Himalayan Institute : “Aging Gracefully” : An Article for All Ages – Review

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himalayan institute : “aging gracefully” : an article for all ages – review




Article Outline


The Author

The Article

  • Personal Illness
  • Old Models of Aging Are Not Appealing, Nor Accurate
  • Substantiation of a New Aging
  • Dr Oz, and More
  • Regarding Substantiation
  • How the Article and Ms Willoughby’s Story (for now) Ends
  • (My) Disclaimer

Final Thoughts

  • About the Article
  • About Myself





aging gracefully…

what a commendable goal –

what a desirable process and journey!

how could i not be attracted to a title like that 😉


this article had an immediate and deep impact in enhancing how i feel about aging, with nicely woven composite of threads that, it becomes apparent, are just that – threads of one cloth : the author’s life, ms deborah willoughby

and in many ways, of the same material of our own lives i think – definitely mine 😉

  • knowing things intellectually i haven’t fully integrated in my heart
  • ideas about growing older that aren’t as we thought
  • having to learn and re-learn a lesson before it “sticks”
  • struggling with limitations unexpected and unaccepted
  • keeping current on new encouraging research about growing old(er)
  • adjusting

the comprehensiveness of the full article, plus the moving first person account of the learning and application of that information, convinced me it would do more justice to both my reaction to the quality of the article and the article itself, to do a short review of the article

add that, though the article is written by, as the author writes, “the Himalayan Institute’s president, as well as this magazine’s editor” at the time of her experience,  i didn’t get the sense of an agenda –

and at my age, i don’t consider writing about aging an agenda 😉


The Author

deborah willoughby, is the former president and editor of the Himalayan Institute’s magazine

her article is entitled, “aging gracefully”

she begins with her clear honest details of her first-hand personal struggle to apply her intellectual understanding of aging, within the precepts of yoga, to adapting to actually aging…

then she gives a slight review and history of the changing view of the aging of a person…

followed by new scientific research contradicting old concepts of being old(er)

yes, this is an article for the ages, all ages, our ages –

especially if one plans on aging 😉


The Article

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Personal Illness

ms willoughby recounts that, five years ago, the change that affected her was sudden, and unprepared for –

“on a picture-perfect August morning, the life I’d been living ended abruptly. A hole opened in my retina”

in addition to then being “the Himalayan Institute’s president” she was “as well as this magazine’s [yoga international] editor”

a struggle ensued, where she would have her eye operated on, corrected, then re-injure it; the struggle being both that the repair and injury were repeatedly recurrent, but that she found she was having difficulty applying her intellectual understanding of how she could be handling herself, to her actual life

Part of the reason I didn’t recognize myself as having entered this amorphous phase of life is,” she wrote, “that I didn’t (and don’t) feel old.”

and she describes how, as we age, we enter a “shift from the external to the internal that is the hallmark of the forest-dweller stage of life. Though this was no leafy stroll in the woods, at least not at first.” – nicely put 😉

but, “it’s brand new territory…with average life expectancy at 78 and rising—exceeding 83 for anyone still around at 65—a new stage is emerging in the years between midlife and full-blown senescence. We aren’t even sure yet what to call it. Late middle-age? Full maturity? Retirement? The silver years? The encore years? Second adulthood?


Old Models of Aging Are Not Appealing, Nor Accurate

ms willoughby recounts the view many of us have grown up with regarding the stages of life, and thus aging :

we’re heirs to an ingrained belief that age-related changes are negative—harbingers of decline, disease, dementia, and various shades of loss. And this isn’t only a modern assumption—it’s been with us for centuries. One of the most quoted Shakespearean passages is the speech about the seven ages of man from As You Like It. Here the world is seen as a stage on which we play many parts, making our entrance as infants, wending our way through school, trying on various roles as adults, diminishing as we age, and finally stumbling off the stage in ‘second childishness and mere oblivion.’”

she also describes how, as our understanding of aging has improved and changed, we often simply looked at our older years as a second middle-age

in this scenario, a declining aging is transformed, into, says ms willoughby, a “successful aging” which “often boils down to an effort to flip the script back a few pages and replay the middle scenes as long as possible…

but a new view of aging isn’t simply a sensible rebellion, with new ideas to hang new paradigms on –

there’s actual new evidence regarding aging…


Substantiation of a New Aging

already enamored of ms willoughby’s entertaining and self-honest review of herself, and how we’ve often thought we would age, this new area of information is the bones that give the muscles and nerves and blood of our lives something to hang on to, physically –

While it is true that muscle mass declines, reaction time slows, and short-term memory wavers as we age, in some key areas, our capacities expand rather than erode. As we move through our 60s and 70s and into our 80s, the brain and central nervous system are altered in some surprising and life-affirming ways…

as it happens, the brain constantly reconfigures itself in response to experience, forming new cells throughout life. To cite one specific example, neuroscientists now tell us that the dendrites in our brains increase in both number and length in the third stage of life…

studies show that as we move into life’s third stage, we use both hemispheres of the brain more efficiently; our ability to integrate cognitive and emotional intelligence expands, and along with it, our ability to integrate competing issues and solutions; the limbic system (the area of the brain that produces and regulates emotional response) grows calmer; and we pay more attention to positive experiences than we do to negative ones….

i wrote the himalayan institute, and asked if they had references to go with those very encouraging words, and they were gracious enough to send me the following, via ms constance molleda, editorial assistant, at yoga international

