Category Archives: Life Long Learning

Daring to seek new opportunities

Entrepreneur and fitness expert, Betty Perkins-Carpenter, 85, has met life’s challenges with dedication, tenacity and persistence, which are hallmarks of conscious leaders. Here, she shares three tips to help others dare to seek new opportunities.

#1 Make a new beginning
At 72, I decided to go back to school and get my Ph.D. to continue my life’s work researching balance as part of my Senior Fitness business. In addition to research, my experience working with babies, preschoolers, elite Olympic athletes and seniors, on land and in water, led me to develop the Six-Step Balance SystemTM.

#2 Take chances and have fun
I started teaching swimming lessons in my backyard pool, which was risky. My business grew from taking chances and having fun. After 55 years in business, I still love getting up in the morning and helping people lead happier, healthier and active lives.

#3 Nothing is impossible
My veterans post commander gave me nearly 300 photos of soldiers taken at the beginning of the Korean War. I wanted to find these veterans and give photos to them or their families. In sharing my story, I found people willing to help. Because of their dedication and hard work, we created the Snapshots from the Korean War Project. Photos can be viewed at koreanwar.democratandchronicle.com.

Posted on behalf of Betty Perkins-Carpenter
by
Paul G. Ward
President, 2Young2Retire, LLC

Reading Jabberwocky to the Blind

“Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.”  The Dalai Lama.

What I’ve been wanting lately is to teach more yoga classes.   For a variety of reasons, this isn’t happening, but having some extra time on my hands has given me the space to think about other passions, e.g. the reading of poetry out loud.  I have been reading poems at the conclusion of my classes since I began teaching yoga in 1998, and I know some of the poems I’ve chosen, e.g. Mary Oliver’s The Journey, resonate with students so much, I get requests for copies.  I write poetry, too, almost as much today as I did when I took Larry Raab’s poetry workshop at the Breadloaf School of English in Vermont.   Writing poetry is a private affair.  Reading poetry — mine or others — out loud is an act of communion.

Last week, a new door opened and I walked through it with no idea where it may lead.   A friend and fellow yogi who teaches a pro bono class to blind students was casting around for something new to offer them.  I found myself agreeing to read poetry to them the following week on a see-how-it-goes basis.

The class ranges in age from mid-twenties to 60-something, two men, five women.  Two are suffering from macular degeneration and are partially sighted.  All of them seemed eager to experience something and someone new.   After the introductions — I walked around where they were seated and clasped their hands as we exchanged names — I asked them about first poems.  The older among them all recalled having to memorize and recite in class.  They thought it made children dread poetry.  The younger immediately spoke about having Dr. Seuss read to them as children.  A happier memory.

They were eager for me to begin reading so I started off with some light verse from Dr. Seuss:  Do you like green eggs and ham?  I started.  I do not like them, Sam-I-am,  they chorused back.  Wow!  Next, Edward Lear’s The Owl and the Pussy Cat, followed by Jabberwocky (smiles).  Some e e cummings, Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken (a sigh or two).  Billy Collins’ Dharma — ‘Oh, yes!’  ‘My dog is named that.’  We talked a little about how poems make us feel. ‘Funny inside.’  ‘Emotional.’  ‘Light.’  Next, Walt Whitman’s I Hear America Singing, then A Pot of Red Lentils by Peter Pereira (Please read that again! )  Â Finally, Pablo Neruda’s Ode to My Socks.  ‘Mmm-hmm!’  Applause.

Our class was almost over.  I asked: How would you like to write a poem next time?   (Next time?)  Richard already writes poetry, a woman sitting next to him said.  A brief pause, for Richard to collect himself.  Then, he launched into a recitation of two originals, topped with a third, composed in the moment.   Not just good.  ‘Twas brillig.

The Poetry Foundation

The Writers Almanac Comes to your inbox daily.  Garrison Keillor’s reading of the featured poem is a great way to start the day.

