Embracing Aging: Let the Force Awaken

Society, and even the yoga industry, can be unsupportive of aging. But in doing so we miss the true beauty of life, and the point of yoga itself.

It happens to us all, but for many reasons so many women in particular dread it—aging. I know. I was one of them. Your thirties can be challenging. At 38 I can say I have spent not an insubstantial amount of money on lotions, diets, and hairstyles that have held the promise of keeping me in my late twenties/early thirties. And alongside the emergence of lines and gray hairs, as a woman, there is the fertility clock that begins to tick its countdown ever louder. If you are like me, your thirties can become a decade-long battle in acceptance.

But something recently happened: I no longer care.

I smiled to see a 59-year-old ever-feisty Carrie Fisher laugh in the face of those who criticized her for looking 32 years older than she did the last time she played the legendary Princess Leia—32 years ago. I was moved to tears to listen to a 73-year-old Aretha Franklin bring the house down at the Kennedy Center. I spent the holidays with older family members who make me laugh, whose stories engage me, and whose life experiences I am desperate to learn from. I am in awe of the women who beat a path before us, and show that aging is beautiful—maybe not in the typical, superficial sense of the word, but rather, in the deepest sense of the word.

Becoming an Empath

Patricia Moore is one such woman. From 1979 to 1982, right before a bikini-clad Carrie starred alongside Jabba the Hutt (an image many people are clearly devastated to part with), Pattie, in her twenties, was experiencing the life of an octogenarian. Dressed in her grandmother’s clothes, with make-up and prosthetics that reduced her natural abilities, Pattie spent her free time exploring society’s views of older women. Her motivation was borne of her experience in the design industry. Working on the design for a refrigerator, Pattie mentioned to her team that the door handle could be made easier for elders and consumers with arthritis to use. She was told: “We don’t design for those people.”

That dismissal launched her mission to better understand how age and ability had been overlooked by architecture and design. In disguise she learned firsthand how cities and products were created for the young and healthy, and how older people were seen as irrelevant. People would cross the street to avoid having to help her down from the curb, and at the lowest point she was mugged and beaten. “There were certainly those who did care—the humanists. But I also learned we were a society that not only didn’t serve elders, but one that didn’t embrace aging at all,” she says.

“We are all much too dynamic and evolutionary to remain static, physically, emotionally, spiritually.” – Cyndi Lee

Since that time Pattie has dedicated herself to delivering equality by design, to ensure the needs of older and challenged consumer are considered, and met. She has advised hundreds of firms to reverse their thinking on aging, including AT&T, OXO, and Procter & Gamble—that this past year introduced an ageless beauty campaign.

Now, at 63, experiencing aging has only added to Pattie’s understanding that “old” is a misunderstood word. “When we insist on describing people as either ‘young’ or ‘old,’ we create conflicting camps for attention and action. No one is old, we all have an age,” she says. “If you’ve been lucky enough, if you’ve been aware enough, and if you’ve paved a path for yourself, then I would say the happiness grows with each passing decade. I am more delighted with each passing day, and who doesn’t want that?” she says.

Yoga and Aging

Pattie bangs the drum for women to embrace the physical aspects of time passing. “I see the bags and the blotches and think—where did those come from? And laugh about it. And when people remark, ‘Wow Pattie you look like a woman in her 40s,’ I don’t see the compliment in that. Rather I hear the dismissiveness of age. It makes me sad to see that society has pressured women into changing who they naturally are.”

It is sad. The anti-aging industry sells $2 billion in products a year in the U.S. alone. And while we may blame “society,” this anti-aging obsession also lies within our yoga community. Yoga has been co-opted as a yet another promised panacea to aging.

“When we rest in the expansive consciousness of who we truly are, there is no body that ages or youth to be clung to anyway.” – Priti Robyn Ross

I’ve been fortunate to have teachers who dismiss this distorted view of yoga. Cyndi Lee, world-renowned founder of OM Yoga, is one of those inspiring teachers. She agrees that modern-day yoga has become more about industry and less about yoga, and, as such, has subscribed to the mantra that “youth sells.” But yoga is not—and never has been—about trying to stay young or reverse the aging process, she says.

“When you think about that for two minutes, you realize how ridiculous that proposition really is,” Cyndi says. “No one can reverse aging, and who wants to stay young or stay anyone anyway? We are all much too dynamic and evolutionary to remain static, physically, emotionally, spiritually.” At 61 Cyndi says age has made her feel more appreciation for the preciousness of human life. Not everyone gets to age. Aging means you’re still alive, she points out. And as for the physical changes, she says she enjoys watching it unfold. “I like seeing how my body and face are changing. It’s a lot like how my mom looked, but not exactly. I love reading mystery books, and watching my face changing is a bit like that—what will happen next? It’s not going to not change, so why not find it interesting instead of applying a negative label to what is just simply real?”

…the lines on my face have been accompanied by an opening of my heart. I have realized that I love more now than I ever have.

Kripalu’s Priti Robyn Ross, another of my teachers, has also been instrumental in helping me remember that a life spent in wisdom and curiosity is the path of beauty. “Yoga is an expression of true authenticity. It is the path of self-realization. It is to live a life in the rigorous path of inquiry. To deny aging or view it as something that is unattractive is antithetical to yoga and this true path,” she says. Furthermore, she points out that when we tap into the truth of our being, when we rest in the expansive consciousness of who we truly are, there is no body that ages or youth to be clung to anyway. “I pray that as a community we can dive deeper into who we truly are and stop worrying if our yoga pants look hot,” she says.

More Lines, More Love

As a lover of yoga, I too hope our industry will understand the importance of embracing where we are rather than clinging to the past, or someone else’s idea of beauty. I was buoyed by L’Oreal’s survey results of 9,000 women over the age of 50 who said that they would rather look good than look young.

I would like to look good for sure. Make no mistake, I’m still going to be putting coconut oil on my face and taking care of myself. But what I’ve come to appreciate most about the small amount of aging I have done is that the lines on my face have been accompanied by an opening of my heart. I have realized that I love more now than I ever have.

There was a time I couldn’t be in the same room as my mom, but now I am so deeply grateful for her existence. Nothing in our personalities has changed, and we both look 20 years older, but with time and practice my heart has opened more. It’s like the force has awakened, and I am so excited to see what that will look like with another 20, maybe 40, maybe even 50 years more of practice. To think that I may be lying in a bed somewhere, tiny and creased, but with a heart as wide as the world, means far more to me than being smooth and supple, and missing the timeless beauty that lies inside us all.


Helen Avery is a Section Editor at Wanderlust Media, working on the Vitality and Wisdom channels on wanderlust.com. She is a journalist, writer, yoga teacher, minister-in-training, and full-time dog walker of Millie.