I get a disease that would only get worse with time?

I’d always maintained that we make our decisions throughout life and then we get to live with them. I thought all my decisions had been the right ones. At age 30 I became a dedicated yoga practitioner and went on to teach this. What had I done to deserve this diagnosis of chronicity?

I smoked. That’s what they told me. Yes, I was a smoker once, long ago. In fact it was half a century ago, when I was an under graduate studying English and Italian and drinking the requisite black coffee while I smoked one cigarette after the other.

It’s strange that smoking would come back to haunt me now. My own theory is that I’ve been through so much change and stress, that the weakest part of my body had to pay the price. I can only assume that my lungs were the weakest part.

Note: As I write this, I’m already moving on to a new awareness and hopefulness about my loss. In my next blog post, I’ll tell you how Mindfulness and Focusing are helping me to move past this blocked stage in my life.

How to be a Good Listener

senior-couple-talking-at-home_1098-1310When was the last time you felt really listened to? Can you think of a time when somebody sat down with you and gave you their undivided, respectful attention? Do you know the feeling of being encouraged to go deeper, to tap into your own knowing in the presence of another?

Do you know what it’s like to have a listener who assumes you know the answers even if, at the moment, you’re confused and uncertain? Imagine a listener who treads gently and patiently, keeping you company as you find your own answers. Believe it or not, a good listener can help you get in touch with your own wisdom.

Good Listeners Are Rare

You’re probably familiar with listeners who can’t wait to interrupt you with their own tales. They’re just waiting for you to pause so they can jump in with their own clever remarks.Then there are “listeners” who rush in to give you good advice. “No, no,” you want to say, “I don’t want your advice. I just want you to listen.” Good listeners are hard to find.

What are the Qualities of a Skilled Listener?

So what makes an effective listener? Skilled listeners know how to set aside their own concerns while they listen to you. They set aside everything they know about your subject and everything that’s going on in their own lives. Their goal is to know, as much as is humanly possible, what it’s like to be another person. Good listeners help you connect with your own wisdom and with your own solutions to problems. They stay with you while you figure things out and listen with an attitude of humility. They believe it’s an honor to be let into your inner process.

5 Guidelines for Effective Listening

Believe it or not, if you stick with the person you’re listening to she’ll probably come up with her own answers. What are the guidelines for being a great listener?

Suspend Judgement

Set aside all your own mental busyness and all your knowledge about the subject at hand. Even if you’re an expert on the subject, just listen closely. It would be presumptuous to give advice or “know” what needs to happen.

Reflect on the Emotional Side of the Conversation

Reflect back some of her words, especially emotional words. People tend to rush by the emotional parts of their story. This is usually where the gold lies.

Slow Down and Truly Understand

Slow the person down. Say, “Could you just go back to… “or “Help me understand ….” Don’t rush.

Seek for Clarity and Understanding

Don’t give the impression that the person needs to satisfy your curiosity. The goal is to help them to clarify their own understanding.

Accept Lack of Perfection in the Exchange

Don’t worry if you say something wrong. The other person will correct you and the process itself is self-correcting. Hearing something back helps the person get clearer on how it really is, whether you say it exactly right or not.

This model for listening comes out of focusing and is called Experiential Listening. It takes practice. If the idea interests you, perhaps you could find a friend who’d like to practice this way of listening with you. Then you’ll both have someone to listen to you.

What are your experiences with listening and being listened to? Join the conversation and let others know your thoughts about listening.

Five Signs of Aging We Don’t Want to Admit

Imamma-embarassed_2799752 thought I’d write about the embarrassment and sense of loss we experience when physical signs pop up to tell us the body’s getting old. It helps to know we’re not alone and that our reactions are shared by other women. Let me tell you about Margaret Manning’s report the other morning on Mornings with Sixty and Me.

Aching feet

What happens: The fatty pads on the bottom of the feet get thinner. We’re prone to plantar fasciitis, a painful condition that causes you pain when you put weight on the foot. Arthritis is another problem.

