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Nurturing Youthful Vibrancy in Midlife

By Devi Peri

As a mindful body awareness coach using the tools of breathwork, embodied movement and Nature connection, I’ve been asked a few times if these body-mind awareness tools can “slow down the aging process” or “keep us younger.”

My simple answer is a resounding “yes!” And of course there’s a lot more to say about it.

 There have been a myriad of scientific studies that have concluded that certain lifestyles can speed up or slow down the aging process.

There’s a great deal of evidence that the following are all factors in slowing the aging process and “keeping us younger”:

  • stress reduction
  • adequate sleep
  • regular exercise
  • being outdoors
  • keeping a positive mindset
  • healthy relationships and community engagement

And the following ways of living are some that have been repeatedly shown to accelerate aging:

  • stress
  • perfectionism
  • negative thinking
  • repressing emotions and depression
  • toxic habits or addictions
  • staying isolated
  • lack of intimacy or connection
  • lack of exercise

So let’s first look at breathwork and how it can affect the aging process, given the factors above.

First of all, what is “breathwork?” Breathwork refers to any type of breathing exercise or technique where you intentionally change your breathing pattern.

Different types of breathwork have different effects.  Most all types of breath exercises or techniques have the overall effects of reducing stress, increasing self-awareness and improving focus.

More specifically, people practice certain types of breathwork to:

  • uncover and release negative beliefs and patterns
  • access expanded states of consciousness
  • process emotions: heal emotional pain and trauma
  • reduce anxiety
  • boost immune system (releases toxins)
  • reduce chronic pain
  • increase self-confidence and self-image
  • overcome addictions
  • enhance creativity
  • improve ease in relationships
  • encourage a greater sense of connection and self-care
  • increase overall sense of well-being

So working with the breath in various ways has great potential to slow the aging process if you consider how important stress reduction, strong immune system, self-awareness and positive mindset are in slowing aging. And breathwork has the potential to address and eliminate every item above in the “speeds up aging” list.

And what about embodied movement?  Conscious, embodied movement is another way to go inward, quiet the mind’s chatter and let the body connect with and freely express the inner world of emotions and/or spirit. 

This type of movement can be emotionally cathartic at times, or sometimes playfully expressive… and some times can even lead to a deep sense of peace or even access with expanded states of consciousness.

Again, there are many different types of embodied movement, including conscious dance. Participants are guided into connecting with themselves and fellow dancers through improvisational movement (without talking), while being attentive to their mental, physical and emotional state.

Conscious dance, a combination of movement meditation and creative physical expression, has the potential for not only promoting greater physical health and vitality (as it’s good exercise), but also has been shown to increase mental clarity. Recent studies show that endorphins and adrenaline that are released while dancing have a unique effect on the brain by blending cerebral and cognitive thought processes with muscle memory and “proprioception,”(detailed awareness of body movement and one’s surroundings) which creates a deep sense of satisfaction and clears the mind.

And I know for me, being a part of the conscious dance world has provided me with a deep sense of community connection and lasting friendships with people of all ages, which I feel has allowed me to age more gracefully.

As I now look back at the benefits I listed above for breathwork, I can see that every one of the listed items can also be potential benefits of a regular practice of embodied movement as well!

I’ve saved my favorite way of slowing the aging process for last!  And that is through developing a connection with Nature.

Again, as with breathwork and with embodied movement, connection with Nature has been shown in study after study to promote psychological, physical, emotional and even spiritual well-being as we age.

In one study* of 20,000 people it was found that people who spend at least two hours a week in outdoor natural environments were substantially more likely to report good health and psychological well-being than those who don’t.  The people reporting were from all age ranges, ethnicities, rich and poor areas, and even people with chronic illnesses and disabilities.

The report showed that the time spent can be spread throughout the week or two hours once weekly for equal benefit. And the time spent in a natural setting could be done sitting in one place or walking.

It’s hard to overstate how much good connection to nature is for our  health and well-being…and for lessening the root cause of so many ailments that lead to more rapid aging: stress.  Excessive or chronic stress can cause an increase in heart problems, high blood pressure, arthritis and memory loss, headaches, skin conditions, diabetes and weight gain, to name a few.

Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, spending time in nature brings us closer to who we really are. By taking time to deeply connect with nature, beginning with fully opening our five senses, we promote a deeper connection with ourselves.

And a deeper connection with oneself can change not only the way we view nature, but how we see and feel ourselves and the world beyond ourselves.

By taking time to really sink in and BE in nature, we slow down, we become more observant and aware, often we become more caring and feel a deeper sense of belonging.

When we learn to be really present and alert to the details of what we see, hear, taste, smell and feel, we open up a vast potential for deeper communication, connection and intimacy, not only to the nature that surrounds us, but to our own inner nature. 

And guess what?  If you look back at that list of potential “age-slowing” benefits given for breathwork… that also apply to embodied movement…they all can be stated as possible benefits for nature connection as well!

As we enter into the phase of our human lives known as midlife, the list of “factors in slowing the aging process” becomes more important than ever.  Yet without the deep exploration of our outdated beliefs and patterns developed as coping mechanisms (often very early in life) we may find ourselves feeling fearful, discontent and fighting with the natural process of aging… which only serves to cause more stress, which ages us more quickly! 

So the answer to the question, “How can breathwork, embodied movement and nature connection slow down the aging process?” has been answered from many angles referring to scientific studies. 

The listed benefits of each is profound, yet the biggest and most important factor in all three is the potential each has for shining a light of awareness on one’s inner nature.

Once we can see through and release our old patterns we can reclaim a sense of self-compassion and love for who we are. We can feel more connected to our intuition and body wisdom, which allows an easeful freedom to be our most authentic selves. And that is what truly keeps us youthful!

*White, M.P., Alcock, I., Grellier, J. et al. Spending at least 120  minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing. Sci Rep 9, 7730 (2019).

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