My husband sometimes reminds me that we’ll will never be as young as we are now. He’ s right, and experiences in my life have helped to serve as a daily reminder that all of life is temporary, continually changing and unknown. While our age is fixed to a common construct, the aging process is one highly unique to each individual based on a variety of factors, some of which are controllable, some not. Despite our inability to predict the future or account for the unknown, a multi-billion dollar industry has erupted based largely on conditioning a broad audience to believe that they can turn back time by purchasing a pill, face lift or equivalent.
Cher lover or not, this past Sunday I found myself for a brief moment at the “most Exciting Anti Aging Event in the UK”. The anti aging health and beauty show (note the unassuming all lower-cased typography choice) took place at the Olympia conference hall in London. I was there to teach a half hour yoga class, but as I was unsure of what kind of audience I should prepare for, I arrived a few minutes early to walk around the hall and assess the situation. Within those few minutes, I heard myself audibly asking “and what does this have to do with anti-aging” at each new booth offering nail extension, tooth whitening or fake lashes I encountered. At the end of my walk about, I headed back to the yoga stage in disbelief. People had paid money to attend this trade show. Most carried bags of purchased products as they congregated around live demos offering the latest secret in turning back the clock. In mere moments I myself would don a headset. But what would I say?
Without an audience, I found myself at a cross roads. I could walk out, disassociating from anything that I saw, play the game as an inviting host into the sublime world of yoga, or be radical. And then, nature took its course. Switching on the microphone, I began a dialogue with passers by. Stopping people randomly to ask about what they had purchased, I invited a simple question to each: what did it have to do with anti-aging? I assured each person I had nothing to sell, and had no great secret to uncover. After a minute or two I addressed a small audience with something like this:
Longevity doesn’t come from a face lift, whiter teeth, Botox or hair extensions. It doesn’t come from laser eye surgery, drinking champagne or eating expensive chocolates, all of which are here on promotion today. The only thing that may help to slow the aging process is to learn how to breathe. Learn how to connect your body with the mind. By giving the mind a single point of focus, the breath, we can practice staying present, and by moving the breath with the body, we begin to eliminate long held physical and mental toxins. This practice is called yoga.
During my monologue a few more people stopped to listen, and some even found their way onto mats for a short vinyasa practice focusing on the breath. I left the conference hall thinking about Cher. An emblem of timelessness for many, I considered the countless surgeries and procedures she endured to arrive at her current state of distorted agelessness. I wondered about her mental and physical health.
That night I received a call from my sister, a research professor and an expert in the field of caring for the elderly. She’s involved in a field of medicine called gerontology, directly bearing the burden of the ‘anti-aging’ process. What do we do as a society as people live longer to promote a good quality of life for the elderly? These questions seems a long way off from those looking for the fountain of youth in a tooth whitener.
With such a wide range of perspectives on aging and anti-aging, one thing is clear: there seems to be a large disconnect about what the media and marketing have done to influence how we think about health, the aging process, the relationship between the outer body and overall health, and the bigger relationships we have with family, friends, healthcare providers and the broader universe.
It seems the more we can create strength and flexibility in the body, the more supple the mind, the better our overall health.
Ironically, I write this from a hospital bed awaiting to hear if the transplantation of a 76 year old liver into my 40 year old body is a go…sort if spins the whole question of anti aging on its side, doesn’t it?