What to do about it: Swimming and yoga are good for your feet. Up to now, many of us haven’t given much thought to our feet. Practice going up on your toes and working the joints of toes and feet.

Saggy boobs

What happens: The estrogen level in the body drops and the breast tissues get weak.

What to do about it: When’s the last time you were fitted for a bras? Get a good bras and do chest presses to strengthen the muscles supporting the breasts. Don’t waste your money on lotions. They don’t work.

Rogue chin hairs

What happens: Unexpected coarse hairs appear on the face, especially around the chin.

What to do: Buy some good tweezers and pluck them. It’s not true that plucking will make them grow in coarser and faster. Don’t buy creams or wax.

Going slightly deaf

What happens: Our ears, as every other part of the body, no longer works the way it once did.

What to do about it: Don’t panic. It’s most likely a buildup of wax. See your doctor.

Slight incontinence

What happens: The pelvic muscles weaken.

What to do: Don’t be embarrassed. Just learn to live with it. Exercises to strengthen the pelvic muscles help. Avoid caffeine and soda drinks.

To sum it all up: Old Age Is Not For Sissies.

Find Margaret at sixtyandme.com/mornings

Four Tips to Help Your Memory

cup-of-coffee-with-a-pile-of-coffee-beans_1112-438Most mornings I sit down with my coffee and my computer to join Margaret Manning on her Sixty and Me morning show. Margaret covers the day’s news and always has useful tips for making the most of post-retirement. Her website is a repository of practical ideas for those of us wanting to deal creatively with aging.

I’m pleased to be a guest blogger on Sixty and Me. Just type in my name on the site to see my articles on listening, on how to respond when a friend tells you she was sexually abused in childhood, on the loss of energy we experience as we age and on how I’ve been learning to make new friends in my new city of Kingston.

Picture what I see in the morning on my computer screen as I sit down to watch. Margaret is sipping her mug of coffee. Her long blond/grey hair and makeup are just right for an older face. She has a slight English accent from her early life in the U.K. These days she lives in Switzerland.

Here’s what she had to say in a recent post about improving memory. Coffee is good for memory. That’s a scientific fact, she says, taking another sip from her mug. She then proceeds to tell us about other things that actually do help with aging memory.

The scientifically proven list

Caffeine

Physical Exercise

Squeezing Stress Balls

Omega 3

Caffeine: Some years ago I joined the five-session weekly workshop for the normal aging brain at Baycrest Hospital in Toronto. Baycrest, a centre for research as well as treatment of older people, makes clear it teaches nothing that is not proven. Believe me, as a coffee drinker, I was delighted to learn that coffee would help my memory.

Physical Exercise: Your brain can’t function at its best without sufficient blood flow. Give your brain the oxygen it needs by doing whatever it takes to get you breathing deeply. If your physical condition is challenged by walking around your neighbourhood, then that’s your exercise of choice. It’s important to recognize your limitations while gently pushing those limits. Maybe vigorous walking, jogging, swimming, climbing hills or cycling is right for you. You need to be the judge.

Stress Balls: Margaret explains that you take 2 stress balls, one in either hand, alternately squeezing left and right. As a retired EMDR practitioner, this makes sense to me. I know about the effectiveness of alternately stimulating the two hemispheres of the brain. Left, right, left, right, left, right. We need to remember our brains can change for the better as well as for the worse. I intend to go out and buy myself a couple of those balls.

Omega Three: The Mayo Clinic informs us that there is strong evidence for the use of omega 3 fatty acids in reducing heart disease, high blood pressure and rheumatoid arthritis. Fish oil and salmon are rich sources.

The media bombards us with claims to improve the lives of our aging population. It’s good to have a list of some that are proven to be effective.

In my next blog post I’ll tell you about Margaret Manning’s views on Five Signs of Aging We Don’t Want to Admit.

 Feel free to add your comments below.