Last week I began a series on longevity – the factors that have the biggest impact on our lifespan. I started with what I think is most important – living for now and loving life. If we don’t love life, why try to prolong it? Even if loving life and being present don’t cause us to live longer, they’ll make our quality of life better.
Before we continue, I want to remind us all that these practices can easily become devices that perpetuate a relentless drive to do more, have more, be more, and outrun death. While partaking in these practices, see if you can feel into the underlying energy that’s driving you. Try to approach them as ways to relish life and root more deeply in the present moment rather than treating them as the means to a certain outcome.
#2: Work, Stretch, and Relax All Parts of Yourself
As I see it, each of us is Consciousness itself, wearing and animating a body – not unlike the way we can wear and give “life” to a hand puppet. Imagine how the hand puppet would appear if you partly withdrew your hand from it and got distracted by something else. This is how many of us relate to our bodies. We’re half committed and half withdrawn. In contrast, imagine the experience of fully embodying that puppet/body. It’s making me feel kind of gross to talk about bodies as hand puppets, so let’s move on.
I invite you to explore just how fully your consciousness is living through this body. Have you claimed every cell of this incredible vehicle? Are you all in? 50% in? 25% in? I’m not saying I want you to identify as being a body. I’m asking, how does it feel and what’s possible if you fully enter and awaken this body?
On to practicalities. One thing long-lived people tend to do is move – a lot. Our bodies generally respond well to being worked on a regular basis. The relatively new concept of exercising hard in short, scheduled periods isn’t ideal, especially when we’re sedentary for the rest of our day. Don’t get me wrong – it’s much better than just being sedentary all the time. But even better is the moderate, ongoing work of an active day engaged in the kinds of things most people did to take care of a household in the pre-modern age. Throughout each day, we walked long distances, we squatted, we bent over, lifted, and carried heavy things. This is good for us.
Working our bodies moderately throughout each day generally presents less risk for injury than the combination of office work all week and heroic athletic feats on the weekend. However, when people exercise as a planned event, there’s often more consciousness in the act. We don’t always recognize that the manual tasks of everyday life constitute a workout, so we may fail to treat it as such by observing good form, staying hydrated, stretching before and after, etc. So, beyond staying active, I advise that you stay consciously active.
Ideally, I believe we should routinely work every part of ourselves, stretch every part of ourselves, and relax every part of ourselves. Often we don’t take the relaxation side of the equation seriously, sometimes mistaking disuse for relaxation. To be clear, sitting around all day is not the same as consciously relaxing. In fact, for most people long term sitting constitutes postural stress by overusing certain muscles and holding ourselves in a misaligned way.
The relaxation of all our parts can be facilitated through body work – by getting a massage or engaging in body-awareness work such as Feldenkrais – but ultimately it’s something we do ourselves by systematically bringing our attention to each and every part of our being and letting go of any tension. It’s a wonderful practice.
Finally, when I recommend working, stretching, and relaxing all part of ourselves, I mean not just the body but also the mind. The mind, too, responds well to being worked, stretched, and relaxed. Working the mind could mean doing math in your head instead of using a calculator, memorizing your grocery list, doing difficult puzzles, learning a language or musical instrument, etc. Examples of stretching your mind include challenging your beliefs, actively trying out different perspectives and traditions, leaving your comfort zone, being a humble and innocent student of life, and opening to the spiritual dimension. Relaxing your mind is, in a word, meditation – a deliberate fast from thinking.
Share with the community – how do you work, stretch, and relax all parts of yourself? What do you find most difficult to do? Also, if you missed the first article you can read it here.