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The New 60

The New 60


There is a well-known photograph of me by Peter Hujar, taken when I was 26. In it I am bending over, seemingly on my way to touching the floor with my hands. Actually, at 26, I couldn't touch the floor. I can now! Suddenly I am flipping, I am hanging upside down, I am doing my own version of moves created for Pink and Mariah Carey. My shoulder is no longer frozen, and I can bend in most directions. My first serious yoga practice was when I was nearing 40. During that period I became able to put my flat palms on the floor. In the last couple of years, AntiGravity Yoga has brought me even more flexibility. I am amazed! I had taken my progress for granted until my AntiGravity Yoga teacher began to vociferously point it out, saying, "You rock."

When I was 21, I was told that it was too late for me to start dancing. I ended up in Twyla Tharp's company five years later. In 1994, I was told I would be dead in five years. I'm still here

Authority figures ("They say") often tell us what we can and cannot do. Please stop listening and find out for yourself. Our limitations are, of course, real, but they are also individual, often changeable -- if we are willing to put in the necessary sweat and practice.

Beliefs are like statistics. They're about groups, not individuals. One of the characteristics of resilience, both physical and psychological resilience, is unreasonableness. Being unreasonable means going against standard wisdom. I was diagnosed with AIDS when the received wisdom of the era was, "You will be dead in two to three years." My family simply said, "If anyone can beat this, you can -- be unreasonable." My family was pretty nutsy in some respects. However, when it came to resilience, they were brilliant teachers. My Aunt Estelle was told in her very early 30s that she was too infirm to be a New York City schoolteacher, a job she loved. Later that year she was critically ill and nearly died. As part of her recovery, she went to law school, then practiced for 50 years and died approaching 90, after becoming a case study for her doctors.

So now, when someone says that a man my age should or shouldn't _____, I question it and, if interested, explore it for myself. There are physical challenges that I have yet to meet: parachute, scuba dive. I'd like to ski again. On January 1, I zip-lined through the rain forest on St. Lucia. What's the problem? I am only turning 60.

I feel at the top of my game physically, professionally, and sexually. No one ever told me this was what 60 would look like. And I know that it isn't true for everyone. My body hurts at times. Advil and massage and rest are required. Just when I think I may not be able to expand my limits much more, I can have a new discovery. To maintain my physique, I must go to the gym regularly, lifting weights and doing some cardio. My dog has me walking many miles a week. I eat reasonably well and take vitamins and supplements. I am focused on maintenance with windows of growth -- and I am loving it.

More and more we are looking at a new paradigm for aging. There are factors that inhibit talking about it, however. God forbid that one seems to be bragging about fitness or well-being. What if it makes someone who is in pooerer shape feel bad? These attitudes come from scarcity and are limiting. The full range of experience, extraordinary or challenging, validates the exceptional and helps to expand our point of view.

Pushing our boundaries as we age can also be inhibited by societal values, internalized ageism, and often the discomfort of being a beginner. In order to learn to fly with AntiGravity Yoga, I had to be a humble newbie. If our egos get organized around our "advanced" status, we are held back. It is often necessary to be uncomfortable and awkward on the way to soaring breakthroughs.

My dictum for years has been "The quality of life is not determined by the circumstances." If I am to live by this, then I have to work to thrive within my circumstances as I strive to help others make the most of theirs.

Let's be in the present with our state of being, exercising our physical and psychic muscles with curiosity and joy.
Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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Robert Levithan