Movement and Meditation

80 Human Years

Right now, I’m basking in an abundance of love and bursting with gratitude: My birthday buddy middle son flew home a few days ago for a two-week stay, and today we’re 25 and 55 years old. There’s ample sunshine and a stirring breeze outside—the annual rye grass that we’ve let grow to its full two feet high in the backyard mimics the waves of the ocean in its response to the wind—and in between doing our work, we’ve been connecting with other family and friends since we woke up this morning. I’m sensing the compression and expansion of time, its linear and circular nature, with the memories of my son’s birth sparkling and clear, his newborn body then contrasted with his fully grown self now, his personality the gorgeous same. That day of his earthly emergence, I turned 30; today, together, we’ve lived 80 years—two childhoods, two adolescences, two early adulthoods. Many decades still ahead for him and fewer for me, if the usual patterns hold.

More because of my time with my mother recently than because of these birthdays, I’ve been thinking about the process of aging. When I was younger, I was terrible at guessing someone’s age; it’s taken experiencing the additive decades myself for me to recognize both the subtle and the obvious markers of time across our faces and our bodies, and to see the ways in which those processes may be affected by exposure to sunshine, sorrow, illness, injury. I feel profound awe at our bodies’ self-healing and strengthening capacities and deep sympathy at all the ways they can hold trauma or surrender to stressors. My youngest son has pointed out that as our bodies carry additional weight or additional years, we can respond to these particular challenges by walking with a slower, side-to-side gait instead of a brisk, forward motion, sacrificing momentum for stability, finding our footing instead of increasing our pace.

What I have witnessed as I practice yin yoga most days (along with other steady movement) is a turning back of time in the lived experience of my aging body. Often, the long holds of the shapes and sequences release stored memories and markers: Some days, I’ve wept with relief; other days, I’ve exulted. This intensity—sometimes unpredictable in the emotional direction it goes—is accessed through allowing my body, mind, and spirit stillness and wonder in the deep stretches of connective tissues. At the end of a single session—and at the end of a week or month or year of practice—I am less burdened than I was when I began by anything bulky or heavy I had been holding, psychically or physically. In this unbinding is grace, the ability and freedom to keep gliding for as long as I have here, all the breath for all the candles.