The Poem Hunter

Chair Yoga: Seated Postures for Everybody

When Michelle Obama does yoga as part of her recent President’s Council on Fitness initiative, you know yoga has gone mainstream.  In the 15 years I’ve been a practitioner (including the last 12 as a Kripalu Yoga-certified instructor), I’ve seen yoga grow from the culture of the ashram, dependent on the guru-disciple relationship, to a billion dollar industry of conferences, workshops, star yogis, fashion clothing, DVDs, books and the like.  Pick up a copy of Yoga Journal and the cover will likely feature a well-toned yogi in spandex performing one of the more difficult postures.  I love YJ for the useful articles and professional advice I usually find there, but I wonder how many people get turned off by those daunting covers.

“I can’t do yoga; I’m too inflexible.”  If I had a dime for everyone who says this when they discover what I do…  The reality is, people who sit in chairs most of the time (and that’s nearly everyone in the West) are likely to be inflexible, and not just in the body.  My Burmese grandmother grew up sitting on the floor, with her legs crossed yogi-style or hunkered down, with her arms wrapped around her knees.  In her eighties, she had the body of a much younger person, was up with the dawn to meditate, and active all day long.  She didn’t do frailty.

The sedentary lifestyle of our desk-bound, television-addicted population reinforces more of the same behaviors.  So the very idea of getting down on a yoga mat starts to sound more and more impossible.   But yoga has been evolving in other ways that open up its tangible benefits to more of the population, particularly older people who want to maintain good health, preserve their independence, and forestall the so-called diseases of aging.  It is no accident that some of the greatest yogi masters are robust well into their 80’s and beyond.

Last weekend, I became certified in Chair Yoga, a form that adapts many classic yoga postures to the seated position and makes the benefits of yoga available to a much larger population including older adults.  Chair Yoga, as developed by Lakshmi Voelker who has devoted most of her life and career to yoga, delivers the benefits of yoga, including flexibility, strength, improved circulation, and mental focus, to anyone able to sit in a chair, including those in wheelchairs.  In her three and a half day workshop at Discovery Yoga in St. Augustine, Florida, 23 eager students — yoga instructors, physical therapists, Reiki masters and others — learned seated variations of postures like Mountain (Tadasana), Half Moon (Ardha Chandrasana), Tree (Vrkshana) and the Warriors at varying levels of challenge.   We learned how to add 1- and 2-lb. weights to increase the fitness challenge.  And we experimented with double chair and partner-assisted postures.  We were encouraged to replace some or all of our personal practice with chair yoga to improve our skills as instructors.  The biggest surprise was not how well these postures could be adapted for the chair, but how physically challenging they are, even for the young and fit.

Even if you have a yoga practice and/or other fitness routine, there are times when mat practice is not feasible.  You can practice chair yoga at your desk at home or work, on the train/plane/bus or in a car (not while driving!)  If you are recovering from an illness or injury, chair yoga can help you resume your normal fitness activities sooner.  You can even do chair yoga while you’re watching television.  Don’t just sit there!

Rewiring the Brain Through Creativity

Neuroplasticity.  Until the late Dr. Gene D. Cohen mentioned it in his keynote speech at the First Positive Aging Conference at Eckerd College, I had never heard of the term.  It describes the brain’s ability to regenerate and rewire itself throughout the lifespan — a pretty radical idea not too long ago.  You’re going to be hearing a lot more about this as more people come into their 60s and take stock of the years still left to them.  Recommended reading: Dr. Cohen’s ground-breaking book, The Creative Age: Awakening Human Potential in the Second Half of Life. The cover photographs of older people, kayaking, swimming, dancing, and making art hint at creativity as “the secret to living with one’s entire being.”

Most of us already know how important it is to be physically active throughout life.  But the connection between a lower BMI (body mass index) and brain function is less well understood.  Here’s a  link to the Franklin Institute’s excellent research on this subject.  Gene Cohen was perhaps the first, however, to suggest that creativity also had an important role to play in staying mentally fit as we age.

