Tag Archives: longevity


Today is Thanksgiving Day here in the United States of America. It is a day when we remind ourselves of all the things we can be grateful for. As many of you know, my Mother passed away last month. She was 86 years old and married to my Father for 66 years. I am grateful to have been brought into this world by such a wonderful person. I am also grateful for the opportunity of staying with my Father, in the home in which I grew up, for much of the time since her passing. I know he is grateful for the 66 years of married life and is missing his life-long companion more than words can tell. For all of you who have lost loved ones, my hope is that, as you progress through these life transitions, you can feel and express your gratefulness for everything they brought into your lives.

At 2Young2Retire, gratefulness abounds. In addition to being grateful for all our family and friends we are grateful for the opportunity to serve those experiencing life’s transitions. I am also grateful for the kind thoughts, cards, and emails coming my way over the past few weeks and look forward to continuing our interactions. Happy Thanksgiving!

Paul G. Ward

Happy Thanksgiving and The Cure

I always knew The Cure as an English rock band originally formed close to my home town in Southern England but now I have learned “The cure is …” a transformational movie not only for those of us too young to retire® but for all ages. This transformational film experience is about how every human body is brilliantly designed for vitality and longevity. It provides inspiration on many levels and many of the important aspects of positive aging such as health, nutrition, and spirituality. Even Napoleon Hill, author of the best-selling book, Think and Grow Rich, makes an appearance reminding us of the natural law he describes as: “What the mind can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve.”

Another reminder in the movie and the three accompanying shorts is about the importance of love. In the season of gratitude, love yourself and everyone. Start by sending love your own way today.

So in addition to wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving, I encourage you to find out what the cure is… Cut and paste this link into your browser: http://thecureismovie.com/?page_id=395/#!/deployment_code=16589227mdswr1

Paul G Ward, Principal, 2Young2Retire

It’s Not That Easy Being Gray

(After It’s Not Easy Being Green, The Muppets)

It’s not that easy being gray,
hair the color of Spanish moss
hanging from the banyans,
absent the silky shine of children,
photographers’ models,
impeccably groomed socialites

It’s not that easy being gray,
hair the texture of wire
springing away from the scalp,
shocked at its own existence,
like it has lost its way
and doesn’t know where to roam.

Gray is hormone-sapped split ends,
dread-locks framing a lived-in face.
People tend to pass you over
‘cause you remind them
of things they would rather forget.

But gray’s the color of clouds before rain,
and gray can feel cool and friendly, like
a ball bearing that broke loose and rolled
free, far from home.  And gray’s what you get
if you’re lucky enough to live that long, and I think
gray is what I want to be.

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!

The Changing Brain: A Review of Two Books about Neuroplasticity

by Susan Cooper, Windbridge Member and Community Advisor

All sorts of fantastic, remarkable, and hopeful brain adaptabilities were being explored by some inquisitive folks more than 400 years ago!  We can thank Descartes once again for slowing the scientific acceptance of reality.  It turns out that only recently have we returned to this subject and we now know that our “immaterial” thoughts do indeed have an impact on brain structure just as mind/body relationships impact so much of our lives.

Two books are competing for my “favorite” read about neuroplasticity at the moment:

The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science by Norman Doidge, MD (http://tinyurl.com/y9l6rrn)

Train Your Mind Change Your Brain: How a New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary Potential to Transform Ourselves by Sharon Begley (with a forward by the Dalai Lama and a preface by Daniel Goleman) (http://tinyurl.com/y88esqt)

The Doidge book is/was a New York Times Bestseller and Doidge was featured on PBS’s The Brain Fitness Program.  He is a psychiatrist and researcher on the faculty at the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research.  Begley is a science writer for Newsweek magazine, and her book reports on how cutting-edge science and the ancient wisdom of Buddhism have come together to reveal that we have the power to physically change our brains by changing our minds and behaviors.

The old Cartesian distinction between the mind and the brain (matter)—and the resulting idea in mainstream medicine and science that brain anatomy was fixed—is falling apart as the “power of positive thinking” gains scientific credibility.  Because the belief was that the brain could not change, Doidge claims that “human nature, which emerges from it, seemed necessarily fixed and unalterable as well.”  Now, however, a new array of possibilities for human adaptability is emerging.

