Tagged midlife transformation

©Cristina Acosta

Midlife Exercise Builds Both Physical and Emotional Muscle

When I turned forty, my friend Suzanne Schlosberg gave me a copy of her book, “Weight Lifting for Dummies,” and told me that from then on, exercise was like flossing my teeth. The most effective midlife exercise requires weight bearing exercise. I had to do it, she insisted, the margin of laziness that youth offers was over and I had to do weight-bearing exercise forever more. Suzanne rarely gives a strong life-altering opinion without a little help to go along with it, I love that about her.

And it’s true. Living a healthy life into and beyond midlife requires exercise to maintain lean body mass and bone strength. And exercise can be in some aspects like flossing your teeth. But unlike flossing, exercise can be part of a sport or a practice like yoga, activities that offer much more than the opportunity of physical health.  Practice anything athletic for a long time and you begin to realize over the years that your sport or practice offers many life lessons that build emotional and spiritual muscle as well as physical strength.

This morning, as I was literally falling in and out of a yoga balance pose in class, I was thinking about the lessons the pain of pushing oneself can offer. In any athletic practice, learning when to push through pain and when to heed pain as a warning to stop is a continual process.

Sometimes being easy on myself is a form of avoidance. Sometimes it’s vitally important to nurture myself with ease. And knowing when to push and when to stop takes continual practice. Practice that never leads to “perfect”. Everyday and every situation bring a different self to the practice. It’s a challenge that I find intriguing, especially as I age.

Exercise in midlife brings with it old injuries and new weaknesses. Consistent practice enables me to navigate the new body I’m given everyday. A body built by yesterday that I live in today.

It’s been over ten years since Suzanne offered me her advice. Over the years I’ve weight trained and also done other types of weight bearing exercise. I think about her advice when I’m too busy to exercise and it often helps me get some perspective and get back to my practice. Sometimes I’ll just take out my jump rope and get in ten minutes. And the days I do that, I think about Suzanne and agree. Yes, exercise is just like flossing my teeth.

 

Calligraphy by Cristina Acosta

Midlife Transformation – Using Old Letters to Create New Words

Midlife transformation is inevitable for women. Menopause is irrefutable and for most women, a defining experience. Whether a woman has had children or not, reproduction and nurturing as defining metaphors in our lives are now replaced with reinvention and renewal.

And all of that change and midlife transformation requires a new vocabulary of a sort. A reinvention of new words from the same old letters we’ve been working with our entire lives. An anagram for renewal, real and new can define this new phase of our lives if we allow ourselves the opportunity.

I’ve been thinking about this idea of reinvention quite a bit as I’m in the middle of the biggest reinvention phase of my life (so far). Much of my life as I knew it has changed these past few years and I’m starting again. A situation that is exhilarating and energizing as well as depressing and scary.

While trying to  stay focused on exhilarating and energizing this past week, I found myself visualizing calligraphy. For about ten years of my art career, I painted signs, paying for my art degree at the University of Oregon and then transitioning into a career as a billboard lettering and mural artist until the trade ended with the advent of computers. One of the foundations of sign painting is calligraphy, the hand drawn art of letterforms.

I found myself thinking about the twists and turns of line I could create with the motions of my body transforming brush and paint into meaning. There is a lovely sensual pleasure to brush calligraphy, a quality that varies with each letter and each grouping of letters as they form words. Surprisingly, actually feeling the visual forms a word takes enriches the feeling the word invokes, even when the feeling of creating the word with line is counter to the meaning of the word.

Those memories in mind, I realize that the midlife transformation I am going through now offers me the opportunity to reform the letters of my life. Those letters being the skills, experiences, wisdom and attitudes I’ve developed over the years, and re-ordering them into new words, creating new meanings for myself.

New words and meanings denote a new reality. Here are a few examples: I have been making art, painting or drawing for decades, but now I have different thoughts and feelings about the process and different (fewer) expectations . I have been cooking for even longer, filling in for my single mother of seven when I was a young teenager, working in restaurants, then being a homemaker and mother. But now, when I cook I see more than a quick meal or a beautiful spread, I understand the connections and spiritual qualities of food much differently than I have in the past. Life feels richer.