As challenging as it can be to change sedentary habits, awakening our innate creativity through some form of artistic expression requires even more will power.  As JFK once commented in another context, we have become ‘a nation of spectators’ as opposed to the poets, writers, painters, potters, photographers, dancers, singers, or musicians we might yet become.   Dr. Cohen called this late blooming the Encore Phase of life, a “phenomenon [that] taps the inner pressure that many feel to do or say something before it’s too late.  Not to overlook the obvious, the phrase applies strongly to the field of music, reminding us of how many noted musical achievements have come late or at the end of a musician’s or composer’s career or life cycle — like the late works of Verdi, Liszt, and Stravinsky.”

One way to get started is to take inspiration of your favorite elder artist.  Matisse?  Martha Graham?  Tony Bennet?   One in my personal hall of fame is poet laureate, Stanley Kunitz.   Some years ago, I had the privilege of hearing him give a reading at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival.  He was in his late nineties then (he died in 2006 at age 100), and looked physically frail.  But when he read the lyrical, Touch Me, his voice was strong and one felt a sense of an artist come into his finest hour.  I have written very little poetry since I left graduate school, but I’ve found my way back to it.  Perhaps for T.S. Eliot, April was ‘the cruelest month.’  But for me it’s National Poetry Month.  I’m juicing up those neurons, one verse at a time.

More on neuroplasticity

The Decade of the Brain

The Deadly Comfort Zone

Singer and songwriter, Paul Simon has a line in his wonderful poem set to music, American Tune, that has always resonated with me. “For we’ve lived so well, so long…” it goes, and later in another verse, he cautions, “…you can’t be forever blessed.”  We have been blessed here,  in the safe, secure, wealthy nations of the developed world.  And as we grow older, it seems that we have also been lulled to sleep, cradled in our comfort zones, dead to the world.

What happened to our thirst to learn and discover new things we had as children?   Think about your grandchildren in their first year, taking those tentative steps, wanting to touch, taste, smell everything.  We were all like that once.  Then, gradually, without our noticing, we started craving something else — safety, security, the known world — even to the point of shrinking our aspirations to fit into what was comfortable, predictable, easy.  In the process, we have sacrificed resilience and resourcefulness, the ability to adapt to changing circumstances upon which our survival as a species depended.  We gave up, and opted for ‘assisted living’ long before our time (if there is ever a time).

Even if you recognize some part of yourself here, the situation is reversible.  True, the bell tolls for us all.  But in the meantime, what is there to stop us from making the most of the ‘life we are given‘ to borrow from a title of a wonderful book by George Leonard and Michael Murphy, pioneers of the human potential movement and founders of Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California.

Published in 1995, this workbook for Leonard and Murphy’s Intergral Transformative Practice, remains a prototype, indeed a classic, of the self-help genre.  It weaves together proven practices: exercise, diet, daily affirmations, and community, into a program that is both rigorous and enjoyable.  (ITP groups continue to form today).  Here’s a quote from novelist, James Agee, that sets the book’s tone: “I believe that every human being is potentially capable, within his ‘limits,’ of fully ‘realizing’ his potentialities; that … his being cheated and choked of it, is infinitely the ghastliest, commonest, and most inclusive of all the crimes of which the human world can accuse itself.”

Is waking up hard to do?  Perhaps.  But clinging to the deadly comfort zone is a far worse choice.  Conclude Leonard and Murphy: “We believe that by the very nature of things, each of us carries a spark of divinity in every cell and that we have the potential to manifest powers of body, mind, heart, and soul beyond our present ability to imagine. We believe that a society could find no better primary intention, no more appropriate compass course for its programs and policies, than the realization of every citizen’s positive potential.”  Amen.  And go for it!

More information:

Excerpt from The Life We Are Given
Integral Transformative Practice Workshops
Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California

World Cafe – a conversational process for breakthrough thinking.

Institute of Noetic Sciences


Go Online, Get Happy and Healthy!

