"Youth has strength, but it does not have skill, which, in the long run, is the most potent strength. Youth has speed, but it does not have efficiency, which, in the long run, is the only effective way of attaining goals. Youth is quick, but not deliberate, and deliberation is the only way to make correct decisions...Youth has energy and intelligence, but it does not have the judgment necessary to make the best use of that energy and intelligence. Youth is a state of be put behind us as we grow taller and deeper and fuller. Unless we understand that life and aging are a process of growth and progress, we will never know the first principles of living."
– From the book, Somatics, by Thomas Hanna
This was my third year teaching The Myth of Aging course at Hollyhock Lifelong Learning Center on Cortes Island, BC. This course was a four-day immersion into Hanna Somatics: the principles, concepts, and somatic movements developed by Thomas Hanna that can guide people to eliminate chronic pain, tension and stress as they learn to reconnect to a safe, intelligent and empowering sense of themselves.
This year was like none I'd ever taught: 17 students, all from different backgrounds, abilities, and ages. These students came from education, nursing, business, yoga, coaching, massage, and physiotherapy backgrounds - and seven of them were over 70! Your age does not determine whether you "fall apart" as you get older; what determines it is how you adapt to the stresses of your life. More and more teenagers are displaying a stooped posture of rounded shoulders and depressed chests. This is no longer the posture of senility – it's the posture of stress. How you engage with what happens in your life, and whether you adapt to it and allow it to define you is what makes the difference in whether you will "fall apart" and slow down, or continue improving, growing, and learning.
Of the 17 people in this course, there was a group of women all between 75 and 87 years old. They were hikers, musicians, adventurers, and all around butt-kickers: awesome, inspiring ladies who weren't going to slow down as they aged. But they had serious pain; for some, they knew it came from a life of emotional struggle. These women forced and pushed and muscled their way through their movement because it's how they'd learned to adapt to the struggles of their lives. It had worked – up to a point.
Like everyone else in the group, an "aha! moment" was when they learned that our thoughts, emotions, beliefs, mindsets, and physical habits all show up in our bodies either as tension, or as space and freedom. We have the ability to improve our physical experience from the inside out.
These older ladies were the inspiration of the group. They learned that slowing down was the first step in improving their awareness and physical skill. Less is more, and slow can translate into quick, ballistic movement. Their pain began to wane, their bodies straightened up, their hips began to move, their faces changed, and their stories began to come out. It was clear that letting go of tension – through movement – was creating a new possibility of the future for them. They were beginning to hone the skills necessary to stay in the game for many years to come.
Here are a few takeaways from our group. I am always moved by what students learn when they turn their attention inward, use their brain, develop patience and compassion for themselves, and return to the joyful, curious movement they once had as children.
- "Learning to let go in your body allows more of who you are to come through."
- "This course was a game changer; now I know I can eliminate my own pain and continue to do what I love."
- "This work has given me my life back. I am hopeful."
- "I feel empowered!"
- "I realize I'm not as 'galumphy' as my wife says I am. I can actually walk smoothly."
- "I've taken a lot of courses, yet this one will come with me for the rest of my life. I'll use this information and apply it to everything I do."
- "A lot of older people say 'When you get to a certain age, it's all downhill.' I realize that I have an opportunity to turn it around right now."
- "We always want to go for complicated stuff. I realized that the basic movements we learned are the building blocks for all movement."
As I left this workshop, I was so incredibly grateful for the learning that I received through the older participants and the group as a whole. When people come together in the pursuit of their willingness to shed old habits and views, and learn – even at an advanced age – it is deeply inspiring.