There is an old Zen proverb that goes something like this: Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. Midlife transformation can be a type of enlightenment, a time when the familiar meanings and perceptions of the shapes and forms of our lives transmute into new beginnings.

 

Transformation is Radical Change

Most any magazine cover offers transformation:  Lose up to ten pounds in 10 days; look years younger in one week; five fast money secrets to easy street – transformation is presented to us as an often quick and easy change.

But here’s the truth, radical change hurts. And transformation is radical change. Implementing radical change requires clarity, consistent effort and conscious faith. It gets boring. And, conversely, it gets scary. The excitement of the decision to change quickly gives way to the often tedious, hard work that the change requires. And then when your hard work reaps benefits and the changes you’ve envisioned happen, a whole new set of fears can come up.

Lose weight and suddenly the new attention you’re getting threatens your sense of security. Become suddenly wealthier and you might be negotiating some difficult social ramifications of your new financial status. Look radically younger and you find yourself dealing with your own and others changed perceptions.

Clarity wrenches us from denial and wishful thinking. Consistent effort takes time away from other activities. Conscious faith requires mindfulness. It ain’t easy.

You can lose your friends, your job, your marriage, your home, and more. But you can gain deeper friendships, more fulfilling work, and a richer, more magical, happier life.

I know this, because it’s all happened to me. What I’ve learned is that change is inevitable, but conscious transformation is optional. I take the possibility for magic most every time.

How Sports Changed My Life After Forty

A little over a decade ago I took up Nordic cross country ski racing. I was about 40 and had never done competitive sports before then.

My then eight-year-old daughter was an athlete and intent on competing. I found myself sitting on the sidelines of her Taekwondo belt testings, swim meets and Nordic ski races. When she was finished I’d praise her with the usual Mom comments like, “Good job!” And, “You did your best,” etc. One of those times I was encouraging her with some sort of advice and she just looked at me and said, “You really don’t know what it’s like, Mama.”

She was right, I didn’t have a clue. I had participated in sports my entire life, taught sports and enjoyed watching sports. I exercised and played at sports, but I had never dedicated myself to competition.  I really didn’t know what she was truly going through.

So I signed up for Taekwondo and took ski racing clinics as those two things worked with her training schedule and I was “there” anyway. The coaches suggested VO2 Max testing, blood work, a training plan, etc., so that I would have a baseline to start from and get the most from my limited workout time (I was also working full-time).

That was the beginning of several years of training and racing. My first Nordic race result put me about  177 out of about 180 people. I had nowhere to go but up.

Over the next few years I worked my way up from the bottom to about the upper middle tier for my age group. And if the really good competitors were out of town or at other races, I even came in at the top a few times.  Bend, Oregon is the land of former World Cup and Olympic athletes, so I was proud of my results.

I even added in a few other sports. I ran a half marathon and did some SUP paddleboard racing for a few years. Competing in sports taught me a lot about my strength of mind and body. I learned when to override pain and resistance and when to recognize pain and resistance as messages to stop. (That’s a tricky balance at times.)

And it taught me about what my daughter was going through as an athlete. Though I often took up the back end of races, she was at the front, going on to the Junior Olympics in Nordic ski racing and then becoming a World Cup Epee fencer as an older teenager. Competing in my own small way gave me much more empathy and understanding of her process and the strengths she was developing. I became a better mother.

Competitive sports taught me that in the midst of struggle and challenge it helps to have a mantra. Paddling through intimidating waves and wind, or slogging up the next to the last hill of  a 40k race I used short sentences to keep me going.

In the midst of boring, difficult endurance races my mantras were simple technique reminders like “pole, glide, pole” or “pelvis, knees, head”. Sometimes conditions changed and big winds, waves or blinding snow became part of the race and I became fearful. Then, I’d say something that applied to my situation, like, “In this moment I am: safe, fine, ok, making it, still here. . . etc.” Sport became moving meditation.

