Every time I go back and read my favorite books, I find something new or something that resonates a little differently than the first time I read it. This time, as I was reading Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekenanda “As in the river the masses of water are changing before you everyone moment, and new masses are coming, yet taking similar form, so is it with this body.” I couldn’t have read this passage at a more perfect time. As I continue the inevitable trek down the path of aging, I, like almost everyone, find myself struggling with the changes that are occurring in my body at any given moment. I look at new silver streaks in my hair that I don’t recall seeing the day before, I feel weakness in muscles that have been strong all my life. Add to that an autoimmune disease and years of wear and tear over countless adventures, and some days I don’t feel like this is my body at all or worse, that this body is actively giving up on me. Many days, the arthritis in my feet makes it unpleasant to walk, let alone do an asana practice like I’m used to doing. Sometimes, settling into a pose that used to be my friend feels like wrestling with a combatant. It’s something that everyone struggles with to some extent at some point in their lives. I’m trying to reframe my relationship with aging in general, and with my body as it undergoes this process. The water in a river is constantly changing, but the river itself stays recognizable as the river. Just like that river, my body is still my own and I can still see this hand, my feet, my countenance, all still recognizably mine though perhaps slightly changed. And just like you can’t change the water from flowing, you can’t stop the march of time and the inevitable change in your body. Coming to terms with the fact that there is no stopping the process is challenging for anyone. What I have tried to incorporate into my daily sadhana is learning to approach the changes in my body with interest rather than judgement. I’m trying to trade self-judgement when I can’t do something today that I could do perfectly yesterday, for acceptance of what I look and feel like today. I’m trying to remind myself that aging is not something everyone gets to do. The ego tells me that I should be able to do all those things, and keeps me attached to an idea of what I look like, what my body can do, or what my practice should look like. In reality though, I’m none of those things and this body that I inhabit right now is not who I am or some measure of my worth. I’m reminded of a story that I heard Ram Dass tell. After he had his stroke, he was unable to drive himself anywhere, and for a period of time he felt like he was being robbed of the joy he used to find in getting behind the wheel of a car and propelling himself wherever he wanted to go. He reframed it for himself by reminding himself that now that he was being driven everywhere, he could watch all the wonderful things passing by the vehicle that he hadn’t been able to witness or enjoy before when he had to keep his mind on the road. Like Ram Dass, I try to remind myself that I am not robbed of joy because my feet don’t want to hike long distances anymore. I GET TO sit more, and I GET TO watch nature, whereas before I might be focused on getting to a specific destination rather than enjoying the splendor around me. We all go through the process and experience aging differently, and there’s no one-size approach to how we choose to approach the changes that we witness. And if I had a nickel for every time someone said, “Oh just wait until you’re (fill in the blank with some age) years old!” I’d be a millionaire. But my invitation to you is to be a non-judgmental witness to where you are right now, take interest in it, find amusement in it when you can. You can’t stop the water from flowing, but you can still find joy in the river.
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