I used to say that often; age is just a number. Even into my early forties, when people would stress over putting on weight, finding wrinkles and everything heading south, permanently and not just for winter, I’d maintain my stance on it. I have never felt my age and certainly never looked it either. I was going to be one of the lucky ones I thought. I am not sure who I was kidding. Whether I actually believed I was going to continue to look 35 until I reached 70 or not, honestly, that was my belief, age is definitely just a number.
That was until I started reaching mid forties. I am just about to head over the middle hill, but I would say about a year ago I really started noticing changes that made me realise that age may indeed just be a number but that it most definitely affects what is going on in your body, no matter what you do about it. That may seem obvious, but I don’t think until you begin to experience it, you truly understand it. The dilemma you have then is whether to go against it or to work with it. I chose the latter.
What is Healthy?
I wasn’t always this healthy, and I do still enjoy chocolate, champagne from time to time and other things that you wouldn’t deem necessarily healthy. The difference is I just do the healthy stuff most of the time.
I practise Ashtanga yoga 5-6 times a week and swim 3-4. I walk for 40 minutes each morning and have a strict vegetarian, healthy diet. I try to keep drinking to a minimum and go through long phases of not drinking. If you saw my life before 12 years ago you would understand why, but even with all that you cannot defy your age – well not unless you take matters into surgical hands and even then I don’t think the outcome is necessarily that you make yourself look younger.
In my experience there are 5 keys to looking and feeling healthy:
I try to apply the 80/20 rule to my life. I would say some of the time I am at 90/10, but if I can maintain 80/20 it’s a good balance. Alcohol, which falls under lifestyle, plays a massive part in that 80/20 and affects the other areas. When you drink alcohol you are less likely to exercise, more likely to make unhealthy food choices and your sleep suffers. Overall you will look and feel far less healthy than if you hadn’t drank. Alcohol affects people in different ways but as you get older your ability to bounce back from a night out drinking is far less than it was when you were in your early thirties. Your body’s ability to deal with the alcohol in terms of the effects on other parts of your system, like your skin for example, is much slower than when you were younger too.
So if you can apply the 80/20 rule to your life you are giving yourself a good chance of looking and feeling your best most of the time.
Despite this, most people, particularly women, will begin to look their age by their mid forties. For me it hasn’t so much happened in my body as it has my face. The plumpness of your skin plays such a huge part in your appearance. As you age the degeneration of collagen in your skin, which is responsible for its fullness and plumpness, means a decline in the elasticity of your skin. Wrinkles appear! In addition the fatty layer beneath the skin thins and this loss of volume causes the skin to sag.
We are all different and everyone will experience their own ageing issues, whether it be to the face, body or both. Inevitably, it will gradually take place all over, but where you notice it at first and what bothers you, will differ from one person to the next.
Meditation & Mindfulness for Ageing
Practising yoga in itself is an antidote because the practice of yoga is about self enquiry, self awareness and self acceptance. Ultimately, I believe practising meditation and mindfulness will go a long way in helping self acceptance of the ageing process and truly restoring or instilling the belief that age is just a number. When you are happy with what is, it doesn’t matter how old you are!
Buddhism teaches us that life is suffering. As humans we just enjoy suffering. We suffer because don’t have something and when we do, we suffer because it doesn’t remain. Life is in a constant state of flux and that obviously also applies to us. It doesn’t matter that age is just a natural part of life, when you are experiencing it, living that truth isn’t always easy and inevitably we can suffer. Buddhism does, however, teach us (thankfully) the path through and out of suffering, or at the very least teaches us how to ease suffering.
Meditation and mindfulness is that path. Self acceptance comes from loving and liking ourselves and from being at peace with who we are and importantly, what is, which includes the changes due to ageing that are going on within our body.
I don’t buy into hormones. I know that is a ridiculous statement and my sister laughs at me all the time for saying it. I know for a fact, scientifically speaking, my body goes through hormonal changes each month and that at my age (I wish that WordPress would allow me to insert the rolling eyes emoji here) there are other hormonal changes taking place at a frenetic rate. I can feel them often and my emotions are sometimes affected. Yet still I refuse to believe it. I know it, I cannot argue my way out of it, but I am not having any of it. I don’t buy into hormones and I just don’t take any notice of them.
I mention hormones because despite my irrational view, and my refusal to take them into any account, they may play as big a part of ageing for you as your face and body appearance changing.
The practice of meditation and mindfulness enables you to simply notice what you feel, see or think. Rather than acting on it, you are noticing it as if a silent watcher removed from who you are. Instead of being carried along with your thoughts and feelings you are noticing them and just as you breathe in and out, you are simply letting them come and letting them go. Over time this mindfulness practice enables you to realise – from within, that age is a natural process, that what is going on within your body is going to happen whether you are agreeable and happy about it or not. Logically we would not choose to suffer, but (as my hormone theory attests) we aren’t always logical. We aren’t thinking about the natural ageing process when our eyelids look droopy or our face has more wrinkles that simply aren’t facial expressions anymore!
Through the practice of mindfulness we begin to see the ‘is-ness’ of it all and once that occurs, we can grow to accept ourselves. We can like and love ourselves despite ageing and in fact we can like and ourselves because of it! The more you like yourself as a person the more accepting you will be. There is no hard and fast rule as to how long this process takes. Meditation and mindfulness have no time schedule. Practice consistently and the results will just come, quite subtly at first. As a caveat it is also a fact that when you are happy it appears on your face. When you are worried and stressed your face tells the tale. So not only will you feel happiness and peace from within, but you will be wearing it too. Happiness is better than any wrinkle cream out there!
Something else I have found to carry within it great power, is the act of focusing on others, rather than yourself. Ageing is one of those things that you can easily become obsessed about. If you take your focus away yourself and wish others well, you will notice it comes back around ten fold. Try the loving kindness meditation for a month and see the difference – it is quite staggering what this does to your life.
When you live in the moment there is no room for worrying over what you cannot control, of what is. Age is just a number.
[This fabulous image is a ZintenZ postcard available to purchase from Things That Make you Feel Good]