Sports changed my life. Through sport I developed better balance. Not just on my board or my skis, but in life. Though I’m no longer racing, the techniques I learned through competitive sport have been invaluable for life off or on the course. I  learned when to either overcome or accept pain. I learned to acknowledge fear and continue anyway. I learned that coming in last can be as much of an accomplishment as coming in first.  I learned that I liked winning, but I would race even when I knew I would lose. I learned gratitude for the people that volunteered to put on the races, coached and cheered.

And I learned to continue with my mantras as I move through life, whatever the climate and conditions may be. In this moment, I am happy.

 

Leaning Into the Hill Helps with Balance

On a bike or a pair of skis, you quickly learn that big, steep hills can be scary whether you are going up them or down them.

This past few years I’ve been in the midst of some very big life changes. My twenty two year marriage ended, my nest became empty, I moved out of my home and I lost several significant people in my life to change and death.

In the midst of these changes I’ve sought to keep my balance.  I exercised and meditated most days, which helped. And on the days when I felt whelmed, I often thought about hills. Lately, my inner landscape has been full of steep mountains that go on into a misty horizon without a break.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be a lifelong skier. My dad had been a ski instructor in the 1950’s and taught most of his 10 children to ski. I was 9 years old when I learned.

I wanted to be good at skiing and realized that the only way to develop more skill was to push myself a bit beyond my abilities, balancing fear with possibility. I loved the sport and I would push myself to go down steeper and steeper hills. I certainly scared myself more than a few times.

One lesson that I learned from scaring myself while skiing was to “lean” into the hill with my first action. With my skis poised at the top of the hill, the front half of them off of the snow (because the hill was so steep), I would launch  myself.

If I let fear prevail and I held back with my launch, resisting the challenge, my skis would turn sideways and I’d often fall. But, if my first action was to embrace the challenge and I leaned forwards into the fall-line of the hill when I launched myself, I was often much more successful.

Of course, accidents can happen (nothing is fail-safe), but this method of leaning into the hill has been far more successful than not. And I’ve fallen a lot. A few of those falls were epic and scary, but I always got back on the snow eventually, even when I wasn’t able to get up right away. Some runs were tough. I’ve wondered when it would be over and gutted it out, but I’ve also had runs that were unexpectedly magical and joyful.

Resisting versus embracing. Embracing vs. resisting. Leaning into the hill when I am poised to move. Or, resisting the hill. These are my choices.

So, these recent few years, when the latest “hill” seems like just too much to go up or down, I think about my skis, poised on the brink of a mountainside, the tips thrusting into the empty air and pointing far beyond my current position.

I’ve learned that the best possibility for a joyful life is to embrace the hill. I lean forwards.

 

Insensible Losses and Insensible Gains and the Unmeasurable Life

Insensible losses are defined medically as the immeasurable moisture losses a person experiences from sweat, tears, breathing and more.

Now, I find the term “insensible losses”  a meaningful metaphor for middle age. And I’ve added the term “insensible gains” to the mix. There is so much about life that ultimately can’t be measured. Every breath that got me to this here and now, every tear of pain or joy, every bit of sweat, every milliliter of water I’ve shed is undeniable and yet ultimately not measurable.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t weigh and measure  my experiences anyway. Despite that, middle age has given me enough experience to realize that any measurements I make today will look different from the perspective of tomorrow.

And any measurement I think of as telling, (think of a resume, dating site profile, annual corporate report or academic test result) can’t even tell me how I’m really going to feel about that person, place or thing, regardless of how “complete” or “objective” the measurement may be.

Ultimately, both the losses and gains in life seem “insensible” to me. I am part of a materialistic culture that often judges a person’s value as a number on a balance sheet derived from one’s net worth or salary. When I am tempted to do the same with myself or another person I think about insensible losses and insensible gains. And I stop myself.