It’s wonderful to be back! As I sit here to write I have a small bunch of sweet peas on my desk and I’m savouring their beautiful scent. Grateful for them, for Spring, for my sense of smell. Simple pleasures. I’ve taken my own advice and given myself ‘Permission to Pause’ over the holidays and while we moved out to begin a renovation.

My birthday was in August and being on “the wrong” side of 40 has had me thinking about aging! The research of Harvard professor Ellen Langer Ph.D.challenges our perceptions about aging (and in fact our perceptions about just about everything in life!). She performed a famous study of men in their 70s and 80s. They spent a week in a retreat centre which was designed to conjure up the 1950’s when the men were in their “prime”. Everything from the décor and clothes, to the movies and music, and even the photos of the men themselves, reflected this time. The men were encouraged to watch TV shows and read magazines from that era and to talk about “current” affairs and sport as if they were really living back in that time. Before the study began, the men underwent tests for hearing, balance, dexterity, blood pressure, eye sight and pulmonary function amongst other tests. A control group also went to a retreat, where they lived away from their daily routine, and were encouraged to reminisce but they did not “inhabit” this 1950’s world as the test group did. After the study both groups were tested again. The test group looked on average 10 years younger! They were suppler, stood taller and had a greater sense of well-being! Amazingly and unexpectedly their hearing and vision had also improved! When they left the retreat, they carried their own bags – they had rediscovered their healthy and vibrant selves and were no longer thinking of themselves as “old men”!

I think it’s a challenge to us to review our expectations around aging – what we can and can’t do and how we “should” be feeling. We create such unconscious narratives – listen out for how you and others speak about your age and aging in the next few weeks!

Something that comes up often with my patients, and I’ve experienced it myself as I’ve got older, is feeling stiff, achy and more hunched when we wake up, and taking a while to “warm up” and get going in the mornings. When we feel like this we definitely feel like we’re getting old! Our collagen production starts to decrease around the age of 30 so our flexibility naturally decreases and we become stiffer. We also become more prone to ligament ruptures, sudden muscle tears, and generalized neck and back pain. Over the last year or two I have been using the Yoga Studio app for 10 minutes most days and I’ve encouraged patients to do the same. The results have been transformative both for me and my patients. All that morning stiffness is gone, as is my left knee pain and many of my patients’ symptoms of pain, stiffness and cramping too. As a physiotherapist, I feel very strongly (supported by research and experience) that many injuries and conditions could be dramatically improved, if not alleviated or even prevented, by having more flexibility and ‘movement’ in our bodies.

Why yoga and the Yoga Studio app? Most people I speak to say that yoga’s not for them – they’re not at all flexible, don’t have the time or inclination to go to a yoga class or they think yoga is far too alternate and “flaky” for them (especially the “real” athletes). My response is usually that unless you start to do something about that, you’re the most flexible today that you’ll ever be! You will only get stiffer, more hunched and achy from here – even more so if you run or cycle. Which certainly doesn’t sound appealing. But by bringing in just 10 minutes of “global stretching” a few times a week it can make an enormous difference to how you feel. The Yoga Studio app is very reasonable (and has a 2-week free trial) and offers beginner, intermediate and advanced classes, starting from 10 minutes to 60 minutes. It even has short classes for runners and for back pain. It’s really just global stretching – instead of stretching one muscle group at a time as we’ve traditionally done, with yoga poses we’re stretching and moving multiple areas. And you can do it in the privacy of your home without feeling like the only person who can’t twist into pretzel-like postures. More and more professional athletes and teams are incorporating yoga into their training to increase flexibility and prevent injuries, to improve their balance, focus and core strength, and for it’s many mental benefits – all of which help to extend and improve their sporting careers. That’s motivation enough for our children who have great sporting aspirations so I have them doing it with me too!

And so, I encourage you to give it a try. Become mindful of your perceptions and expectations of aging and if you need more encouragement in this, be inspired by Ellen Langer in this talk or by Dr Christiane Northrup’s “Goddesses Never Age – The Secret Prescription for Radiance, Vitality and Well-Being”.

By the way I have absolutely no affiliation with Yoga Studio or any of the apps and tools I recommend. I’m just passing on what I’ve found works for me and others. Please feel free to let me know in the comments below or on FB, which apps and programmes have worked for you so I can try those too – there are many amazing resources out there and it’s great to know of tried and tested ones!

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