ENLIGHTEN UP! a blog
Self-awareness stories: lighting our way to clarity, contentment and resilience in a complicated world.
ENLIGHTEN UP! a blog
Guest post by Denyse LeFever
Sometimes you need to pause to let everything sink in – Sebastian Vettal
As I was sipping my morning coffee a few weeks ago, scrolling through my email to delete the accumulation of overnight junk mail, I paused on Maria Shriver’s Sunday Paper email. It was the first day of Spring and she was reflecting on how to make each day in life more meaningful. To make a point, she wrote that a friend told her, based on averages, how many years she had left in this lifetime. I quickly did my own calculation and concluded that for me….assuming I keep my diabetes in check, I may have fourteen years left in this lifetime. Gulp! I can’t deny it any longer…I am a senior, an elder, a medicare recipient. For over a decade, I’ve been the age that a recent Atlantic article calls: The Invisiblity of Older Women.
My husband jokes with me that in my head, I am 40. This is a big improvement, because for decades I was 25. I think I moved up to 40 when I realized that I was becoming invisible. I no longer stood out as a young 20 or 30 something “gal” in a predominately white male career field. As I approached 45, I really liked this invisibility cloak. I didn’t have to worry about a lot of the things that were irritating when I was younger. Male customers no longer tried to “pick me up” at trade shows. (I usually needed someone else to point this out to me when this was happening as I was mostly oblivious). My “middle” age meant, I was unlikely to drop out of my job to have a baby. I was considered a promotable employee based on my work experience. (Yeah, I know, sometimes my promotions were strictly because a gender quota needed to be filled.)
I breezed through my late 30s and early 40s focused on the day to day. Then, at about the age, I am now. My Dad received confirmation of something he long feared. He was developing the same symptoms that his Dad had 20 years prior. He was losing his memories. He lived the last decade and a half of his life, feeling and watching an aggressive worm nibble away at his brain. He described this metaphorical worm in the last poem that he wrote entitled At the Nadir of My Night. My family, and my Mom especially, suffered deeply as we watched my Dad slip away. His death 12 years ago, was a blessing. He no longer suffered from the prison of forgetfulness. I thought about 14 years of life. Will I spend my final decade in a brain fog, just like Dad?
Just as I avoid confronting my chronological age, I also avoid acceptance of my genetic predisposition for diseases like Heart Disease, Diabetes and Alzheimer’s. In the final years of my Dad’s illness, I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes (which is considered a pre-cursor for both Heart Disease and Alzheimer’s). My job and life were full. I ignored early warning signs of pending Diabetes. In my 30s, I recall my family doctor telling me – “Your pace and style of life are not healthy. Now is the time to think about the quality of your life, not the quantity.” When I hit my 40s, full of energy, with no symptoms of diabetes or heart disease, I felt like I was in the clear. I ignored the higher blood pressure readings and weight gain.
Depression over my Dad’s illness, the increasing “invisibility” I was feeling in my work life and my type 2 diabetes diagnosis caused me to dive deeply into yoga. I focused first on reducing my sense of stress in life. My lifestyle habits and thinking patterns began to change. My yoga diversion also allowed me to place my mind and actions toward learning and healing rather than worry and depression.
When I became a yoga teacher, I designed my classes for “senior” populations and/or those with chronic conditions. Although I was a member of both demographics, I didn’t see myself that way. One of my “senior” students told me she preferred the term “perennial” to senior. “Senior means you graduate from something. Perennial means you come back to bloom year after year.”
I liked her thought. If I was a perennial, would I still be an invisible “older” woman? I didn’t care. Yoga teaches us to challenge our perceptions. Sometimes our thoughts and words can take us away from our “True Self.” My True Self will continue to bloom whether it’s visible or not. Using my yoga mindset and learning from my student, I decided I am a perennial.
Some days are easier than others to be a perennial. When I read the Maria Shriver article, I wondered if I could be a perennial for the next 14 years. During the pandemic, I’ve been more aware of “senior moments” as I try to recall a story or fact when I communicate with others. I’ve been mediating daily during this crazy pandemic year. Meditation teaches us to focus on the pauses between thoughts. I took another sip of coffee. Then, it hit me. “I wasn’t having ‘senior moments.’ I was having inspirational pauses.”
Over the next 14 years, assuming I am blessed with this longevity, I’ve decided this Invisible Woman will focus on being a perennial and enjoy the many inspirational pauses in between!
Best wishes for a Happy Spring. Enjoy each day!
Denyse first discovered Yoga as a teen to alleviate stress and anxiety associated with taking standardized tests. She found both the gentle Hatha based practice and meditation to be helpful in easing her into adulthood. As she embarked on her over 30-year career in global business, she periodically returned to Yoga to maintain a sense of balance.
Approaching her senior years, and after a diagnosis of Type 2 Diabetes, Denyse decided to take her casual interest in Yoga to a more professional in-depth study with a focus on yoga’s wellness benefits. Denyse is a certified Yoga Therapist and holds a certificate for 1000 Hours of Comprehensive Yoga Therapy Teacher Training.
In 2020, Denyse took her yoga teaching on-line and has been teaching chair yoga, restorative yoga and Yoga Nidra classes on Zoom to a global community across the US and Europe. Check her out at: www.lavenderomwellness.com
BETH GIBBS started her yoga practice in 1968, four months after her son was born and she’s been practicing ever since. She currently teaches all levels therapeutic yoga classes for adults, and specialty classes for seniors in the Hartford, Connecticut area. Beth is a certified yoga therapist through the International Association of Yoga Therapists and is guest faculty at the Kripalu School of Integrative Yoga Therapy. She writes for the blogs, Yoga for Healthy Aging, and Accessible Yoga. Her master’s degree from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA is in Yoga Therapy and Mind/Body Health.