Feeling good versus feeling young

A friend of mine posted to her Facebook page recently criticizing a whole category of ageist comments along the lines of “You’re only as old as you feel.”

It caught my interest in particular because I’d been mentally composing a post about how I just turned 58, but I’m not suffering the aches and pains that supposedly go along with getting old. My friend’s post reminded me that referring to this as “feeling young” is problematic. And yet, I find that I come down on the other side of this issue. Sure, there is a certain irrefutable accuracy to say that your age is the current year minus your birth year, but age is many things besides a mathematical calculation—at a minimum it’s a social construction, and also perhaps a collection of biological circumstances.

It’s true that what I mean—and what perhaps I should say—is I feel good. Better, in fact, than I’ve felt in years. I’m stronger, more flexible, and more agile than I’ve been in longer than I can remember. I move with more ease, more power, and more control. I have more endurance. I’m certainly more comfortable in my own skin.

A lot of this is just good luck, of course—good genes, avoiding serious injuries and serious illnesses so far.

Beyond good luck I credit my movement practice for most of the rest. Taiji. Walking and hiking. Running (merely an adjunct, but one I enjoy in particular). After years of lifting with machines to little noticeable effect I now do almost all my strength training with bodyweight exercises and am having much more success. (The main exception to pure bodyweight exercise is doing kettlebell swings for my high-intensity interval training, which I ought to write about because it seems to be doing some good, and is also quick and fun.) Push hands I wrote about recently. Animal movement ditto. So new I haven’t had a chance to write much about it yet, I did yoga for the first time last week.

But to bring this back full circle, I’m not so sure that it’s wrong to talk about “feeling young.” My friend is right—growing old is a privilege not everyone enjoys. It is indeed better than the alternative: dying young. But just as I can see her objections to denying age (as if refusing to acknowledge it meant something), I object to denying one’s felt experience. If someone says that they “feel young,” does an appeal to mere arithmetic justify correcting them?

Certainly I am not the only person to feel this way. There are always people trying to express health and fitness in terms of age. There are websites that will suggest a guess as to your physiological age vaguely based on your weight and your activity level. Various practitioners of various disciplines will measure specific things ranging from your maximum heart rate to the length of your telomeres and use the results to calculate a biological age.

They’re all pretty dubious, but I find that I do not object in principle to thinking and talking about concepts like health, fitness, and vitality in terms of age. Even though there are many unhealthy young people and many old people who are fit and vital, I think the notion resonates in a useful way.

As for me, I feel good. I also feel younger than I’ve felt in years.

Expanding my movement practice: Animal movements

My most recent addition to my movement practice, just started, is animal movements.

These are basically just ground exercises where the shapes are inspired by animal movements: Bear and Crab crawls, Ape and Duck walks, transitions from one to another.

Playing on a fallen log at the Nature Playscape at Homer Lake

My hope is that doing them will help me connect some of my mobility practice with movement (as opposed to static stretches). My hip mobility and my toe and ankle dorsiflection are limited enough that I can’t do certain things that I’d like to do—in particular a deep squat, but also a particular kneeling-to-standing transition. Probably other things I can’t think of at the moment.

For three years I’ve been working on these aspects of flexibility/mobility and I’m making progress, but I’m not there yet. I’m not sure what it will take to get there, but one possibility that comes to mind is that I haven’t tried to connect these things with other movements. I’ve done isolated stretches, and I’ve done assisted/bolstered versions of the movements, but I haven’t tried to use the movements as part of a sequence of other movements. Very possibly my difficulty is not merely my muscles being “too tight,” but rather springs from a the lack of a proper mind-body connection linking these moves and other moves I do.

My hope is that the animal forms, by giving me an opportunity to pass through these postures (rather than merely trying to hold them as static stretches) may help make the mind-body connection in a way that lets me relax into the postures quicker than just more stretching would do.

In any case, I’ve been meaning for a long time to increase the amount of ground exercises I do and not getting around to it, and animal movements—by giving me a framework for that—have finally gotten me started.

I don’t think I’m going to stick with the animal forms for long. There are plenty of natural human ground movements which are largely similar, but some of the animal forms modify them to justify the name, and although that can be fun, my own affinity is always going to be for natural human movement.

Still, tolerating the silliness can lead to impressive results in terms of power and control. Check out for example, this video of movement guru Mike Fitch demonstrating what an animal movement practice he calls Animal Flow looks like:

Once I’ve established the habit I’ll look to transition away from animal forms and just do combos of human-style crawling, rolling, sitting, squatting, kneeling—and the transitions between them.