A report just released by the PHOENIX CENTER POLICY PAPER SERIES indicates that Internet usage can significantly reduce depression among older adults.  Of course, since I’m writing this and you’re reading it, we are in the minority of older adults who are already online (42% of people over 65).  Chances are you, like me, regularly use the Internet to manage your money and health, keep up with the news, shop and share stuff.   You may also have joined one of the many social networks and now have a host of online friends.  You stay in touch with distant family and friends, sending photos and your favorite You Tube videos.  For me, all of this now seems as natural as breathing and I have to remind myself how relatively new the marvelous Internet is.  But I didn’t know that I was also keeping myself — and the economy — healthy by doing all these things until I came across this report.

Here are some interesting facts about depression and the older population:

  • latelife depression affects about six million Americans age 65 and older
  • depression is estimated to cost the United States about $100 billion
  • included in this figure is direct medical cost (31%) and latelife suicide (7%)

Here’s an excerpt of the the abstract:

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 directs over $7 billion to expand broadband Internet availability and adoption in the United States. One target of such funding is the elderly population, a group of Americans for which broadband adoption is relatively low. An interesting question is what benefits do such efforts
afford? We employ a dataset of over 7,000 elderly retired persons to evaluate the role of Internet use on mental well-being…using the eight-point depression scale developed by the Center for Epidemiologic Studies (CES-D)…All procedures indicate a positive contribution of Internet use to mental well-being of elderly Americans, and estimates indicate that Internet use leads to about a 20% reduction in depression classification.

On the chance that Pseudo-R2 Analysis of Matching Algorithms are your thing, the full report is available in a pdf file,  see link in opening line.

In the meantime, do your patriotic duty.  Surf on!  And invite the Internet holdouts among your buddies to jump in.  The water’s fine.

Eat Before You See Julie and Julia

The last time a movie made me so hungry was when four of us went to see Eat Drink Man Woman in New York City and arrived so late, we had to take seats in the first row.  Fortunately, this was on the Upper West where relief for a rumbling stomach was available on about every corner.  Julie and Julia is about food and people who love it and the people who love them, and if you don’t salivate when Julie produces bruchetta (which I didn’t realize was in Mastering the Art of French Cooking), check your pulse.  And then there’s the scene with the Sole Meuniere.

I took away two things from this wonderful film.  First, I remembered in embarrassing detail how inept I was in the kitchen as a new bride of 23, literally could not figure out which side of a chicken went up in the roasting pan, or how long one could keep leftover stuffed pepper (don’t even ask).  It didn’t help that my then mother-in-law was a graduate of an illustrious French cooking school.  But then, Salvation!  Julia Child and the PBS show, The French Chef.  It saved my life, if not my marriage.  I lived to cook again.

Specialty chef was on my short list of possible Encore careers as I wound down my 11-year freelance writing business at age 56.  It never occurred to me that I should slow down or quit work.  I wanted to make the world a better place through healthy food.  The was pre-Vocation Vacations, so I took myself into Annemarie Colbin‘s The Natural Gourmet in New York for a three-day course to see if I could cut it, and I do mean that literally.  The scene in which Julia masters knife skills on several pounds of onions comes to mind.  At the end of the course, I acquired two recipes at The Natural Gourmet that I make to this day: a wonderful pea soup (flavored with curry and brunoise — very small dice of carrots, onions and celery) and a no-butter, no-sugar ‘healthy’ cookie with an almond and whole wheat flour dough.  I know, it sounds disgusting.  But sadly, I couldn’t master knife skills well enough to be happy as a professional chef, although I’ve improved with practice.  Fortunately, I also loved yoga and movement … but that’s another story for another post, because…

Second, the film is also about blogging and how satisfying it can be, even if you don’t have a dynamite idea like the Julie/Julia Project and no aspirations to become a star blogger.  I’ve been more slacker than blogger here, but I’m changing my ways.  After all, where else can you write about whatever is on your mind?   (Yeah, OK, there’s Facebook.)  It’s a weblog.  Not Tolstoy.

