Cromey Online

The writings of author, therapist, and priest Robert Warren Cromey.

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Location: San Francisco, California, United States

Monday, May 07, 2007

Health for Aging

My friend the doctor watches elderly people going upstairs at the opera. She sees women stiff, stooped, and shuffling. She sees men stiff, stooped and shuffling. She sees men and women creeping along, cautious, hesitant and fragile. My friend says that with the smallest amount of exercise, simple stretching techniques, most of them could not be so bent, frail and weak. Sadly, many people in their seventies and eighties today were brought up in an era where they and their parents did little exercise, often smoked and paid little attention to their bodies except when they were in pain, having sex, having a baby or trying to lose weight. Bodies were not as important as the mind.

This dualism, or the body mind split, is not uncommon. Most people even today find more comfort in dualism rather than the humane reality of unity. Black-white, male-female, right-wrong, gay-straight, republicans-democrats, Christians-Jews, Muslims-Hindus, good guys and bad guys, body-mind. At the Fromm, the courses are all directed toward the mind. When programs focus on the body through illness, they are presented in lecture, audio-visual form directed to our brains. The leaders of the Fromm are not stupid. They know what older people want in continuing to learn.

The fact is that health means wholeness, unity and interconnection. Jews were the founders of Christianity, and both have much religion and ethics in common. Democrats and Republicans have much in common, but pretend mostly enmity. Men have many characteristics of women, like caring, nurturing and tenderness. Women are often physically strong, competitive and athletic.

When we begin to appreciate our bodies and our minds as a unity we can regain and improve our health. Psychosomatic medicine and psychology have opened our eyes to the fact that things going on in our minds and our unconscious affect our bodily functions. Depression may affect our hearts and blood pressure. Repressed memories may affect our sex life. Trauma in childhood may affect our capacity for intimacy.

It works the other way, too. Chronic pain limits how we relate to others. Heart disease frightens us. Arthritis limits our mobility.

I notice the split in myself. When I take time for swimming or walking, my two forms of regular exercise, I think it would be better if I were reading or writing, as that is really what is best for me and important in life. Brought up in western culture, deep in my psyche I believe the things of the mind are more important than the things of the body.

Yet I know that when I emerge from the pool after a workout, my body feels alive, tingly and vital. I can almost feel my blood flowing. Then in a few minutes that sweet pleasure vanishes as I get in my car and negotiate the trip back home. My mind takes over and the physical feelings in my body disappear.

Eastern religions and cultures seem to pay attention to an integration of the mind and the body. We have seen how elderly Asian men and women do Tai Chi, a movement exercise based on martial arts done gently. We also here in San Francisco see groups of Asian men and women walking in the park or along the sidewalks. Regular movement of the body and exercise keep bodies limber and minds clear. After such workouts scholars go on to their books and studies.

I lived for a year in southern Germany and noticed the great numbers of adults who took regular walks in the city and in the countryside. Notice how children are in constant movement. They play until they drop. Too many Americans shop ‘til they drop. Shopping is neither exercise nor mental stimulation, it is mummifying escapism.

Many older people like to quote Winston Churchill, who is supposed to have said, “Whenever I get the urge to exercise, I lie down until the urge goes away.” He was also known to have stayed in bed all day, smoking cigars and drinking brandy while making decisions about war and government.

As we age we must keep our bodies moving so we do not lose our minds and bodies. We also need to use our brains to convince ourselves that we must move our bodies to ward off pain, stiffness and atrophy.

There is no end of articles on simple exercises that are safe and easy in magazines and TV shows. Even the AARP magazine has exercises from time to time. If you hate exercise and don’t want to do it, the surest way to accomplish that goal is to die. Healthy aging is to use our minds to convince our bodies to move. Healthy aging means using our bodies and our minds to enjoy the fullness of life.


Blogger Not Your Usual Missionary Position said...

Aging. My parents, one born in 1912, the other in 1918, both worked AND exercised. They were farmers; they worked the Land with their hands and a mule, for the most part. Only when my father in his late 60's had the money for a tractor, a tiny USED tractor. They ate everything, good and bad, but mostly good fresh organic veggies and fruits of our own hands and animals from our own fields and pastures. I was an early vegetarian because I could not eat an animal I had known! I had my own pets which were never slaughtered but who lived ripe, old animal ages, loved and adored, by all of us; it was a safe place to take our our love and appreciation. My father, not a hunter, but an excellent shot with a rifle, killed and slaughtered and prepared every bit of meat we ate. He cried at every hog and cow killing and at every milking even; he thanked God for the life of this animal; and his shot was swift and merciful. Our neighors and family members then prepared the meat; my father and I were off in the woods, crying our eyes out before returning to the work of the communnity. My mother started to smoke "in secret" in her early 70's and she died of Alzheimer related illness two years after diagnosis. We were all afraid she'd live forever as her body was in great shape; my dates always complimented my mother's good body, even better than mine and I exercised AND worked physically. They were right. My father, with cancer and incontinent of urine and feces for five years before his death, only stopped walking two months before he died. It was an if when he stopped, he stopped and was a "gentleman" about it all in many ways. He died as he lived; but my mother didn't. She had the memory of two elephants and could not remember who I was or what was said five minutes before. Her symptoms began early and strangely, at the time of our greatest conflict, my going to CA to seminary. Becoming a priest was "trashy" to her. Strange after ALL the trashy things I HAD done in my life, that this would not be welcomed. She worried what I would wear and figured out that vestments did not look good on women b/c they were not designed for women's bodies (if you don't think this is so, just try to find a breast-feeding postive clergy shirt for a new mother who is a also a priest. I am remedying that;our housekeeper is making "Mama Tata" shirts as a way of bring money to the Ngobe AND a mission to priests who breast-feed and the cost will be half that of a man's clergy shirt. A woman will be able to wear this shirt during much of her pregnancy, while she nurses, and for ever after with the slip and sewing of two pleats in the shirt. It is our ministry, heard by the need from Betsy Hawley, a priest from the DIO of CAL. So put the word out that Mama Tata exists! and bring in those orders. Not that we'll have many but perhaps in future generations, we'll have more and more! The cost alone is worth the shirt for ANY woman priest! I own the muslin prototype, died grey as it is cooler for Panama than all black.

oonie in Almirante

PS We can get you a shirt within a month. Keep an eye out, Robert and Ann, for pregnant priests and tell em my email address.

12:40 PM  

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