Me and mom on my 1st birthday, circa late 1959
It would have been my mother’s 91st birthday a few days ago. I always think of her on her birthday and miss being able to ring her up and send love and greetings, just talk about life, the universe and everything, as we used to do. Mum died just over five years ago now, at the age of 85 and a half. That was her lifespan.
Her health-span was a lot shorter than that though.
In her late 50s she developed type II diabetes, and had been on medication by that stage for 20+ years to manage high blood pressure. As she moved into her 60s and 70s, her mobility became increasingly inhibited by circulatory issues, obesity, and several other health crises. An episode of bowel cancer in her early 80s. As her health deteriorated, so did her range of ability to interact with the broader world around her. Down here in Australia, I didn’t get to participate in the necessary ways that my two sisters and brother did up in Canada, caring for her as best they could within the context of their busy lives. Sadly, mom became what many people fear as they age – a burden. Her final year and a bit were in high dependency care in an institution, her circle now limited to a small room in a ward of other equally challenged and mostly elderly people. As she said to me – ‘people don’t come here to get better, they come here to die.’
Ok, so this is getting a bit heavy… It’s a part of life we’d rather not think about, especially in reference to ourselves. However, in my work as a yoga teacher and therapist, I think a lot about what it means to be a well being. The core focus of yoga is to acknowledge and integrate all the different dimensions of ourselves as a whole being, able to express our full potential physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. And, I might add, within this lifetime preferably! I know there is suggestion of other lifetimes in the past and in the future in some traditions, but the life I care most about is this one right here, right now. What am I doing with this?
There are predictions that the child has been born now who will easily live past 100 years old and beyond in the future. Hooray. That’s what I call a life-span. But many people these days live out great long life-spans – I mean 85 years is a pretty long time on the planet by modern standards, and my mother had that. How different would her life experience have been if she had focussed on her healthspan as well? And been able to extend the quality of her life, her living, her joy and happiness in even being able to move her body freely – to stand and walk and dance up to her very last days? I vote for that outcome for me, and I think there is an increasing movement in the modern world to seek out the health pathways that can allow that for many of us.
I came across this definition of wellness by John Travis MD: “Wellness is a choice – a decision you make to move toward optimal health. Wellness is a way of life – a lifestyle you design to achieve your highest potential for well-being. Wellness is a process – a developing awareness that there is no end point, but that health and happiness are possible in each moment, here and now. Wellness is the integration of body, mind and spirit – the appreciation of everything you do, and think, and feel, and believe has an impact on your state of health.”
As a huge bulge of modern-day population transits into their elder years – the infamous baby-boomers – I get why there is more of a focus these days on ‘wellness’, and ‘healthspan’. What are the strategies we can use to maintain, create, and prolong the healthiest experience that we can? What does true health entail? How can we use the tools of yoga and mindfulness to enhance and build upon our healthy state?
This will the focus of future issues… tune in!