Being mindful about aging

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By Joann Ryan

Andrea Brandt, PhD, MFT, author of Mindful Aging: Embracing Your Life After 50 to Find Fulfillment, Purpose and Joy, invites us to think about growing older and what changes we can make in our lives right now to achieve a meaningful and productive future in the decades ahead. As she points out, “how we age is largely up to us.” The book, released this month, offers practical considerations and approaches to address change and shape your future. (abrandtherapy.com/mindful-aging-book/)
In Part One, Dr. Brandt introduces three strategies to help you plan your future: mindset, letting go, and joy. She presents realistic positivity; a tool for you to examine what the situation is here and now, what is possible and finding your path and your role in creating meaningful change. If you are curious and open to learning, Mindful Aging contains real-life stories about people meeting challenges, rethinking cultural and societal connotations about aging and transforming your little corner of the world in positive ways.

Realistic positivity
Positivity is a way to view the world in an upbeat holistic manner. It shows us that what we love is what gives joy in each moment. Mindful aging is an opportunity to create what is true for us and let go of what no longer serves. When childhood beliefs cripple adult years, it’s time to replace them. Realistic positivity can release the heart’s desire for a higher vision in our 60s and 70s. Our energies awaken and respond to that deeply felt urge to live fully and joyously now.
At the end of each chapter Dr. Brandt includes practical exercises to guide you toward letting go of what no longer serves you, replacing it with mindfulness and recognizing what gives you joy. She describes emotions as being the fuel driving decision-making and behaviors. It is important to be able to safely navigate our world and to do so not from fear, but by being realistic about the circumstances before us including age.
When you actively seek change, be prepared to experience periods of loss, uncertainty and pain. These are gifts, Dr. Brandt tells us. Just as age brings physical changes into your life, expect mindfulness to question how you feel about yourself and others. Current neuroscience research confirms that the brain is ever changing and adapting throughout our lives. As mindfulness builds new neural pathways in the brain, a deeper healing occurs and there you will find freedom to make new choices.

Creating tomorrow
In Part Two, Dr. Brandt uses her 35 years of clinical experience as psychotherapist, speaker and author, outlining the fundamentals for a happy, healthy, post middle-age lifestyle. She presents key ways to make changes in relationships and techniques to boost positive mental health, and explore spirituality. Don’t be surprised if you meet resistance, yours and others, as you put your imagination to work to create tomorrow. A core social network is also an essential part of well-being.
Relationships need attention, frequent rebuilding and occasionally replacement. Time and circumstances cause people to move, drop away and die.  There will be times when a network or a friendship withers away or fades into yesterday. The better we are at cultivating common interests among friends and showing our families’ gratitude and empathy close by and at great distances, the greater chance to stay healthy. When we mean well for others our reward is wellness, too. Ask yourself: Am I strong enough to ask for help and accept it thankfully? Forging relationships with siblings, authority figures, children and neighbors includes respecting boundaries. Make sure to listen to the content of the conversation and the tone for clues about needs. Does the person just need to vent, to be heard? Every problem doesn’t need to be solved by the listener. Sometimes being silent isn’t unkind or uncaring; it is a commitment to support and console.
Exercise is another key component in wellness. It’s time to have fun exercising, and finding a starting point may require experimenting with a blend of options that is rewarding to people over 50. Walking, cycling, swimming, yoga and Tai Chi are just a few to try. Check out the electronic tools to help keep you involved and on track to maintain strength and flexibility. Caution: Do not fall into the “I used to” trap of competing with your younger self.

Capital region opprotunities
Engage your mind by trying something new. The Capital District’s historic, cultural and social organizations welcome newcomers and returning visitors alike. For example, the Berkshire Botanical Garden offers programming year round for serious and amateur gardeners. Hudson Valley Community College offers life-long learning programs and hands-on workshops. Last spring, I joined 25 other people at St. Agnes Cemetery to participate in a day-long workshop of restoring gravestones. No special equipment or clothing was required. All tools were supplied as well as a hearty lunch. It was day of surprises and gratification to see blackened marble stones return to original white. Did you know that the St Agnes and Albany Rural Cemeteries have lectures, tours, bird walks and painting classes throughout the year?
It’s not too late to play a musical instrument. Whether you desire to play publically, give a recital or play for your own enjoyment, music connects heart and head on a higher plane. Or recording family history and traditions may appeal to you.  The New York State library is open on Saturdays from 9am to 5pm, as well as week days. Their genealogy reference section is among the finest in the country and the old newspapers collection is a treasure trove of local history.
Intrinsic in all of these activities are elements of spirituality and a portal to inner peace and innovation.
Mindful aging allows us to continue to live joyfully, share our skills and talents and teach by example that living into our 60s, 70s, 80s and onward can be a grand adventure. Sprinkled throughout Dr. Brandt’s book are quotes from a wide range of authorities that enrich the reader’s experience and help you understand why a practice of mindful aging can make living in the decades ahead productive and rewarding.

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