Cultivating flexibility

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.

About stillalife

I retired June 30, 2010 after working for 40 years in the field of education and most recently doing school public relations/community outreach in a mid-size urban school district. I wrote for superintendents and school board members. Now I'm writing for me and I hope for you. In this blog, I offer my own views coupled with the latest research on how to preserve our physical and mental health as we age, delve into issues most of us over 50 can relate to like noticing wrinkles and forgetting where we left our keys, discuss the pros and cons of different ways to engage our minds and bodies after we leave the workplace, and throw in an occasional book review, all peppered with a touch of humor, irony, and just plain silliness. Also, I'm on the third draft of my second novel since retirement.
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2 Responses to Cultivating flexibility

  1. Jill Turnell says:

    As a somewhat “older” person who has recently had to cope with the unexpected, with abrupt change and the disruption of my comfortable life, I know how it is to have to “be flexible” – as much as I would have preferred not to. I have heard people say they ‘don’t like change’, but never thought about whether I was one of those. I guess I am to some extent, but I don’t think that has to be a weakness.
    In addition to accepting the changes, I have also allowed myself to have my periods of resistance and resentment. The main thing for me is to be aware that that is what I am doing. I get over it, and move on and think about what is good about my “new life”. And I actually find it is better than what I had before.

  2. Sylvia Soholt says:

    I’ve had two sets of responses from friends and strangers to the cast on my right hand: (1) Oh, you poor thing, that must be awful, and (2) there’s a lot you can learn from using just your left hand. I’ve learned that it is possible to do most things with just one hand. Flexibility does take time and sometimes more resources…but the biggest gain is that I pay much more attention to whatever I’m doing, a big step in mindfulness.

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