Doidge reports the scientific discoveries in fascinating story after story of scientists, doctors, and patients who, without operations or medications, have made use of the brain’s ability to change.  Over the years, he has met many brain scientists working at the cutting edge who have shown that the physical structure of the brain changes with the activities and thoughts it performs… if one part fails, then other parts take over.  One scientist enabled a person blind from birth to see; another showed that thinking, learning, and acting can turn our genes on or off; and another was helping people who had had strokes years before and had been told they would never recover to change that diagnosis.  And get this: If you exercise to increase muscular strength 5 days a week for 4 weeks (doing fifteen maximal contractions, with a twenty-second rest between each) you will increase strength by 30%, but if you only imagine doing this—for the same periods—you will increase strength by 22%!  Imagination is funny, indeed!

Begley’s book reads like a detective novel.  It is the tenth book in a continuing series reporting on the dialogues arranged by the Mind and Life Institute (see http://www.mindandlife.org/).  Here, she reports on collaborations between neuroscientists, psychologists, philosophers, the Dalai Lama, and contemplatives (monks who have meditated for up to 55,000 hours in their life-times!!).  It speaks loudly and clearly to potential:  We have inner powers and we are in control of them!

The Dalai Lama, in his forward to this book, says, “I am grateful… to Sharon Begley for her artful work presenting this material accurately and attractively.  I am optimistic that the exciting discoveries related here have great potential to contribute positively to the betterment of humanity and the way we may develop our future.”  I, too, especially as I age, am grateful to Sharon Begley for this book about a hopeful new science that will allow me to stay young—at least mentally.

It was in 1986 that the first Mind and Life Conference took place in Dharamsala and was attended by people who encouraged initial dialogues between Buddhism and modern science.  It would appear that although these fields arose out of different historical, cultural, and intellectual backgrounds, they have an amazing amount in common.  Based on the teachings of the meditation adepts, the Dalai Lama wanted to know, from the scientists, if the mind could really change the brain.  Buddhism tells us that that any ‘fixed constraints’ can be overcome—through the right training.  The Dalai Lama was ready to “change Buddhism” if the scientists could disprove these beliefs.

William James, in 1890, said “organic matter, especially nervous tissue, seems endowed with a very extraordinary degree of plasticity.”  But his opinion didn’t count—he was not a neurologist.  In 1913, Ramon y Cajal, a Nobel Prize winning Spanish neuroanatomist, made it clear to his audience that “in the adult centers the nerve paths are something fixed, ended and immutable.” And this was the statement that scientists chose to believe for the next 90 years: the adult brain is hardwired, fixed in form and function, we are stuck with the hand we were dealt….no new neurons and no new functions…period.  As late as 1999, the journal Science reported that the current teaching was that neurons could not be replaced and neuronal networks (after injury, with aging, or in disease) could not be reestablished.  That is, the basic layout of the brain (as diagramed in anatomy textbooks) could not be changed.

But, now, we know otherwise.  Rehabilitation for adults who suffer brain damage from a stroke works!  Psychiatric diseases such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and depression can be cured.  And, although the adult brain is not as plastic as a child’s, it is much more adaptable than was ever thought.  In the last few years of the 20th century, discovery after discovery proved that brains have stunning powers of neuroplasticity.  They can be rewired simply through the actions we take, our thoughts and behaviors, and in the experiences we have in the outside world.  The size of different regions and the strength of connections can all change based on the actions we have take, the lives we lead, and the thoughts we think.

Ancient Buddhist training emphasizes the value of investigating reality and finding the truth of the outside world as well as the contents of one’s own mind.  Its teachings define a person as a constantly changing dynamic stream and this follows closely what has now been learned about neuroplasticity.  The idea that we are constantly changing means there is no intrinsic nature to the self or the mind.  We may be products of the past, but we always have had the opportunity to reshape ourselves.  And at long last, the scientists agree.

Read these books—both of them.  They will convince you that you possess the ability to do what you choose to do; it may take time and some effort, but you CAN do it!  We can train ourselves to be kinder, to pay more attention, to exhibit more compassion, and to be less defensive, self-centered, aggressive, and warring.  Now wouldn’t that be something!?!

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.

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.