“Thank you for your question. The information about the brain in Deborah Willoughby’s article came from a lecture: “Uniting the Heart and Mind: Human Development in the Second Half of Life”, 2004 Special Lecture by Dr. Gene D. Cohen. This lecture was part of the “Mind Alert” Series of lectures, which were in turn part of  a Joint Program of the American Society of Aging and MetLife Foundation…

“Here is a link to the information in the lecture :

Click to access Mind%20Alert%20Lecture%202004.pdf

“Please let me know if there is anything else I can assist you with. Thank you again for you inquiry….”

the link in ms molleda’s msg above is now no longer working; when i’d received her answer about a month ago, it was…

a google search for the title of the lecture, did point me to an abstract on the online site for the national institute on aging

other links led to other interesting byways for this evidently now hard to find article 😉

i’ll re-contact ms molleda, and if i get new info, will post here with an update notation, and possibly post an update article if the info is solid enough

[ update 101011 ] – received the following link updates from ms molleda; my sincere appreciation to her for her efforts and updates on the links to the lecture information informing this article :

I did some cyber digging on the American Society of Aging website (www.asaging.com) and found the original PDF.

Here is a link to the website that has an assortment of lecture series, including Dr. Gene Cohen’s:


Also, here is a direct link to the PDF:


again, my deepest thanks to ms molleda and the himalayan institute for all their assistance

also, i’d like to add that, the pdf article above is wonderfully titled, “Uniting The Heart And Mind: Human Development In The Second Half Of Life” – nice 😉


Dr Oz, and More

fortunately my wife sheila is a loyal avid follower of dr oz on tv, and he’s made many references to the plasticity of our brains, vs being hard-wired in cement, so to speak 😉

a search on dr oz’s site for “plastic brain” brought up a few short responses

luckily sheila either tapes each show, or gets my attention enough for me to realize how lucky i am 😉 so i’ve heard dr oz speak of the plasticity of our brains as we learn

it’s amazing to me, and hugely heart lifting, to believe, in fact, that we aren’t necessarily destined to deteriorate, but can both continue to learn and continue to tone our bodies!


another google search, just for plasticity of the brain, brings up a huge number of articles written since the time of the 2004 lecture mentioned in “aging gracefully”


Regarding Substantiation

it’s not like we have to know exactly how or that our brain changes as we learn

and it’s not like this is cutting-edge new, as evidenced by the lecture basis in ms willoughby’s article being in 2004

no, it’s more that, like in meditation, or practicing poses (long held or moving), or in breathing, long held limiting ideas, and body alignments, and stresses, can be helped incrementally

a sledge-hammer usually doesn’t work, because we don’t like being sledge hammered, and if the new information is essentially gonna squash us flat, forcing us to have to reflate to get back to normal functioning, we’re gonna dismiss what we can’t handle – at least i tend to

sometimes i just know it’s gonna have to take some repetition and re-inforcing, before i accept the “new” way of looking at things –

especially if what i’m looking at new is, well, me 😉


eric franklin frequently brings up, especially in his books, how, for dancers, knowing how one’s body works, assists us in moving more correctly, more enjoyably, more beautifully

again, is it necessary for a gifted dancer to know the details of how he or she moves, to dance to our hearts’ awe? historical anecdotal evidence says, of course not!

dancing from wholeness, from the heart, from joy, can often accomplish that

but for me, learning to be more whole again, learning to join the music (internal or external) to all of me, mind heart and body, the more i know, the more i can apply what i practice

the universe has given me a mind, not to pay “no mind” to, so to speak 😉 and neither to let it become “me” – but to unify myself, balance myself, as best and as gently as i can 😉


How the Article and Ms Willoughby’s Story (for now) Ends

well, i can’t tell you that! 😉

this is a real story by a real person with real things happening and re-happening and having to be dealt with, one way or the other

this is a story i feel strongly anyone should, at a minimum, enjoy reading through

her depth of knowledge of the stories that feed our subjective life is deep, and often re-told either in humor or gentle wording

one of my favorites is,

There’s a saying in India that a dog walking through a cotton field doesn’t come out wearing a suit of clothes


how she manages to deal with internalizing her intellectual understanding, into emotional understanding, and other choices she’s made in her life since first suffering her illness, is fascinating

how her story relates to anyone of us, is an opportunity –

for reflection and thought, if nothing else 😉

i truly believe it’s worth the read….


(My) Disclaimer

i am not a member of the himalayan institute, nor a subscriber to yoga international

though i do believe they are fine examples of the best that people do…


Final Thoughts

Adan Lerma

About the Article

i don’t feel i did the article full justice, but maybe gave a taste of the intriguing density of very human thought and grounding ms willoughby brought to her article

there’s a gentleness in her approach of reviewing her unexpected challenges and changes that appeals to me

she’s kind toward herself, and makes me believe i can be as kind in turn…


About Myself

finally, that i don’t follow many of the ancient yogic beliefs, does not negate my admiration, respect, and mutual acceptance of much of how that ancient system is applicable today

for me, much of many of the best thought and spiritual threads in the world today, have much in common with each other

it’s just that i have, for me, an acceptable belief structure i grew up with, enough of it intact with my current state of beliefs, that i don’t feel the need to change that –

and honestly, i don’t think there’s gonna end up being much difference how we get to the same spot we all inherently believe we’re a part of…. 😉

namaste – con dios – god be with you



Grandma (poem)

Aging Gracefully (poem)

Wellness and Yoga, a Family Resemblance – a Tidbit Post, # 3 (article)

Teaching Yoga Limitations is Teaching Awareness (a beginner’s view) (article)

Nice Thing ’bout Getting Old(er) — My Yoga-to-Dance aha! Moments! – # 5  (article)




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