I’ll be 40 in a couple of months. This excites me so much that I’ve been anticipating it for the past two years. I see it as a gateway to a new stage of life that includes serenity, mastery, freedom to travel, and better cooking skills. Unfortunately, turning 40 also comes with some physical realities that are feeling extra-real these days. Many of them involve crunching sounds when I move various limbs.
My tendency has been to think of my mind as a sort of helium balloon, connected only tenuously to the rest of my body by a string. My head floats along, thinking Smart People Things, while my body is a sort of mecha robot that needs an upgrade. It has, like, a monochrome monitor and a built-in keyboard and a tape drive. Failure to maintain the mecha robot led to the development of numerous tech support issues that impacted the processing capacity of the floating balloon. The plus side of living in your head all the time is that you find yourself ideally suited to endurance sports. Distance running suits my high-strung temperament and gives me plenty of Alone Time. I’m accustomed to turning off signals from everything below my neck, plodding along, and listening to the news or audio books or foreign language lessons. I become little more than Eyes On Stalks bouncing down the street.
The down side of living as Eyes On Stalks is that you may trade the maintenance issues of underuse for the maintenance issues of overuse. Underuse left me battling fibromyalgia and migraine and sedentary problems like chronic neck and shoulder tension. Overuse left me with tendinitis of the anterior tibialis and snapping hip syndrome. I’ve come to a place where I realize that I have to climb down the rickety aluminum ladder and start fully inhabiting my body. What I want to do is to remain on autopilot and reserve all my energy and attention for interesting intellectual challenges. What I have to do is to be at least dimly aware of my physical needs, because the price of not doing so is constant pain.
[Editor’s note: I’d rather walk with a limp than have diabetes or heart disease or sleep apnea, so it could be worse].
My specific motivation is to do everything within my power to lower my risk of Alzheimer’s disease, even by a tenth of a percent, because it took my grandmother and it’s surfaced in other parts of my family tree as well. It turns out that exercise is one of those variables. As it happens, exercise also helps mitigate my past issues with thyroid disease and fibromyalgia. There are no good reasons for me to avoid exercising – just my natural inclinations, inertia, laziness, and procrastination. Those are all great reasons that have stopped me from doing all sorts of worthwhile things, but the threshold for exercise in my life needs to be higher.
I’ve turned to yoga. When I first started dabbling with yoga, all the teachers were Boomers. They were very serious. I’ve worked with other teachers who were my age, all of whom made me feel like I had wasted time and could have been where they were at that moment. Now, the teachers on YouTube are Millennials, satin-skinned young ladies with foot-long necks who finish with a Namaste and “Have an awesome rest of your day.” It’s much like that moment when you first meet a doctor or a police officer who is younger than you, and you think, “How is this possible? What is this kid, like, 16 years old?”
So, I wake up with a stiff neck and sore shoulders and a general feeling of being folded, spindled, and mutilated. I roll out my mat and my dog curls up in his bed a few feet away and sleeps. My parrot turns her head upside down and watches me try to twist myself into a feeling of youth. I follow along with my lessons and try to keep breathing and make myself more symmetrical. My husband walks in while I’m doing Happy Baby pose and stops in his tracks and says, “Well, HELLO!” and I laugh so hard I can’t get up. Then I get back into Groaning Crone pose and remind myself to come back. If I do this every day for ten years, at 50 I’ll be more flexible than I am today.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.