The Positive Aspects of Aging

      It arguably seems that within Psychology, we are focusing upon phenomenon that is negative, or otherwise out of the ordinary. You may think of therapy for example, or mental illness…even aging, as subjects which cause concern. It is so focused on identifying people’s downfalls and how to avoid such conditions. In fact, many psychologists would say that there is an innate perspective within us to seek positive attributes within ourselves as well. “Positive Psychology” is a fairly recent term to this concept which was only recently coined in 1998. The APA Division 17 Section on Positive Psychology briefly define the field as “the study of human strengths and wellbeing”. To place this into perspective, you can imagine how there are factors that may cause us to age over time, but there are also powers within ourselves to help defeat the biological clock both mentally and physically.

      Dr. Glenn Ostir, a researcher within the positive psychology field tells BBC News “I believe that there is a connection between mind and body–and that our thoughts and attitudes/emotions affect physical functioning, and over all health, whether through direct mechanisms, such as immune fuction, or indirect mechanisms such as support networks”. This statement may resonate with you personally, maybe as you have found yourself catching illnesses in the most stressful and worst timings throughout your life, as your personal life had affected your immune system. You may have also found that your work across different contexts may have been affected by disputes with friends, or generally having a lack of social connections. As positive psychologists would say, the very opposite of these statements can help you for the best. For example, if you are exercising and becoming more involved in your community, you will find your mental and physical wellbeing to improve exceptionally. Perhaps our answer is to not only focus on factors to avoid, but to seek the most positive actions we can for ourselves.

      Speaking of a predisposition toward negative thoughts, we tend to only think about aging in terms of losses that may occur. You think loss of hair, loss of memory, loss of independence. What is less likely to be imagined first would be strengths such as “wisdom”, satisfaction with having raised a family, and long term goals that were achieved. Unfortunately, it is the losses which are most concrete and obvious to the naked eye. Along with that, they are more easily tested within research. Wisdom on the other hand is an example of an abstract attainment through aging. Wisdom is objectively definied as “rich factual and procedural knowledge, lifespan contextualism, relativism of values and life priorities, and recognition and management of uncertainty,” by Australian Psychologist. As you can see, this is a very situation sensitive, subjective, and individual experience that would be very difficult to test objectively. However, it is partially through wisdom that many older people learn to be more resilient to stress according to Australian Psychologist. Unfortunately, it may be difficult for older folks to look into this as those around them are focusing upon their losses.

      With this insight, where can we go from here? It is apparent that our mind and body seem to be interconnected more than we think. If we can focus on the gains that we achieve while aging, we can upkeep our emotional stamina, and support networks as well. Meanwhile, these positive effects we are fulfilling onto ourselves can ultimately help immune system functioning and ward against physical illnesses. We need to be proactive about our health and not assume that aging is a natural phenomenon that we shall fall victim to. I encourage you to read my other blog entries if you have not already, on ways to get started on this journey toward self improvement.

Yoga for Seniors

    Many of us know that yoga is a strength building and rejuvenating exercise for many. There are designated poses (some that even look seemingly impossible) that help promote relaxation, proper blood flow, and improved muscle tone. However, what most of you probably don’t know is that you can participate this exercise no matter what your age may be. Yoga is not just for “young” people anymore. There are many older folks following modified, or even chair positions that help increase mobility and strength at the same time. If you are reading this article, there is probably a modified exercise that could work for you.

    Surprisingly, seniors are becoming increasingly engaged in these exercises as a result of not only improved mobility, but increased energy as well. The ladies in the youtube video linked below are amazed at their own progress, and absolutely love the ways that yoga has helped them. There is another lady in particular who was able to receive assistance doing exercises along with a group in their chairs. The interesting thing about yoga is that you don’t have to do poses in full in order to receive its benefits. What ever is a challenge to the individual is exercise in itself.1 It is about the progress toward improving one’s strength and mobility which is perhaps most important. Remember that in order to improve, you need to exercise to your full-hearted capacity in order to reach beyond your initial limit. If this doesn’t sound appealing just yet, read on…

    Something else to consider is the safety of your mobility, whether now or down the line. As Hatha yoga makes a person strong, limber, and toned, it also improves balance.2 This is especially important as aging progresses, that can help protect against accidental falls in the future. You can say that while yoga does make you more mobile, it can even help you maintain your independence as well. Independence is not just a convenience factor, but a positive emotional mindset to consider.

    Continuing on with this idea, yoga drastically improves mental wellbeing in many ways. In the quiet rejuvenating exercises, many notice improvement in their stress levels. Emotionally, it can ward against depression that may accrue as one ages. Hatha yoga in particular, encourages mental presence, and a clearing of outer distractions. At times, it may not be about avoiding stress, but simply finding time to take care for yourself that really makes a difference. Don’t forget that you need to be taken care of as well.

    Another factor which is interesting in these people’s improvements is that they find it to be a supporting community among other seniors who are looking to become active. It is an unfortunate truth that many seniors don’t have the support system or company around them that may have been stronger in the past. This additional support network can be very beneficial in itself. Additionally, this support can even encourage your persistence in attending the sessions regularly. Just like anything, you only improve by persistent effort.

    In the end, yoga is something to seriously consider for your health and wellbeing. It aids in mobility, strength, safety, emotional wellness, and social connectivity. Don’t let the term “yoga” scare you away. If you are imagining yourself to be too old or too out of shape, there are probably seniors in worse shape than you are. Consider giving it a try for a few sessions and see how you like it. I would be interested in hearing if you have ever tried it, or even if this article inspired you to take on the challenge! For further inspiration, check out the youtube video I have linked below. If you don’t believe me, you can hear it from these inspirational ladies.

Video: Yoga for Senior Citizens

1 http://www.iyengar-yoga.com/yoga/
2 http://www.yoga-teacher-training.org/2011/03/30/yoga-for-women-aging-gracefully/