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How You Age Is a Choice

Apr/23/2023 / by Sweta Vikram

Getting older is inevitable but avoiding toxicity and embracing grace make a big difference to the process

Woman doing yoga
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I was in India a few weeks ago. In that week-long trip, I met close to two dozen people 70-80 years old. In the last year … I have made four trips to the motherland because of caregiving responsibilities. As a writer, I am trained to stay curious and observe people and as an Ayurvedic practitioner, I am constantly hit for Ayurvedic advice (I don’t mind it at all!). Meaning, I was exposed to diverse senior citizens in and from different parts of India and their stories.

But it was on this trip to India that I learned something important: While getting old is inevitable, how you age is your personal choice! What do I mean by that? Ayurveda divides life into three stages: Kapha dosha influences our childhood, the first stage. Pitta dosha governs the second stage of life, which starts at puberty and terminates around age fifty. The “Charaka Samhita” describes the vata phase of life as our final act. This third stage starts around menopause in women, and andropause in men.

Fighting Vata Age

I am not minimizing the challenges brought upon by vata age. I am aware that the vata period of life, especially as we get much older, brings anxiety, nervousness, digestive discomfort, and much more. People may start to battle illnesses. The body and mind start to betray us as we get older and generate a sense of loneliness. It’s devastating to see people around you old, sick, or dying.

Reminiscing about world travels, memories of college days, and mithai tastings are replaced with fears of mortality, and the identities of the best family medicine practitioners and surgeons in town.

Despite all that, how we show up to the world, how we age, and how we behave with others are under our control.

Relinquishing Attachment

If people consciously let go of the “shoulda, woulda, coulda” attachments in their head about their circumstances, aging would be a lot less difficult. If they became slightly less self-centered, they’d have more love in their lives.

A friend asked how an older person would know they need to slow down. Or how they can recognize they are being toxic to those around? My response, “Mindfulness practice.” Slowing down, turning inward, and contemplating are considered a normal aspect of getting older.

Why fight it? If you could accept at 40 that you no longer have the energy or enthusiasm of a 20-year-old, why the ego at 70 or 80? If you know you have diabetes or high blood pressure or arthritis or other debilitating health challenges, why prove a point and mess around with your digestive fire, agni? And if your wardrobe evolved over the decades, why be shy about your humor? If no one is laughing at your sexist, cruel, misogynistic, and hurtful jokes, mindfulness will tell you it’s time to pull the plug on them.

Happiness Is an Inside Job

Getting older can make us feel irrelevant and invisible. But I also believe where we ultimately end up depends on our mindset and attitude. How we respond to life situations impacts our relationships! Yoga teaches us about acceptance.

One of my mom’s best friends said, “Visit us when you are in India next. You can come for just 1-2 days as I know you are busy. Have one meal with us. Or spend a night. Whatever works. We are free, but you are young and busy. I tell my children the same thing — do what’s convenient.”

One evening, she hugged me tight and cried, “I’m not your mom. But you’ll always have a home with us. Never think you don’t have a mom’s house.” Her generosity is recognized and appreciated by her friends’ children (like me) as well as her children’s friends.

This aunty is an elderly woman who has a host of health issues. But instead of focusing on what’s not working, she chooses gratitude, understanding, and love to navigate old age. She is happier than most people her age because she has mindfully focused on the good in her life.

What You Focus on, Grows

Obsessing about health issues won’t make them go away. Taking conscious actions (I don’t mean mindlessly popping pills) can help you navigate the situation with grace. I have met tons of senior citizens who constantly whine about being abandoned, bicker about their children, find faults in their daughters-in-law, crib about those not in the room, or brag about how they know everything best. They tell themselves nobody loves them and that’s where their energy goes.

All the mindlessness creates ama, toxins, in the mind and gut. I have seen some elderly consume copious amounts of alcohol, hurl condescending words, and expect love in return.

Notice: These folks often have high blood pressure or acidity or severe headaches. Lots of pitta imbalance problems. What parents forget is that if they are in their 70s and 80s, their kids are also middle-aged and exhausted from juggling multi-generational responsibilities.

Become Your Own Priority

No one can be anyone’s priority 24/7. That’s why it’s important to prioritize your mental, emotional, and physical well-being. We live in a world where everyone is just trying to get by.

If you choose to focus on negatives, that’s all you will see. Children like us need to work to not just support our lives or bring up kids but also to be able to support our elderly parents, their medical bills, their living arrangements etc. If you see that, you’ll enjoy healthier familial relationships. So reset your expectations.

Be Flexible in Mind and Body

On this trip, I spent an evening with my dad’s cousins. My aunts, uncles, and their partners are retired PhDs, professors, lawyers, or judges. All self-made people who grew up with nothing, but carved out successful lives for themselves. They have continued to work on self-development, learning, and reading. They take good care of their physical and mental well-being. We talked about the two epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, from the perspective of law, sociology, feminism and more. They made the evening about what would interest me, instead of comparing or competing with my 40-year-old self. That is aging with grace!

Practice Mindfulness to Become a Better Human Being

This trip assured me that the happiest and emotionally healthiest people have fewer expectations. They love themselves unconditionally, hold space for others, and accept that nothing in life is constant. Getting older is inevitable but whether you become disgruntled or age with grace is your choice.

“It’s not how old you are. It’s how you are old.” ~ Jules Renard

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