The “Myth of Aging”

In the introduction to “Somatics: Reawakening the Mind’s Control of Movement”, Thomas Hanna begins by telling the Riddle of the Sphinx: “What is it that has one voice and yet becomes four-footed, and two-footed, and three-footed?” The answer is the human being. Why is that? Why do most of us assume that as we get older, we deteriorate and wither away? We peak in our twenties, then it’s downhill from there. If that is true, why are we the only animals on Earth that should expect this to happen? All other animals hunt, move, do their things until the day they die. They continue to stay healthy and strong their entire lives. Why wouldn’t we?

In childhood, most of us are taught to sit still in a classroom at a desk, stop wiggling. We may be involved in a gym class, or other school sports, but most of us stop doing those activities once we get out of our teens into our twenties. We settle down, get jobs, settle into life. This settling into life, for many of us, becomes easy, we become complacent, happy with daily routines. We stop challenging ourselves, learning new tasks. We’ve learned most of what we need to know, why keep learning? We establish habits in our bodies that enable us to complete our daily routines- at work, with families, when we have relax time. Our brains enjoy routine, but thrive on change and being challenged to adapt to change.

When we become complacent in routine and make the decision to stop challenging ourselves with new activity, we may start to feel stuck in certain areas. Because our brains enjoy routine, that part of the brain that learns puts the routine tasks in our unconscious, we no longer need to think about these habitual tasks once we’ve learned them. Many of these habits are great, and necessary, for everyday life. The patterns we have that cause pain, however, are put in the same place that the helpful habits are stored, in our unconscious. These habits, both helpful and unhelpful, form a pattern within the central nervous system, allowing the body to perform tasks with ease without having to relearn a task all over again. When these habits become unhealthy, this is called Sensory Motor Amnesia. Sensory-Motor Amnesia (SMA) can can occur at any age, but usually begins in our 30s and 40s. This is when people begin to say “oh I’m just getting old”, and doctors say the same thing, possibly adding “it’s probably arthritis”. It’s dismissive, it’s an easy excuse to brush off what we don’t understand, or don’t know how to fix or even address.

Using the principles of Somatic Education, we can directly address SMA, learning to correct, reverse, and prevent those creaks and aches associated with “just getting old”. Because SMA can occur at any age, there are 20 year olds with the aches and pains of a 70 year old, and there are 70 year olds able to run and swim and ride bikes with little or no pain. What is the difference between those healthy active 70 year olds and their piers who are using walkers and canes? Obviously, the adage “use or lose it” applies. Not only with using muscles, challenging the brain as well will keep us active and able bodied. And challenging the brain to muscle connection helps even more.

So, going back to the Riddle of the Sphinx, why have we, as a society, for so long given in to this idea that as we age we deteriorate? That’s the big riddle. Sophocles himself (who wrote the Riddle of the Sphinx) was writing plays at 90 years of age. This “Myth of Aging” can be broken, by constantly challenging ourselves in even the smallest of ways. Getting older is inevitable, we grow with time. But instead of dismissing our habits as “just getting older”, we can hope to replace it with “just gaining experience”.