Lessons from the Gym: View from the 50+ Perch

I’m officially 50+. Wow. You know, it doesn’t really bother me. I tend to have a weird perspective in that I like the things that tend to bother others (thus the name of this blog). Aging is one example. Sure, there are things about aging that aren’t great, but overall I’d much rather be where I am now than where I was when at my physical peak.

Speaking of physical peak, or in my current case, physical decline, recently I found myself once again reflecting upon exercise as a metaphor for my life. In the span of really 2 short years, I’ve gone from a pretty active and vigorous cardio program to something more low key and contemplative. The transition happened in part because I gave up self-care for my now-completed degree program. Having two full-time commitments precluded having much personal time.

Coming back into the exercise routine post-graduation, I have been unable to bounce back in the manner I have grown accustomed to. This was not my first break/return to exercise in my life, but the first time I’ve been unable to rise to my pre-break level of fitness. I can do the whole class still but the really fast routines are beyond my abilities now. I physically cannot move that fast any more.

Since this physical change is accompanied by a notable scarcity of cardio classes that I enjoy, I have instead transitioned to the more meditative classes like yoga and tai chi. Here, we focus on posture, form and breath, and the quality of the movement more than the quantity.

I can’t help but notice the parallels to my life.   Before, the focus was more on quantity: how much can we do or accomplish? How far can we go? Now, I really want to make sure that my state of being and way of being are of high quality. Can I stretch or shift instead of running or jumping? Attending to my breath is my baseline in exercise just like making sure the quality of my inner world is (or actually, should be) the foundation of my day.

I used to think the big gestures and efforts were most important. Now I know that those small shifts make the difference as to whether I’m feeding my vitality or essence or just running on adrenaline and lactic acid. I’ve also become more naturally deliberative, a quality that generally evades me.

There is a wisdom associated with moving through the world quietly and contemplatively.   The quality of your heart is more important than the quality of your hands and probably even your mind.   Where is your focus?