A friend of mine asked recently if I personally know anyone who does not ever have muscular pain at a mature age. I started thinking of all the yogis, well-being people, doctors, somatic practitioners, anyone, but could not imagine any of them falling under this "100%" description. When talking to my somatic education teachers, I often ask how they maintain their bodies in such good shape and how they would recommend others to do it. Interestingly enough, most of the responses fall somewhere along the lines of "everyone has to find their own way to do it, explore what works for them". At first, I was very unhappy with the response. It seemed so much easier to follow someone else's pattern than to invent my own. And I tried so many different patterns before. From the biological perspective, it is quite normal that the body starts to slowly deteriorate after we pass our peak development age of 25-28. This is no surprise. The difficulty starts with our denial (or ignorance?) of this change. As long as the hormones boost the system and our energy levels (at a condition of being otherwise healthy of course) we have little need to take care of our bodies. As long as it functions fine in the background and does not interfere with the great plans and projects of the mind, why should we care about it? Studies show that people after the age of 25 tend to think of themselves as younger than they actually are. This gap between perceived and chronological age seems to get wider with time. And so does the gap between the perception of our fitness and reality. Typically, it takes a couple of years and some non-ignorable physical manifestations (sickness, pain, serious loss of energy, you name it) to realise that the whole machine we've been using so far without a second thought needs... maintenance? Unfortunately, often already with a considerable backlog to sort out. It's like owning a car, except you can not trade it and get a new one after the years of usage start to show up. So, we have no choice but to start tending to it with the hope of it serving us longer rather than shorter. Do I believe in healthy bodies at any age? Yes, I do. Does it mean healthy people have no physical pain? I don't think so. After some point, the lead is given over to you and the quality of your life will simply depend on how you'll be able to manage whatever comes your way. I think that skilful management of discomforts and shortcomings that accompany growing older is the key. Very often, however, our fixed self-image and limiting beliefs stand in the way of successful adaptation. Take the example of somebody with "bad knees" as they say. It's true that this person might not be up for long-distance running or any other demanding knee activity, but is it the only thing they start to limit as a consequence? Chances are, they will also give up a whole range of other movement activities no matter their actual relation to the knee issue, simply out of the growing fear for their health. Over time, their self-image will change accordingly and fully determine their ways of thinking and actions. The only way to reconsider and update your self-image is the slow and steady process of self-education through exploring yourself. In truth, self-education is the only contributing factor to our self-image we can control to some extent. But, how do you start taking care of yourself, no matter at which stage of life you are? The first and foremost skill would be to start recognising the situation for what it is. Not having practised the skill of sensing and listening to our body for so many years, it takes time to rediscover and grow it. To build a foundation of reviving connection between the brain and the body, and equilibrating their relationship. The movement experience is one of the best ways to start. It is one of the first experiences through which we explored ourselves and life as infants. In our brains, the neural connections related to movement are significantly older than the speech ones, for example, which were formed at a later developmental stage. First, you've got to get to know yourself anew and learn about your own circumstances, limitations and capabilities.
Through self-exploration in movement, you can improve your sensing ability and your overall situation as you learn to trust yourself and rely on physical sensations to know what is possible and safe for you as you experience it.
With some luck, this experience will penetrate into other areas of your life and will update your self-image, correcting false limiting beliefs you've gathered up until now. From there, you can go into the next steps of building on it and growing confidence and skills in the particular activities you are interested in. Be that yoga, bodybuilding, tennis or dancing. If you have developed your sense of yourself enough, you might be surprised by the extent to which any of these activities will come in a different light. Your inner sensations will guide you in the exploration of your capacities and limits in that activity. Applying the new sensory knowledge and capabilities will unite body and mind in the process, making the process easier and more enjoyable. This is exactly what happened to me when coming back to yoga after a year and a half of break dedicated to a mindful movement exploration journey only. Now, the whole practice feels both safer and more pleasant as I truly follow my sensations and have my own unique experience in each session. Would you be doing that activity regularly afterwards? - I do not know.
How often will you be coming back to the exploration of the movement itself to yet find another level of joy in your own body every now and then as the years pass? - Nobody can tell either. As one of my almost 70-year-old Feldenkrais teachers once told me, "When I feel my body tensing up or starting to hurt a little bit - I know it's a reminder to myself that I should stop skipping my regular practice". And so she comes back to it, then misses a few days (or weeks?), receives a reminder, and the wheel turns. The question is what routine would be the most enjoyable and create the least resistance in you as you go through your life?
Or, maybe, how this routine has to change every now and then to adapt to circumstances and inner states without you losing it altogether?