Befriending Our Aging Bodies

by Shanti Mayberry

May your body be blessed.
May you realize that your body is a faithful and beautiful friend of your soul.

—John O’Donohue

Our body is our very best friend whether or not we realize this truth. Like a faithful servant, our body has taken us wherever we wanted to go and sheltered our soul through all the storms of life. It is our dearest companion to the end. Yet we are conditioned to ignore the body’s somatic intelligence and signals of exhaustion and stress in our speed-driven materialist culture that worships cognitive thinking and excessive productivity. But as we age it is vitally important that we heal this mind-body split and lovingly access our body’s wisdom and instinctive healing power in order to restore and maintain our health.

I’ve found that there are three primary steps to befriending our aging bodies and repairing this disconnection between cognitive and somatic (body-centered) awareness. The first is to honor the sacredness of the human body, rather than to regard it as inferior to the thinking mind, an archaic cultural legacy from Rene Descarte’s seventeenth century dictum “I think, therefore I am.”

By contrast, in the Buddhist view the body is considered to be the ‘hard-to-attain’ vehicle of liberation, and human incarnation is seen as a rare gift. For this reason, the Dalai Lama often praises his mother and all women for the great compassionate act of giving birth and hence providing the child with the possibility of enlightenment. So no matter the gender, color, size or shape of our body, we can regard it as a sacred gift and care for it as the temple of spirit.

Secondly, the practice of slowing down and paying attention to what our bodies are trying to convey is essential for healthy sage-aging. Befriending our body means listening and tending to it with compassion as we would to a close friend. We need patience and commitment to cultivate any loving relationship, but especially with our bodies. Here are a few ways we can deepen a sense of valuing and coming home to our body.

  • Become acquainted with the placement and functioning of your internal organ systems.
  • Cultivate inner body awareness of sensations, feelings and energy.
  • Feel how your body is part of Mother Nature’s larger body.
  • Practice a body scan, which is most easily done lying down in a comfortable and cozyposition. As you progressively relax, thank each part of your body, starting with the

    feet and slowly moving up to the head.

  • Learn its language, which may come in the form of pain signals, chronic tensions,anxieties, imbalance or beginnings of illness.

The third step is to turn towards the felt areas of physical or emotional discomfort with kindness and attentive inquiry. This step is the most difficult since we instinctively want to avoid pain, suppress it with pills or override it with distractions or addictive behaviors. Often these distressed areas are places in need of attention and may reveal hidden childhood wounds and suppressed emotions that can heal if accepted and embraced with compassionate awareness. And as Ron Pevny states in his book, Conscious Living, Conscious Aging, the older we get, the less able we are to suppress these trapped emotions. We simply don’t have the energy to keep them pushed down and defended with ego strategies.

Although it’s not possible in this short article to discuss the complexities of trauma healing and recovery, please know that we have all been traumatized and there is no shame in having embedded pain. Many of us did not receive the nurturing or mirroring from caretakers that we needed as infants, young children or teenagers and we coped by creating strategies to survive. These buried wounds are behind many diseases from cancers to auto-immune ailments, according to Dr. Gabor Mate in the book When the Body Says No. They must be compassionately addressed for healing to happen.

Courage, support and understanding are necessary to allow these earlier woundings to surface, but the reward for doing so is great since the frozen energy in the trauma will flow freely again in your system as it releases. And who doesn’t want more energy? That’s the main currency of aging and by doing this inner work your vitality will increase.

One way to gently address the wound is to place your hand on the area where you feel it is held and direct kind attention there, creating a sense of spaciousness around the painful contraction. You could then say something to the body like, “I’m here for you dear, you’re not alone, tell me what you need”, or “it’s going to be okay.” Just that reassurance from your adult self to the younger hurt aspects in your body can generate a sense of internal safety and support and open a communication channel between the cognitive and somatic minds.

By accepting the hurt, allowing it to be seen and receiving its message with kindness, you are opening the space to heal. Sometimes just witnessing the stored pain is sufficient to release it. Occasionally, emotional catharsis or spontaneous movement may be needed, which is why it’s advised to do such deep release work with a therapist or close friend who can offer external comfort, guidance and safety.

I offer my case as an example of how honoring the pain and regarding it as a messenger works to transform it. As a yoga and T’ai Chi instructor, I’ve always been active, fairly fit and flexible, but late one night just after I turned seventy, I slipped on my wooden stairway during a rain storm when I was rushing downstairs. The pain was excruciating, more intense than anything I’d ever experienced. On a scale of 1-10, it was a 20. This spinal and sciatica pain continued for over a year, making it difficult to walk or exercise.

My physical therapist couldn’t suggest much beyond a few therapeutic exercises, except for surgery and shots, telling me I wouldn’t be able to walk or stand for long without an operation. However, I made the choice to trust my body’s innate healing power and forego any surgical intervention.

Instead, I engaged in compassionate dialogue with my back and leg pain and was receptive to any messages from that area. As a result, I was able to release some traumatic memories stored in my back that gradually surfaced. I was also guided to do a series of slow mindful movements which unwound tensions and released blocked energy. The more I accepted and worked with the pain as a teacher, instead of fighting it, the more the pain decreased because it was being seen and heard. As Rumi said, “The cure is in the pain.” A year later I was quite free of pain and could walk and stand easily, which was an amazing testimony to the power of mindful inquiry and self-kindness.

Learning to treat our body as our dearest and closest friend makes the aging process easier. By directing loving awareness and deep listening towards our bodies, we come home to ourselves, allow healing and integration to happen and grow more fully embodied in the here and now. We realize that our body is indeed wise and self-healing and that our human incarnation is truly a precious gift.

Shanti Mayberry HHP, Ph.D., is a Sage Aging mentor, Holistic Health consultant, Somatic Ecotherapist, depth Ecopsychologist and trauma-informed meditation and movement teacher. Co-founder of the integrative health center, Inner Balance Health Group, she works with clients and groups at her office and online. You can contact her at

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