Many of us lose flexibility as we age. We know that unless we stretch, our spines become more rigid. But what about flexibility in our attitudes? I’ve been thinking about both kinds of flexibility lately. I’m working with a Feldenkrais practitioner who is helping me initiate movement from my shoulders, breastbone, ribs, and belly, not just from the legs and hips. She says that if we keep our upper backs flexible we can help prevent the “dowager’s hump” — a collapse of the vertebrae between our neck and abdomen.
I feel like I’m making progress in spinal flexibility, but I’m starting to feel less flexible in my everyday life. Most days I eat the same breakfast, walk in the same places, choose the same restaurants, continue the same volunteer work, and see the same friends. Spontaneity is part of my past. No one calls at nine thirty to ask if I want to go to a late movie and if they did I’d say no. By this time in the evening, I’m ready to dig into a book. These behaviors, in themselves, aren’t problematic. By a certain age, we’re aware of our preferences for just about everything; we know what works best for us. But what if something happens that prevents us from following our set patterns? What allows us to cope with a sudden change in our routines? In Aging as a Spiritual Practice, author Lewis Richmond quotes a psychiatrist as saying that flexibility “is the single most important factor for healthy aging…” Richmond says the psychiatrist “was referring to the ability to adjust and adapt to physical, mental, and emotional changes as we age.”
Fear, Richmond says, is a big reason why we become rigid in our thinking. Think of persistent fear as giving us the equivalent of a dowager’s hump in our brains. Elderly people are often afraid to drive (usually a good thing), explore their cities, move out of their homes, expose themselves to new situations, or even try new foods. Fortunately, I know a handful whose lives aren’t governed by fear. Things they share in common include an interest in fitness, travel, learning about other cultures and customs, and meeting new people. I’m looking to these friends and acquaintances for inspiration in my quest to keep my back and mind flexible.