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How old are you?
That is an easy question to answer. But it is just a number. Consider instead your age relative to the people around you or people you see in your everyday life.
Do you look old for your age? Are you flexible? Strong? Supple? Do you get out of breath? Are you happy?
How old is your body?
People start tai chi most weeks of the year. We see a lot of new starters. Over the years the physical condition of the intake has changed. It has worsened.
Quite often young people start class with poor physical health; raised, tense shoulders, stooping, poor balance, stiff joints, tense muscles, poor motor skills and limited flexibility.
These are appalling health conditions for a 20 year old. The individual may well be 20 but their body is not. Their body is old.
How should a young person move?
This is an interesting question. There should be a sense of ease. No struggling, grunting or groaning, no pain in the back or the knees.
The body responds instantly to the dictates of the mind. A young person is spontaneous and free.
How does an older person move?
Their steps are often very heavy and their legs are locked and immobile. There is a sense of clumsiness.
People frequently walk in an agitated manner; over-striding and erratic. The lower back is inflexible and the sacroiliac does not move correctly. The back is stooped, the neck stiff and the hands are tight.
at birth are soft and supple:
At death, they are hard and stiff.
When plants are alive, they are green and bending;
When they are dead, they are dry and brittle.
Soft and bending is the way of the living;
Hard and brittle is the way of the dying.
Therefore, a great strength that is inflexible,
Will break in the wind like an old dead tree.
Quite often people respond to aging with vain attempts to disguise their age. Who are they fooling?
Plastic surgery, blonding your hair or dressing like a teenager are superficial, facile efforts to appear to be young. They require no effort and offer only a desultory, aesthetic change.
Think about the qualities associated with youth: nimble, balanced, agile, light, mobile, coordinated, squatting easily, flexible, supple, fit, dynamic, spontaneous, changeable, strong, virile, stamina, dextrous, good poise, free, no pain...
These cannot be faked with hair dye and a risqué outfit. Nor will a fancy car, nice clothing or expensive technology hide a decrepit body.
Do something real
If you want your physical age to be impressive, put away your ego and commit to making a more tangible effort. Start by being sensible.
Don't just leap into some naive endeavour ill suited to your current physical condition.
The world is filled with aging runners sporting knee braces, cyclists with tense shoulders and gym members exerting beyond their capacity.
Let's be honest here. If you are an adult and unfit - regardless of your age - this is your responsibility. Don't blame somebody else. Nor your job or your family. It's all you. You did this. You made a choice.
Now you get to make a new choice. You get to take responsibility for improving your health, fitness and decreasing your physical age. Start by doing some research...
If you're fat, don't try and run it off. See a dietician and/or follow a measured, gradual diet carefully and consistently. If you are out of shape, start with something that isn't going to hurt your body.
Tai chi for health is perfect for this. It is low-impact, easy to do at home between lessons and will not damage you.
How Not To Die by Dr Michael Greger and The Okinawa Program by Dr Bradley Wilcox, Dr Craig Wilcox and Dr Makoto Suzuki advocate a plant-based diet.
Scientific evidence has proven that a varied vegetarian diet can significantly contribute to a longer, healthier lifespan.
Make food from scratch. Read the label when you buy food; be wary of any words you are unfamiliar with. Avoid stimulants, fat and sugar.
Cigarettes and alcohol will age you faster than almost anything else. Aim to cut them out.
Go to bed earlier. Get out of bed sooner.
Take a closer look at what you are putting on your skin (cosmetics, shampoo, soaps, shower gel, deodorant etc).
The Lao Tzu quote mentioned above explains how stiffness and inflexibility are indisputable signs of being old. Work on this.
Once your muscles are tense and your body is stiff you cannot remedy this situation overnight.
Hitting the gym or buying an expensive drop handle bicycle will not get rid of stiffness. You need to do something else.
Rather that force and hammer your muscles, they need to be softened and lengthened. Patience is needed.
Many modern approaches to exercise do not cultivate youthful movement. In fact, they do not encourage movement at all.
Harsh training methods promote an immense amount of muscular tension which prevents the joints from moving properly.
The drawbacks of exercise
Not all forms of exercise are necessarily good for you. For example, running may improve cardiovascular health but is also very hard on the joints.
Lifting heavy weights can cause significant tension to accumulate and - if the muscles are large enough - adversely affect the skeleton. Most forms of exercise have pros and cons; especially sport.
Have you ever seen a tense cat? Or a pumped-up cat with big bulging biceps and tiny legs?
It isn't likely. Animals only get stiff when they're really old and about to die. Muscles work better when they aren't tense.
Humans become tense because they sit too much, exercise badly and exert unnecessarily.
Ideal form of exercise
According to the book The Blue Zones it is important to think of exercise in terms of what you can reasonably do long-term.
The ideal form of exercise is moderate enough that you can do it for the rest of your life. It needs to be joint-friendly, provide a gentle workout and be sustainable.
This sounds rather like tai chi, doesn't it?
Tai chi re-trains the body to move like it is supposed to move. Like an animal would. No tension, no impediments. Free, spontaneous, comfortable movement.
Sure, not all tai chi classes do this. Everyone has their own agenda. But trained correctly, tai chi was designed to restore the body to its natural, healthy state.
How well you do and how far you can rejuvenate your body is down to you. It is your responsibility. The more you put into the training the more you will get out of it.
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18 April 2005
Last updated 25 September 2018