I posted a question on Facebook this past week: “What’s been the greatest gift to you, so far, in growing older?” I was blown away by the number of thoughtful, funny and inspiring responses that came in. Clearly, I’m not alone in finding both challenge and gratitude in the process of aging.
In my particular profession I feel a responsibility to show up with great integrity in this area of “graceful aging”. I sooo want to be an example of the teachings of yoga at its best. On every level. I long to be the physical embodiment of “a life well lived on the path of yoga” – not as a way of impressing anyone, but as an inspiration to 40-, 50- or 60+-year-olds who may find themselves wondering if vitality is really available to them, at any age. I believe it is. I long to be a physical reminder that the body can dance at any age, practice yoga at any age; that a body can feel good at any age.
As a true believer in “all things in moderation”, anyone who knows me even a little bit knows that I am NOT an extremist when it comes to anything. I’ve never been an uber dieter or a super yogi. I don’t believe in extreme tapas (Sanskrit for ‘discipline’ — not Spanish appetizers, which I do believe in). I have always believed in staying active, but I have not subscribed to intense daily workouts since I was in my 30s and used my body as a place to wield control. I consume and enjoy meat, chocolate, sugar, wine, fat, and even the occasional Cheeto. For most of my life, this moderation manifesto has served me well.
But over the last few years – and in this last year in particular – things seemed to change. I found myself larger than I’ve ever been, not fitting into any of my pants (and even some shirts!) and feeling embarrassed, as if my plumpness makes me an imposter and a failed yogini. I confess, I have found it difficult to look in the mirror, naked or otherwise, of late.
This shame left me feeling even worse because – more important, even, than a small waistline – as a yogi and teacher of compassion, I’m supposed to model self-acceptance and self-compassion, and it was clear that these things were in very short supply.
Frustrated by the state of my physical body, but even more deeply disappointed in the state of my mind and spirit, I made a resolution: a re-commitment to the path that has served me so well all my life: The Middle Road.
On the one hand, I refuse to accept the ridiculous images of anorexic women plastered all over mainstream media as the epitome of fitness and well-being. I will not hold myself to unrealistic – and, I suspect, unhealthy – standards to achieve a physicality that requires harmful extremes in diet and exercise and/or plastic surgery. I will not, on the other hand, surrender all hope and give in to wearing muumuus for the rest of my life.
I have vowed to take the Middle Road for now – to get to the gym three times a week (not seven); to save processed sugar for special occasions; to drink one glass of wine, not two. These are moderate changes that are good for my overall health – for my cardiovascular system, for my blood sugar levels, and for my psyche that tends to get a little depressed in winter. That they may help me shed a few pounds is an added plus. These small vows feel like very reasonable acts of discipline, nudges toward a me that I can be proud of, whatever size I may end up at. They feel compassionate, not tyrannical.
I still feel a responsibility to try to be an example of aging gracefully, and I am clear that the most important part of this is practicing kindness to myself. On every level.
Many blessings to you today and every day, and may kindness follow you wherever you go,