Click Here for Expert Advice and Instructions

There used to be a special category of collective wisdom called “common sense,” something that was usually hard-earned and came with a degree of maturity.  But that was when the world was far less complicated than it is now, before the 24/7 news cycle, before the personal computer, the Internet, and certainly long before the iPhone which can behave like one (the PC) and bring the other (the Internet) right into the palm of your hand.  I’m not nostalgic for those times by any means, but today we run the risk of information overload and the procrastination — perhaps even paralysis — that comes with it, while we sort through what is useful and valuable to us and what we can just as well do without.

That said, there is something truly seductive about a group of websites that offer advice, instructions and tips on everything from how to survive a bear attack, to how to kiss like Angelina Jolie, to the more mundane realm that includes how to create a living will or fix a dripping faucet.  Ehow and About.com have been in the how-to game for some time and more recently appeared SoYouWanna.  But for those who prefer instructions in graphic form as opposed to words, there is Howcast, a massive collection of videos that show rather than tell.

Info-lust, the cachet of knowing ‘how-to’ isn’t going away anytime soon.  But no one can tell us ‘why-to’ except our own common sense.

How Might I/We?

Sounds like a question, but actually it’s much more. These three little words suggest that there is always an answer even if it is not immediately apparent. In fact, how-might-I/we? encourages us to dig a little deeper and get beneath our preconceived notions and cultural conditioning. It’s a radical, mind-opening approach that costs nothing and can lead to big breakthroughs.

We first encountered this model at a day long session at IDEO, a Palo Alto design firm and innovation generator, courtesy of the Purpose Prize summit. Here’s a quote from IDEO’s thinking on community that gives you an idea of what they are about: We believe that the power of community is stronger than that of a single individual, organization, or brand. Beyond the physical, cognitive and emotional factors of design, we foremost consider the social factors, asking questions and evaluating answers: How might the user’s relationships influence or motivate behaviors? How might an experience be shared with others? What is the meaning of belonging, and of identity? What drives the feeling of membership or loyalty to a bigger cause or group?

A good place to apply the how-might-I/we question is to the time of life still (despite all the evidence to the contrary) known as retirement. Let’s assume, for the sake of discussion, that you won’t be following the beaten path of your parents’ generation into the ‘role-less role’ they took for granted. Lots of reasons why your future will follow a different model, and not having sufficient funds is just one of them. If you’ve been paying even casual attention to the longevity revolution, you sense that something big has changed.

Recently, we were at a retreat at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. Sitting around a picnic table were eight individuals ages mid-40 and up. Seven of us had parents in their late 80s or 90s; one had an 86 year old mother who kept a busy volunteer schedule in her community and had no intention of slowing down. Clearly, this woman wasn’t settling for any so called age-appropriate role.

Between midlife and truly old age (whatever that is) is a phase most life-cycle experts haven’t given as much attention to as they might (and will). So if you often feel that you are up a creek, one paddle short, you are not alone. You’ll be better off imagining what you want out of the next 20 or more years. Set yourself free from preconceived notions of what you ‘should’ be doing, and be guided by the possibilities of discovering something you really love, whether for a paycheck or the fulfillment of giving back in some way. Innovate. Use IDEO’s How might we/I question when you have an important decision to make. You may be pleasantly surprised at how you answer.

Second Annual Positive Aging Conference

Here’s some very good news. Positive aging — a discipline that focuses on mature creativity, adult development, lifelong learning, and the opportunities available to older people — is fast becoming a movement, with its own conferences, speakers, books, and experts. Last year, the first Positive Aging Conference was held at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, FL, and drew over 200 professionals in the field of aging. This year, we got word from author Richard Leider (his Something to Live For: Finding Your Way in the Second Half of Life is just out), one of the conference organizers and speakers, that the second annual Positive Aging Conference will welcome both professionals and members of the public.

You might want to take advantage of ithis important shift if you live in or near Minneapolis where the conference is being held, November 12, at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality and Healing. For those of you not in the area, check with the organizers about simulcasts that will be taking place around the country at various host sites. For information about a simulcast in South Florida, contact me: marika@2young2retire.com and/or watch this space for more information as plans firm up.