I would sum up physical
well-being in one word: movement. By that I mean moving things through the both
body and mind, rather than letting what we don't want get stuck there. For aging
happens rapidly when we are stuck, whether in our diet, lack of exercise, or
rigid habits. Here are four ways to cleanse both our body and mind so that we
age much slower and live life to the full: 1) eating a healthy diet; 2) doing
both limbering stretches and weight bearing exercise; 3) practicing aerobics;
and 4) paying close attention to the quality of our feelings for psychological
A healthy diet
The classic yoga scriptures
say that food is medicine. You don't need too many pills or potions if you eat
right every day. Eat fresh vegetables, grains, nuts and fruits in season and you
will get enough vitamins, minerals, and proteins to keep very healthy. Move the
most healthy foods through your body and you will build up a tolerance to the
challenges of aging. But I would include in this diet drinking plenty of water.
Six or seven glasses a day will flush out the waste your cells don't need and
enable your body to utilize its food's nutrients more efficiently.
You'll find you won't get
sick as often as other people. Even more pleasing, your skin is less likely get
dried and wrinkled-it will appear smoother, younger, and more elastic.
Stretching, Yoga, and
Weight Bearing Exercise
When I was 35, I threw my
back out and went into the physical therapist's, each step shooting sharp pain
through me. After my treatment, the therpist gave me still more stretches (I was
already doing a regular workout), and I complained that at this rate, I would
have so many to do by age 50 that they would take hours. "Won't it be worth it?"
he asked, and now that I'm past 50 I can answer yes! To the yoga class that
stretches and limbers up your body, however, I would add the importance of
weight bearing exercise. As certain muscles grow weak, it is important to
strengthen those near them to avoid injuries like the one to my back. As Jack
LaLanne, father of the modern day health club, says at age 92, "Weight bearing
exercise will keep your 640 muscles vigorously fit. Everything about you-your
skin, digestion, sex life, skin, and hair, will keep its life. So exercise
vigorously, like someone is chasing you."
Vigorous exercise cleanses
and renews the body; it reinvigorates our life and cleanses our feelings.
Whether it is jogging, swimming, or bicycling, it is important to exercise
aerobically four times a week. This not only keeps the heart muscle fit; it also
pumps the blood vigorously throughout the body, purifying our system and giving
us an edge of energy to use throughout our day. Moreover, as our body moves with
the natural rhythm it craves, we can relax in a vastness deeper than ourselves
and not be brought down by what the years bring or by anything that is happening
on the outside. We feel well physically and emotionally, with a sense of
connection to our wellbeing.
Personality needs the same
cleansing just like the body does. When, for example, I make a big mistake and
my partner blows her top, instead of stuffing all my feelings down, what I do is
to move through my self-loathing through journal writing. Such activities help
us to look underneath the mask of adult behavior at the needy child that was
neglected early in life, staring us right in the face. For traumatic things we
experienced as children, sealed over and taken with us into adulthood, sometimes
can cause unpredictable behaviors like fierce anger, much stronger than the
event that stimulates it.
But the truth is, it is
within our power every minute how to respond. Good health means that we try to
move pressed down feelings through us and cleanse our spirit, just as the water
we drink cleanses our body. We do not need thoughts and habits that date back to
a person and time that no longer fit the present; whether through journaling,
therapy, twelve step work, or earnest disclosure to a friend, learn to feel
deeply what you feel, so that you can move with freedom into new feelings.
Keeping fit in psyche as
well as in body, you will probably still look forty when you are sixty. Much
more than that, you will be a better partner or friend and an example to all
those who see they need not fear the passing of the years.
About the Author:
Dr. Stephen Ruppenthal
is the author of
The Path of Direct Awakening: Passages for Meditation..
He is also the co-author of Eknath Easwaran's edition of The Dhammapada
and the author of Keats and Zen. He has taught meditation and courses on
Han Shan at UC Berkeley and San Francisco State University. Dr. Ruppenthal is an
international workshop leader in passage meditation and in courses for those
looking for end of life spiritual care and for the spiritual step component of
twelve step programs. Visit Stephen's work at